The holidays are approaching and if you’re anything like me, you’re already doing some browsing online, so I’m sharing some smart online holiday shopping tips to help you save money, time, and your sanity during Halloween, Christmas, New Year’s, and beyond.
Shopping in stores is a complete drain on most consumers. During the Halloween season, you dread going to the stores that sell costumes because it’s like a mad house. I know I do! The closer Halloween gets, the longer the wait to try on costumes.
It’s no fun.
It’s no different on Black Friday, Cyber Monday or during the Christmas rush. Chaos ensues – especially when anything in the store is limited in quantity, and you wind up going all over town trying to find an item – sometimes encountering rude shoppers and surly clerks.
Why put yourself through that?
Every consumer knows that now, you can shop online – quickly and safely – from the comfort of your own home. You can take advantage of web-only sales, have items shipped to your house for free, and save gas (and your sanity) by using your mouse to shop instead of your vehicle.
But not every consumer knows how to shop properly. Sometimes you need a little guidance to help you navigate the online sites to find what you need and get the best deal. That’s where this guide comes in!
Shop Safe and Keep Your Personal Information Private
Before you ever get started shopping online, you want to make sure you shop safely. This is the number one reason many people worry about shopping online is that they don’t want their information compromised.
My fiance was determined to never shop online because he was concerned about his private information leaking. These days, he’s relaxed a bit, but he’s still very aware that there is potential for having his personal data compromised so he takes steps to protect that information.
One way you can ensure your privacy is intact is to shop and check out of any online store as a guest. Don’t let any site – even reputable household names like Walmart.com – save your information in their files.
If their online files are ever hacked, you don’t want your credit card or banking details being used when you didn’t authorize it. Read the site’s privacy and terms of service pages to make sure you know how they treat online visitors’ information.
You can look for certain badges of trustworthiness like a Better Business Bureau seal or an eTrust verified button. Look for formidable refund policies in case the item you order isn’t as it was described or doesn’t arrive in good condition.
Once you know the basics about protecting yourself financially when shopping online, you will be able to enjoy what millions of others are enjoying – shopping from the comfort of your own home.
Consider Shopping from Sites That Sell a Variety
When you shop offline, one of the most tiring things is when you have to go from one store to another. Not only is it physically exhausting, but it can also waste gas if you have to travel a distance between locations.
Don’t even get me started on when you can’t find what you’re looking for!
It’s much more convenient if you can go to one store and find everything you need. This is rarely the case in the offline world – but online, it’s a very real possibility!
You can go to an offline store like Walmart and find many items for sale in a variety of categories. You can find a futon or jewelry, clothing or electronics. But the choices are limited due to space limitations.
Online, you could shop at Walmart.com and find many more opportunities for things that might not be carried in your local store. You can even shop online and have everything sent to your local store, ready for pickup!
My top choice for online shopping that has a little bit of everything is Amazon. When it comes to online shopping, they have the competition beat.
Not only do they seem to sell everything – Halloween costumes, holiday decorations, furniture and books, cosmetics and tools – but they also have a wide range of those categories for you to choose from.
Some people shop based on price alone, looking for the least expensive options. Amazon would have something for everyone in this category. But you’ll also find high-end items costing tens of thousands of dollars, too – so you could have a $100 patio table and chairs or an entire outdoor living room set worth thousands.
You’ve probably shopped on eBay, right? Here, you find everything from trinkets that cost pennies to collectibles that cost a lot of money. You have to shop smart on this site, relying on reputable dealers, but it’s a great place to acquire some things that might be hard to find in your area or even rare items that are out-of-print or no longer being produced.
For example, maybe your spouse is a huge sports fan for a team that’s not located near where you live. It can be difficult to find gifts for that person, but on eBay, you can find quite a few options – like personalized jerseys. There are some fantastic handmade options, here, too.
And speaking of handmade, Etsy has grown to be a huge resource for unique, handmade items. You’ll find t-shirts, planner stickers, fine and costume jewelry, home decor, hand-crafted beauty products, and lots more. You can check out as a guest and they take all kinds of payment, including PayPal.
Variety stores offer convenience because everything gets shipped in fewer boxes and you don’t have to place multiple orders. You just look around a single site, put everything you want into the virtual shopping cart, and check out.
Look for the Best Shipping Deals
Shipping can add quite a bit on to your bottom line, almost canceling out any savings you may have earned from staying home and shopping if you’re not careful.
If you order heavy items or order multiple items to be shipped, then your charges might accumulate into something excessive. Your ultimate goal in shopping online is both convenience and keeping costs down, so you have to watch how the charges add up.
Sometimes shipping can equal or even exceed the cost of thehe item you initially ordered. Some products weigh a lot but don’t cost a lot and if you’re like me, you’re not OK paying an exorbitant shipping fee.
But you can save money on shipping fees when you shop online if you shop smart. There are sites that have a flat rate for shipping and this is great as long as you’re not being cheated and it’s worth your while.
Amazon has free shipping for some orders where the amount surpasses $25. Not everything on the site qualifies for this special shipping deal. If an item is eligible, it will say so on the product page.
Another option you have if you’re an Amazon shopper – and my favorite! – is to sign up for Amazon Prime. This is a program where you get free two-day shipping on certain items (it also makes a pretty nice gift for the person that has everything else.) This program pays for itself in shipping costs alone and comes in really handy for last minute holiday shopping.
Another tip is that sometimes, especially during the holiday season, a site that normally doesn’t offer shipping freebies or discounts will run them just to grab a larger piece of the retail pie during peak shopping times.
