Tips for the Savvy Online Shopper
By April D. Ray
The landscape of the horse world is continually changing. And changing along with it are the options available when it comes to shopping for our equine needs. In this digital era, we have access to many thousands of products and services through our computers, phones, and tablets. The internet has opened doors to tack shops worldwide. Although you might already consider yourself to be an expert online shopper, we have gathered some advice and tips to help you make every online shopping purchase a positive one.
A Word About Shopping Locally
Before we get caught up in the bells and whistles of online shopping, we’d like to remind our readers of the benefits of doing business locally.
All of us want the best value for our money and time, but value is measured by more than money, and perceptions can differ from reality. An emphasis on price above all else overlooks the significant benefits independent businesses provide to us and to our local communities.
The local tack store is a meeting place for the horse community, and the reasons we visit go well beyond shopping. Photo: Dreamstime/PhotographerLondon
Consider the cost to your horse community if the locally-owned businesses are pushed out. Our local tack shops won’t survive if they are losing all their customers to the internet. Our tack shops are more than a place to shop, they are a meeting place for members of the horse community. They provide advice and service, sponsor the horse show and local charities, and some offer unique locally-sourced products you may otherwise never have found. In turn for supporting our industry we need to support them. Going to a local shop to try the size, feel the fabric, and take advantage of the staff’s knowledge, only to leave and make your purchase online instead isn’t worth the few dollars you might save. Local stores have operating costs that must be factored into the cost of products. We need our local tack shops for many reasons and supporting them means you’re putting your money back into your own community. Having said that, tack shops of all sizes are evolving with the industry and offering online shopping to remain competitive.
Cybershopping Pros and Cons
In recent years the popularity of online shopping has grown in leaps and bounds. Although not as immediately satisfying as walking out the door with your purchase in hand, shopping online is convenient, the online store is open 24/7, it’s accessible from the comfort of your home, gifts can be shipped directly from the supplier, and knowledgeable shoppers can find items that might not be available to them locally. Buying online can be beneficial to people without easy access to a brick-and-mortar store. But in addition to an internet connection and a credit card, online shopping requires a little planning, and there will be a delay between hitting “Pay Now” and holding your purchase in your hands.
Buying online inevitably means you don’t get to feel the tack, try on the clothes, or smell the products. For many of us, that tactile experience can be the best part of shopping for tack, especially when it comes to the smell and feel of a leather product. Being familiar with particular brands and their sizing is helpful, but sizes can be inconsistent, which makes an absentee purchase less likely to be precisely what you want.
Ellen O’Reilly of The Horse Habit suggests, “You either need to know how a certain line fits, or you need to be able to talk to a real person who knows how a certain line fits.” Being able to speak to someone to discuss your purchase is essential unless you know exactly what you want, and having someone available by phone or email can be crucial for a successful purchase. She adds, “Customer service and knowledge are the most important whether you are shopping online or in a brick-and-mortar store.”
Checking product reviews can be beneficial. Lynea Davidowich of Noble Distribution Canada advises that reviews are “an excellent way to ensure the item(s) you wish to purchase will work for your discipline and your horse. Reference the manufacturer’s website for key product information.” She also urges shoppers to take the time to compare pricing. Buying items out of season can save you money if you don’t mind last year’s styles.
Just because you’re shopping online doesn’t mean customer service isn’t a vital part of the transaction. Online retailers know the importance of customer service and many have developed a support system for online shoppers. And although the transaction isn’t face-to-face, the option to call or email for help with your purchase is still available in most cases.
Many stores offer free shipping if a specific dollar amount is spent. Make sure you are familiar with shipping policies and estimated delivery times.
Summerside Tack offers both a retail outlet as well as online shopping. Store manager, Samantha Matsuda, puts a lot of focus on product knowledge and customer service when looking out for the best interests of her customers. “I find customer service makes a huge difference. Being able to send our customers multiple photos and answer any questions they have about products in a timely manner is so important. Online shopping can take the human factor out of the experience, but interacting through social media is a great way to add to it.”
