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The holiday shopping season has arrived! Instead of running to the store to get a good deal, navigating crowded buses and subways or struggling to find parking only to wait in line for hours, I prefer to do my holiday shopping online. This year, many online sales start on (sigh) Thanksgiving and continue through the weekend and CyberMonday, November 30. Another date to remember is Free Shipping Day on December 18.
I’ve been doing my holiday shopping online for years, and have some tips to make your online shopping smoother and safer. You might even save some money, especially on Black Friday and CyberMonday.
Use Seasonal Resources
Black Friday & CyberMonday coupons
Brad’s Black Friday and CyberMonday
Several sites aggregate Thanksgiving weekend and CyberMonday deals so you can see what the major retailers are offering all in one place. Click here for Black Friday deals and here for CyberMonday; TGIBlackFriday lets you save deals to a wish list. (Prior to this year’s sales starting on Thursday 26, some aggregator sites still have some 2014 deals posted.)
Deals on Twitter
Major retailers use the #CyberMonday hashtag to advertise their deals on Twitter. Just enter the hashtag into Twitter’s search bar. You don’t have to have a Twitter account to search, but do be careful to check that the site you click through to is actually the retailer’s site.
TechRadar lists all the best early Black Friday deals on everything from fitness trackers to game consoles. Click here to take a look.
Use a Price Comparison Tool
Even more than when you’re shopping offline, you can save money online when you comparison shop. That’s because shipping costs vary by site, as well as prices. Of course, going to a dozen different sites to compare prices is time consuming and annoying — which is why you might want to try a price comparison tools. There are two types:
Price comparison search engines
Price comparison search engines give you a Google-like search bar to enter the name of the product you’re interested in and then return a page or more of results, complete with price, tax and shipping costs based on your zip code. ConsumerReports.com has a good review of the best price comparison search engines, along with tips for using them (the article dates back to 2010, but it’s still the best one out there).
Price comparison browser extensions
Once you install a price comparison browser extension, it will work in the background as you shop online, alerting you whenever it sees a better price for an item you’re looking at. So, say you’re on a page at Zappos.com, looking at a specific pair of boots and the extension sees a better price for those boots at Shoes.com, it will pop up a window with the details. Invisible Hand is available for most browsers. You can also find mobile price comparison apps to install on your smartphone; just scan the barcode while you’re in-store and you’ll see if there’s a better price to be had nearby. The Washington Post has a list of its favorites.
Try Free Shipping Day and Other Ways to Save on Shipping
One downside of online shopping is shipping and handling costs, which can be high. But many retailers offer discounted or free shipping if you spend a minimum amount. Usually, this discount is not automatically applied. You have to enter a promotional code as part of the checkout process, and you have to look for that code.
How to find promotional codes
- Visit RetailMeNot. This website specializes in scouring the web for codes that can save you money.
- The codes might be a combination of hard to remember letters and numbers, so put your copy-and-paste skills to use (click here for my copy and paste Tech Tip); just copy the coupon code on RetailMeNot, then paste it into the promotional code box on the retailer site’s checkout page once you’re ready to pay.
- Another way to save on shipping is by shopping on Free Shipping Day. December 18 is yet another retail holiday where many retailers offer free shipping and guarantee delivery by Christmas.
Read What Other People Have to Say About the Product
You may be wary of shopping online because you can’t see, touch or inspect something before you buy it. Take advantage of the reviews left by other people who have already bought it. They often go into detail about the quality and value, the accuracy of the product description, and other good-to-know details that might influence your decision.
- I always check Amazon product reviews, even if I’m not purchasing through that site. I’ll even do this if I’m planning on buying something in the store! Since millions of people shop on Amazon for such a wide variety of products, I can depend on several good reviews to help me make my decision; just go to Amazon.com, enter the name of the product you’re looking for in the search bar at the top of the site, and on the product page, scroll down for reviews.
- If you’re looking to buy electronics this holiday season – a cell phone, computer, or digital camera, for example – check CNET reviews for recommendations on the best products on the market.
How to Stay Safe Online This Holiday Season
Retailers are expecting record sales via online holiday shopping in 2015, and that mean scammers are gearing up for a profitable holiday season, too. Scams have become more sophisticated, too, but as long as you use your best judgement, shopping online doesn’t have to be unsafe. Here are some scam-avoiding tips:
Watch out for charitable giving scams
This is the time when many people increase their charitable contributions, so be on the lookout for some of the warning signs of fraudulent charities. Do your research and check out the credibility of any unfamiliar charity by researching it online of at give.org. Be wary of requests to support police or firefighters, and be cautious of charities claiming to provide support for natural disasters. Although there are many honest charities that will put your money to good use, any real charity will be happy to provide more information or details about their operation.
Don’t believe incredible deals on gift cards posted on social media sites
Posts on Facebook might seem to be trustworthy. Don’t trust them — even if the posts are shared by a friend. On Facebook and other social media sites, look out for sponsored posts or Facebook ads offering incredibly good deals on vouchers and gift cards ($500 gift card for free, anyone?), along with special holiday promotions or contests.
Be wary of emails from retailers you’re not familiar with
You might receive an email with a special holiday promotion or special coupon, or good deal on an item that’s in short supply, like this year’s hottest toy. Take care — it might be a fake retailer. When you click the link in the email, you could land on a site that looks perfectly legit; it’s not hard to create a legitimate-looking website that collects people’s money but never delivers the goods. WTOP.com recommends looking for a physical address on the site before making a purchase.
Be suspicious of too-good-to-be-true deals on electronics
Fraud.org has many tips on what steps to take to ensure you make safe electronics purchases. Buy from trusted retailers, read the details about returns and exchanges, and be skeptical of rebates or offers that advertise incredibly low prices or even promise to bring the cost down to free. Yes, you can save a lot of money by shopping the retail holidays I mentioned above, but usually discounts are in the 30 percent to 50 percent off range. It’s unlikely you will really save 90 percent. Too good to be true means just that: It’s probably not true! Click here to see more tips on Fraud.org.
You might want to review some other common Internet scams so you know what to look out for. Click here to visit Fraud.org‘s list of current known scams.
Don’t click on package shipping and delivery emails
Maybe you ordered something online to be delivered to your home. Watch out for emails purporting to be from shipping companies like FedEx or UPS with a delivery notification. If you’ve made an online purchase, you’ll probably receive a tracking number from the merchant. To be safe, go to the shipper’s website and manually enter your tracking number there instead of clicking on the link in an email.
Don’t be too fast to install mobile apps
Some apps, especially free ones that look like games, may be cleverly designed to steal personal info stored on your smartphone or tablet. The FBI advises you to research (ie: Google) the company marketing the app and look for reviews online before installing.
Protect your privacy when online shopping
Since online shopping is becoming more prevalent, it’s becoming safer and safer to use your credit card for an online transaction. But there are still a few things to look out for.
- If you need to create an account to make a purchase, use a secure password that you can remember (stay away from passwords like “12345” or even the word “password” because they are easy to guess). Click here to get my Tech Tip on creating secure passwords.
- For more tips on how to stay safe when online shopping, review our “How Can I Protect My Privacy Online?” tech tip by clicking here. This article goes into more detail about how to safely use your credit card when making an online purchase.
- Never enter your credit card information online when you are using your computer or tablet on a shared network – ie:, in a coffee shop, library or other public place.
Have fun online shopping!
- Read the FBI’s cybercriminal warning for the upcoming holiday shopping season
- Also see our article “How to Protect your Personal Information from Cybercrooks”