Buying electrical appliances online? Beware of shock factor

Q: I’d like to use the Internet to shop for lighting fixtures. Is there anything I need to be careful of?

A: Buying your lighting fixtures online can be risky. Troubles can range from simple annoyances to potentially dangerous situations that can result in fires…or worse.

Safety is always the first concern when buying fixtures from sources you don’t know. Foreign countries have different electrical standards than the US, and while many are UL-certified or have passed similar safety tests, that doesn’t necessarily insure that quality control standards are scrupulously enforced. And even if they are, you need to be sure that the voltage and grounding specifications are compatible with US standards.

Beyond that, be sure that you understand the payment, shipping and return policies of your online source. We’ve had several customers complain that they were charged the same day they ordered but didn’t receive the merchandise until several weeks later. This may be an innocent case of slow service, but it can also be a tactic used by some merchants to get the use of your money for free.

Be sure, too, that if the merchandise arrives damaged or if it isn’t the color or finish you expected, you can return it for a full refund. Some companies charge restocking fees, and you may have to pay for the shipping yourself. They may not even offer cash refunds, limiting you to “store credit” that is basically useless if you don’t want to buy something else from them.

Q: If there are compatibility and safety concerns, how do I make sure that I’m getting something that will work the way it should?

A: The best way is to only deal with US-based distributors that are subject to US laws and regulations. It gives you some recourse if the deal goes sour, but doesn’t necessarily prevent it from happening. And unless the distributor opens and checks every item for defects, the only way you’ll know you have a problem is when you’ve already paid for and installed it. That could be risky, according to Allstar president Gary Stone. “Given the poor records of some of our foreign ‘trading partners’ I’d be very leery of how carefully they address safety concerns in manufacturing electrical fixtures. It’s not worth the risk to my home and family for the sake of saving a couple of bucks.”

Q: Is there a way that I can get the benefits of online shopping and still be sure I get products that will be what I want?

A: There sure is. Allstar Electrical Services offers a simple solution. They have partnerships with local lighting fixture companies that allow customers to shop a huge variety of products on their web sites and, once they have narrowed down their choices, get a hands-on evaluation at local stores. That way they can be assured that the colors are right, the metallic surfaces are what they want, and, by engaging Allstar’s award-winning installation services, the fixtures will actually work when they’re installed. And at prices that are comparable to other online buying sources.

Q: How do I take advantage of this service from Allstar?

A: “We want to make the process as easy as we can for our customers,” Stone says. “All they have to do is contact us and explain their project and we’ll direct them to one of our showroom partners that’s close to them. The staff at the stores will help them select the right fixture for their needs, passing our contractor’s discount through to them.” Then it’s a simple matter of scheduling the installation at a time that’s convenient for the customer.

Allstar offers extensive residential electrical remodeling services that can transform your home into a showplace while keeping costs under control and guarding you against costly and dangerous mistakes. It may not be quite as fast as clicking a mouse, but it’s a whole lot safer and can save a lot of time, money and aggravation in the long run.

Allstar Showroom Partners

Lamps Plus
1547 S. Colo. Blvd., Denver and 7375 W 88th Ave., Westminster

Foothills Lighting
1383 S. Santa Fe Dr., Denver