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The Dos and Don'ts of Holiday Online Shopping

A shopper's guide to the easiest and safest way to find and order your holiday gifts online.

Gift-giving season is upon us.

Heck, Oprah Winfrey revealed her drool-inducing list of gifts better known as ‘Oprah’s Favorite Things’ weeks ago. If you haven’t made your list and checked it twice—what are you waiting for?

Retail gurus are predicting this year’s online holiday shopping will be record-breaking. A report from eMarketer approximates that online holiday shopping will account for nearly a quarter of retail ecommerce sales for 2012. That’s $54.5 billion to be exact—up 16.8% from last year.

What do those figures mean for you? Competition. A lot more people will be adding the season’s best deals to their virtual shopping cart.

The good news is you still have several weeks to order and wrap this year’s presents. If you follow these simple online shopping tips, offered by Audrey Morrison on her Lifestyle Blog at Xfinity.comcast.net, you’ll even be able to splurge on fancy wrapping paper and glittery bows with the money you’ll save.

Just remember to place your online orders in a timely manner when using the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx or UPS to send your gifts.

This list of five holiday shopping avoidances will help you get the best gifts at the best prices for everyone on your list:

  • Don’t add a gift to your shopping cart on a whim. If you find the perfect gift for that special someone, don’t let your finger go click crazy. Bookmark it, write it down, email it to yourself or add it to your Pinterest board so you can easily reference the item and dollar amount while shopping around for the best price.
  • Don’t be impersonal. There is nothing worse than getting athletic socks or generic gift card from someone who knows you very well. When your mother said, “It’s the thought that counts,” maybe she was really saying, “Put some thought into it.” The Today Show has made your job easy by rounding up some of the most unique and affordable gifts for kids, parents, foodies, fashionistas, pet lovers and hard-to-shop-for people on your list.
  • Don’t use your debit card. While shopping from the comfort of your home is convenient, it can also be dangerous. By following a few simple rules for safe online shopping, recommended by Jay Opperman, Executive Director of Security and Privacy for Comcast Cable, like never using a debit card to make online purchases and creating a new email account for online purchases, you can help protect yourself against cyber criminals who make a living stealing personal information.
  • Don’t think free shipping is out of the question. A holiday consumer spending survey conducted by the National Retail Federation found that nine out of 10 retailers plan to offer some form of free shipping for online shoppers this holiday season. freeshipping.org takes the guesswork out of figuring out which of your favorite stores will mail your gifts for at no additional price with an alphabetical list of participating stores and their offers, discounts and coupon codes.
  • Don’t worry if you didn’t find the perfect deal on Cyber Monday. If you or someone you know plans on asking Santa for a laptop, camera or a new bike, it might actually be better to wait until after the holidays to score the best deal on those items. kiplinger.com reveals why it’s better to purchase specific gifts before or after the holidays for the lowest price.

Now for the online shopping do’s:

  • Do your research. There are nearly as many price tags as there are retail websites to shop. Fire up your favorite search engine, take note of who has the most reasonable prices and continue to watch them for fluctuations. 
  • Do check for coupons and specials. Sites like retailmenot.com and couponsherpa.com already have coupon codes listed for your bargain shopping pleasure.
  • Do get social. If you’ve been holding out on joining Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest and just needed one more reason to ‘tweet’ or ‘like’ or ‘pin,’ here it is—real-time sale alerts! Pinterest, the virtual bulletin board, just released a “secret board” feature that seems tailor-made for Christmas lists and making online shopping even easier. “Secret boards give you a place for things you’re not quite ready to share yet, like a surprise party, special gift ideas, or even planning for a new baby,” wrote Ben and the Pinterest team in an email to Pinners. “We’re testing out the feature by giving everyone three secret boards. You’ll find them at the bottom of your profile.”
  • Do enlist the help of mobile apps. You don’t have to buy an app to save money—The Wall Street Journal recommends barcode scanner and QR code reader apps Red Laser (powered by eBay, Inc.), ShopSavvy and Amazon.com Inc.’s Price Check app to check and compare prices from select websites with the click of a button on your smartphone. . . for free!
  • Do use the right credit card. Using one credit card over another to make your online purchases is another way to save money during the ever-pricey holiday season. In a recent CBS News interview, Carmen Wong Ulrich, financial columnist for Good Housekeeping magazine and president of Alta Wealth Management, sheds some light on the best deals and incentives you can get by using plastic:

