Many people will be avoiding the crowds and stress of the malls and doing the majority of their shopping online this holiday season. (I can understand. Shopping in my pajamas sounds infinitely nicer than pushing my way through crowded aisles and frazzled fellow shoppers.)
And there are plenty of ways to get some great bargains online. By comparison shopping and taking advantage of free shipping offers and coupon codes, you can net some great deals you wouldn’t find in the stores. But, you need to be sure to avoid some common traps of the online shopping world…
Pay attention to extra costs. An item might be on deep discount, but bear in mind that shipping and handling costs will add to your bottom line. If your budget for a gift is only so much, make sure your total charge doesn’t exceed that once extras are added on. These extras will add up if you’ve got a big shopping list.
“Free” shipping restrictions. Lots of sites like to lure you in with the promise of free shipping—only to inform you that you need to meet minimum order requirements in order to qualify for the promotion. If you’re nearly at the minimum and can find an item or two you know you will use (something you can save for a birthday gift later in the year, something you’ve been needing for the house anyway, etc.), then go ahead and throw a couple extra items in your cart to save on shipping. But don’t be tricked into buying items you don’t really need just to shave a few quid off your shipping charges. The extra items just nullify your shipping savings.
Pay attention to reviews. Anyone can sell anything on the internet, but that doesn’t means it’s a good product. Read customer reviews for products you’re not familiar with to make sure that the smartphone you’re looking at isn’t super-cheap because it’s super-junky.
Pay attention to seller ratings. If you’re buying from an auction site like eBay, make sure the seller is reliable by checking out customer ratings of their service. You can be sure that if a seller is really terrible, there are going to be plenty of people all too eager to share their experiences! Also pay attention to how many transactions the seller has done so far. You can feel pretty confident that a large seller with thousands of transactions knows what they’re doing and has stayed in business for a reason.
Pay attention to return policies. If you’re purchasing from a site you’re unfamiliar with, make sure to read their return policy carefully before hitting “buy.” Anything can happen with an online purchase, from receiving the wrong item to receiving a broken item, and you want to know you’ll be covered if you need to return something, for any reason.
Pay attention to shipping times. It’s always better to shop early to make sure your gift arrives in time for the holidays—especially if you need to turn around and ship it to an out-of-town recipient. Don’t end up paying exorbitant rush fees because you lost track of the time. And be especially careful of independent sellers on sites like eBay and Amazon Marketplace—they each have their own shipping timelines, and some may be overseas, so make sure the item you want doesn’t come with a 4-6 week turnaround time.