Consider Online Consumer Reviews
When shopping for holiday items online, you want to make sure that what you’re buying is top quality and a good value. You won’t be there in person to try things out yourself, so relying on consumer reviews is important.
Learn how to tell the difference between a real review and hype that’s meant to push a product on you no matter what. If a consumer hasn’t reviewed multiple products and glows about this one thing, then it might not be genuine.
Most online reviews will include a star rating, some comments left by the buyer and now, many sites indicate a “verified buyer” or “verified purchase” right there on the review, so you know you’re not reading a fake.
You want to look for products that are ranked at three stars above. But never just look at the star rating alone to make a buying decision. It’s important that you read the comments and judge for yourself. Even better if you know someone personally who has purchased the item you’re interested in – you can ask for first-hand feedback!
Many consumers will complain about things that wouldn’t matter to you. Some, you can tell, are simply revenge feedback because the consumer didn’t want to pay for an item.
There are even those that leave negative ratings against their competitors. You can weed those out and look for fair and reasonable feedback so that you can make a proper buying decision.
You also want to read the feedback reviews on many sites about a particular product. Go to blogs that review the items, look at different websites and study up.
Of course, it might not be something that’s worth going to all that trouble for – only you know how much you’re willing to dig around – and, typically, a little more work is worth it when you’re considering purchasing something that’s a little pricier.
Once you read through the online reviews, make your actual buying decision based on the value you get from online stores – including the cost of the item, speed and price of shipping, and things like return policies .
Sign Up for Sales Alerts
Sales alerts online can be a real blessing for you around the holidays. By signing up (or opting in) for alerts, you’ll get email notifications whenever certain things have been priced lower, or if new quantities are in stock for something previously sold out.
You can get notifications on pre-release orders for things like video games or new gaming consoles. You can get notified if a site like Amazon is currently having a sale on an entire category – such as patio furniture or toys!
Sometimes you’ll sign up directly on the site where the products are being sold. Other times, you’ll be signing up on a website run by an online blogger who takes it upon him (or her)self to keep tabs all over the ‘net for you and let you know the best deals that can be found.
Plan Your Shopping Strategically
When the holidays roll around, you want to map out your shopping just as the couponers do when they strategically go through a store.
If it’s time for a sale day like Black Friday or Cyber Monday, make sure you plan early. There are several ways you can do this!
- First, look online for advanced Black Friday (or Cyber Monday) deals. Many sites will have leaks available where you can find out what’s going to be sold ahead of time.
- Get an advanced copy of your local stores’ Black Friday (or Cyber Monday) deals. For example, you want to know if Best Buy online will have a better deal than your local Best Buy – because sometimes, stores will give their online shoppers extra perks – and vice versa!
- Compare all of the offline and online stores for the best deals. Sometimes you might find different brands of a particular item that are on sale for a better price, and this gives you time to research them and read reviews about them.
- Search online for “[product] reviews Black Friday” and see what bloggers have created for their readers – many will have researched Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals ahead of time and are sharing their finds with their readers.
- You also want to check dates and times. Some stores have pre-Black Friday deals, for example – or they extend their sales past the official Cyber Monday date. Others will have specific windows where you can order things on sale, or they’ll have limits such as 100 TVs, so you have to plan to be first in line (online) to put it in your cart for checkout.
Shopping for Halloween Online
Halloween shopping online can be great fun! When you live in a large city, it can be pure chaos trying to fight the crowds around Halloween who are all battling for that last Deluxe Wonder Woman costume your daughter’s been dying to get.
Problem solved when you shop online – there are no crowds and there’s plenty of stock for everyone. All you have to do is shop around, point and click your mouse to choose the right size, and check out!
The costume is delivered to your doorstep in a few days. Another great thing about online shopping for Halloween costumes is that you can add on the best accessories that bring you or your child’s costume to a whole new level of awesomeness.
But Halloween isn’t just about the costumes – it’s about the décor, too. You can find tons of indoor and outdoor fall or Halloween decorations at a fraction of the price you’d find them locally.
Shopping for Christmas Online
Christmas shopping is the pinnacle of online buying. Consumers don’t want to get mixed up in the holiday rush and sometimes inclement weather that can be dangerous to drive on.
It’s not such a wonderful time when you have to deal with shoulder-to-shoulder crowds of people who are stressed, rushed, and a little grumpy!
You can easily shop for the entire family – whether you’re having Christmas with them in your home, or sending gifts far away to loved ones who can’t be with you during this season.
One of the most popular things to buy online for Christmas are gift cards! Instead of buying from individual stores, you can buy Amazon.com gift cards and your recipient can shop for exactly what they want – so they get to choose between clothing, jewelry, music, movies, and so on.
If you want to make things a little more personal, you can! Shop for tons of toys on Amazon (including the newest releases), and many other gifts and favorites for every age – newborn to senior citizen!
Holiday savings on sites like Amazon start on Black Friday (actually a bit early for pre-Black Friday deals). They go all the way past New Year’s Day when most people go online shopping to claim their gift cards.
Online Holiday Shopping Tips – Things to Remember
Shopping online during the holidays requires a bit of planning, but not anything more than what you would do with offline stores. You can save a great deal of time, frustration and money using web-based retailers.
Make sure that when you’re doing a lot of shopping, you print out your receipts and keep a record of what you bought, from which website, and when it’s expected to arrive. You want to be able to notify them if something doesn’t arrive.
Don’t be afraid to keep looking for good deals right up through the end of December, closer to Christmas. Some web retailers will put up steep discounts to help move more merchandise at the last minute.
The more you shop online, the easier it gets. And the more you do it, the better you get at finding deals all year ’round.