• Chase Sapphire Preferred (for big spenders): If you spend $3,000 in the first three months. . .

-40,000 bonus points redeemable for $500 in travel or $400 credit to your statement

-Use rewards points on Amazon.com

• Citi Forward (for more normal spenders): spend $650 in three months. . .

- $100 gift card or 10,000 points

- Five ‘Thank You’ points for every $1 spent

• American Express

- 20% off points on select merchandise through November 30 when you shop through the rewards site

• Discover

- 5% cash back on purchases up to $1,500

-Free 1-Day Shipping at Amazon.com

- Redeem cash-back bonus for Partner Gift Cards

“The caveat here is — if you’re going for rewards cards — if you carry a balance and pay interest, obviously it negates the reward,” she said. “You’ve got to make sure you’re not charging just to get rewards and getting into a hole.”

And here are some shopping trends worth mentioning. . .

Gift Cards

It’s hard to imagine a time when gift cards won’t be the go-to present for that impossible-to-shop-for person who seems to have everything. plasticjungle.com is a genius website where you can buy, sell or swap gift cards. While someone can’t exactly return an unwanted gift card like they would an ill-fitting sweater, this is a great option for getting something that they’ll actually use.

eLayaway

Layaway is no longer a thing of the past. Couple traditional, in-store layaway with the internet and you’ve got eLayaway. For example, with the Sears and Kmart Layaway Programs you can virtually shop for a gift, add it to your shopping cart, make an online down payment followed by payments every two weeks until the item is paid off and you get your gift.

Similarly, HSN’s Free FlexPay gives you the option to buy items now and pay for them later, with no hidden fees or interest. When you make a purchase, your credit card is billed only for the first monthly installment (plus tax, shipping and handling), then the balance will be billed to your credit card in equal monthly installments beginning 30 days after the order date. Like with anything, always be sure to read the fine print.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Pandora December 06, 2012 at 05:49 PM
Thanks for the article. We all need to be more proactive about our personal account security. One thing you failed to mention is taking advantage of the 2FA (2-Factor Authentication). Although it’s been around for a while, more and more sites are starting to offer and promote this option. 2-Factor Authentication to complete a transaction while shopping online wins every day. I feel suspicious when I am not asked to telesign into my account by way of 2FA, it just feels as if they are not offering me enough protection. I know some will claim this make things more complicated, but the slight inconvenience each time you log in is worth the confidence of knowing your info is secure. This should be a prerequisite to any system that wants to promote itself as being secure.
NE12Ukid December 07, 2012 at 01:01 AM
<<•Don’t be impersonal. There is nothing worse than getting athletic socks or generic gift card from someone who knows you very well. When your mother said, “It’s the thought that counts,” maybe she was really saying, “Put some thought into it.”>> I know an exception to this otherwise sensible "rule". in our large extended family there are many college age and young adults in their 20s. While it's not easy to select something they may need or want, to know their taste in music, clothing, etc it turns out that many of the young adults (and teens too) have a new "holiday tradition". They take all those gift cards they got for Christmas or Hanukkah and hit the sales after Christmas. Often they go in groups, they look forward to this "extension" of Christmas, and can get something that fits them when it's on sale. Win-win! Definitely good advice about the debit cards, using those things is the quickest way to make yourself an identity theft victim, according to a safety talk we had recently at one of the organizations to which I belong.

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