Holiday shopping does not have to mean fighting the crowds and traffic any more — not in the same way, at least.
In fact, for a growing number of shoppers (including me), online shopping is the preferred way of “going to the mall.”
Fighting mall crowds for limited supplies of coveted gifts or deep discounts has turned into being among the first to click when the items are posted to the online store.
One of the great things about online shopping is that seniors (and those who care for or about them) who can’t or don’t want to go out to the stores no longer have to settle for paying higher prices or finding a poor selection. In fact, some of the lowest prices are available from online stores — and you can choose from thousands of stores, not just the hundred or so in and around the mall.
Caution Still Needed While Shopping
While we’re not facing traffic and other hazards of brick and mortar shopping, there are cautions to keep in mind to ensure online shopping does not become a negative part of your holiday season.
A too well-known reality about the web is that the technology that lets us shop from anywhere makes it possible for crooks to do their work from around the globe as well.
However, just as the crooks prowling the mall parking lots did not keep us from getting our shopping done in the past, their online counterparts should not keep us from those online deals either. Safe shopping habits are just as important on the web as in the mall, maybe even more so.
Six Tips for Happy Online Holiday Shopping
- Stick with stores you know or that are recommended by someone whose opinion you trust. The busy holiday season is a risky time to take a chance on a new retailer with a teaser ad or fantastic price. Sticking with stores we know is the best way to assure our purchases don’t arrive after Christmas, if at all. Even worse, that store with a great price could be a sham, set up to steal the identity of unfortunate shoppers.
- Avoid shopping from a public computer or wireless hotspot. Sadly, there are people who put snooping software on public access computers, despite the best efforts of schools, libraries and other convenient access places. They are just waiting for us to type in credit card numbers or passwords so they can make them their own. Likewise, don’t use that free wireless connection at the coffee shop or fast food outlet, where it is too easy for the wrong people to see everything you type.
- Don’t click on email links to visit a store. Many of the emails we get for retailers are cleverly disguised “phishing” messages, luring us to their fake store website to get us to enter our information, even when the link looks like it is taking us to the real store. Yes, there are ways to check to see if an email is legitimate, but why take a chance? The little extra time it takes to open the web browser and visit the store’s site may save us a lot of time and trouble later.
- Don’t buy gift cards from unfamiliar web stores online auction sites. Many people have thought they got great online deals on those gift cards they bought for friends and loved ones only to find out what they bought was an empty card or, worse, the recipient of their gift finds out it is empty. Purchase gift cards from reputable outlets to avoid fraud and embarrassment – – and keep your receipts, just in case.
- Move on when the deal looks too good to be true. This is one place to trust your instincts and an adage that long predates the web. Yes, the holidays are a good time to find great prices, sometimes surprisingly so, but that TOO good price might just be bait to reel you into the wrong website for what turns out to be a bad deal, often with no recourse.
- Check the return policy first. Yes, returns are a part of the holidays, for better and worse. Before buying that gift online, check the retailer’s return policy in case the purchase is the wrong color or size – or the intended gift simply was not what the recipient wanted. While many retailers allow online purchases to be returned to their bricks and mortar stores, some web stores make returns difficult or don’t accept them at all.
Bonus Tip: Shopping Within Our Means
Even the best prices may not be a good deal if we can’t afford to buy that gift. The happiness we get from buying and giving gifts shouldn’t translate to pain later when we get the credit card bills.
How would the recipients of our presents feel if they know buying those gifts caused us lasting financial pain? Happiness over a treasured gift can turn to guilt that we should we needed to overspend to make them happy.
Experts advise us to start shopping with a budget, both overall and for each gift. That can be hard to when we aren’t quite sure what to get each person on our list and then see that great gift while shopping. Fortunately, the web is a tool that can help us here as well.
Like a huge shelf of catalogs, the web gives us an opportunity to make our gift list and ensure we are within our budget before we start purchasing, avoiding bigger bills than we can handle later.
Do you have online shopping tips and stories for the holidays? We’d love to hear and pass them along.
Happy shopping this holiday!