Jodie Mesko of 5 Star Equine Products also stresses the importance of researching before shopping online. “Not all products are the same. A quality product with a higher price point may last years longer than a cheaper item. You also run the risk of soring your horse and risking performance if you do not have the proper gear.” She describes what is important to their online shoppers: “Free shipping is a feature that our customers love, [as well as] excellent customer service and an easy return policy that is clearly stated on the website. At 5 Star, we have articles and FAQs that will answer many questions that might arise.”
The age-old saying You get what you pay for is ever valid. “You can buy one Tom Balding bit for a lifetime or a dozen knockoffs that last a couple of years each. Why not get the good stuff the first time around and make your riding experience the best it can be?” asks Tom Balding of Tom Balding Bits & Spurs. He stresses the importance of testimonials and warranties. “Look for testimonials from world class trainers and professional riders,” he says, and adds that quality tack should be an investment in “peace of mind for life.”
The tactile experience of feeling the fabrics and smelling the leather is one reason we love our local tack stores. Photo: Shutterstock/Sylvlrob1
Jessie Griscti of Baker’s Saddlery recommends talking to your coach or barn manager, or your vet, before choosing a product. “There are so many on the market these days you really want to make sure you are choosing the right one.” She says Baker’s Saddlery offers free shipping over $200 within Canada, and if an item turns out to be unsuitable, they offer a full exchange or refund within 30 days. “We also pride ourselves in working with the customer in special circumstances.”
Online retailers don’t always permit returns, but if they do, the item must be packaged up and shipped back, and a return fee may apply. Restocking fees can be anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of the product cost. Some online stores provide free returns and even a pre-paid return shipping label, but I’ve yet to come across this with a tack store. Make sure you’re aware of the store’s return policy and if you aren’t sure about aspects of your purchase and are not able to buy with confidence, your best bet is to buy it from a local tack shop.
When it comes to buying nutritional supplements online, the wide selection available can seem overwhelming. Speaking to your vet, reading testimonials, and doing your own research are essential to making an informed decision. Whatever your reason for supplementing, it must be safe, effective, and worth the purchase regardless of where you buy it from. Keep in mind that some products found online cannot be brought into Canada due to import regulations.
When buying anything from outside of Canada, research the taxes and duties that will apply. Duty rates vary according to the type of goods you are importing, the country they are coming from, and the country they were manufactured in. You may think you’re getting a great deal online, only to be hit by substantial duties upon delivery. A little research will avoid this disappointment. If you’re not sure, ask the store you are buying from – they should be aware of importing policies.
Shopping online means you are sharing your personal data, and that data is as valuable as cash. Because there are risks involved in online shopping, use common sense and pick trusted websites. Most of the online tack stores I shop at have well-known retail stores that also offer online shopping. Make sure the site is security enabled. Look for web addresses with https:// and an icon of a locked padlock, usually to the left of the URL, indicating extra measures to help secure your information. But if something seems too good to be true, or the website is a little suspect, avoid it.
Credit cards are a safe option for payment, and if you don’t have a credit card, you can set up a PayPal account connected to your bank account. Much like credit cards, PayPal offers Buyer Protection, which covers you in case there is a problem. If an item doesn’t arrive or isn’t as described, they will help you to get a full refund.
By signing up for tack store emails and “Liking” their pages on social media, you can learn about sale items and new products. Do your research and make thoughtful, educated purchases. Since the first secure retail transaction over the internet in the mid-1990s, cybershopping has grown tremendously to provide us with a wide world of options, but horse budgets still only stretch so far. Smart shopping, whether in person or online, can help prevent buyer’s remorse and save those extra pennies for things you and your horse really need.
Thanks to everyone who contributed their expertise to this article, and happy shopping to all!
Main article photo: Canstock/Titovstudio
This article was originally published in the Early Summer 2019 issue of Canadian Horse Journal.