I am a huge fan of online shopping. I love everything about it: the convenience, the extensive selection, the time it saves, and the satisfied feeling I get when I see a pile of packages on my doorstep.
Virtual stores never close, so I execute purchases early in the morning and late at night. Wearing my bathrobe, mug of tea in one hand and mouse in the other, I find what I need and buy it.
Apparently, I am in good company. The Pulse Index reports that the current holiday season’s online transactions are up 40 percent compared to the same time period last year. Total sales have risen 26 percent.
Shoppers are using PCs, laptops and smartphones to snap up deals and help keep UPS and FedEx in business.
Laura Heller, writing for forbes.com, predicted this trend six months ago. She wrote:
Shopping online is about to explode. Retailers of all types are expanding product offerings, adding in-store pickup, free shipping and experimenting with social media. It’s getting harder to tell pure play Internet retailers from the brick-and-mortar shops with online portals, and all of them are reinventing how we’ll shop online in the future.
Here's my advice around holiday shopping online:
Read reviews. Even if you don’t end up buying from a site, you may want to read its reviews. Amazon.com is a great resource as many customers follow up and furnish written critiques of items they have purchased. Others’ warnings can save you from paying for poorly designed or difficult-to-use products.
Compare prices online. If you favor a particular retailer’s clothing, you probably won’t be able to buy it anywhere but on their website. A Canon digital camera, though available on the manufacturer’s site, is selling on dozens of others as well. A comparison tool like PriceGrabber will alert you to the best deal.
Bookmark a site that lists current coupon codes. These codes, entered at checkout, generally do one of three things: discount a single item, take a percentage off an order’s total, or allow the order to ship for free.
RetailMeNot saves me time as well as money. Individuals are permitted to share coupon codes they have discovered, and users are encouraged to answer Did this coupon work for you? The site tallies the percentages of successful transactions and keeps shoppers from trying out codes that have significant failure rates. And if there is a “trick” to utilizing a code, chances are good that someone has shared it in the comment section.
Join email lists and like ‘em on Facebook. Online sellers want to be able to contact their customers. They often confer valuable incentives to those who are willing to be contacted via email or Facebook.
For example, anyone who signs up for Eddie Bauer emails will receive 15 percent off an online purchase.
Become a member. Some retailers offer loyalty cards that save you money on Internet purchases or add points to a frequent buyer program. Anyone who patronizes Barnes and Noble should investigate their membership program. The $25 annual fee is more than recouped via discounts, free shipping and other perks that the bookseller offers.
Open a Upromise acccount. Get paid to shop online. Accessing participating online retailers through Upromise means that I have money deposited into my account after every transaction. Learn about how Upromise works and start saving now.
Consider in-store pick up for large items. This is a great way to take advantage of online prices and availability but avoid shipping charges. Have that TV sent to the nearest Walmart or Best Buy.
Know the shipping terms. After receiving an email from Eddie Bauer alerting me to a free shipping promotion, I placed some clothing in my virtual cart. Upon checkout, I entered the code I had been sent. The shipping charge was zeroed out, but a $3 “handling fee” was applied to the order. When unexpected charges appear, it’s up to the consumer to proceed with the transaction or bail on it.
Decide where to ship. I have the out-of-state relatives’ gifts sent to my home so I can wrap and mail them. This is not ideal, but I want all the presents to look the same. For birthdays, I often have the gift sent right to the recipient’s home. Most sites allow you to add a personal message that will be included on the invoice or on a small card.
Know return policies. Most Internet retailers will accept returns within a specified time period. Some charge for return shipping and some do not. Factor in this cost if there is a chance you won’t be keeping all of the items.
Some stores allow goods purchased online to be returned to stores. This eliminates additional shipping costs. Head to the local Sears to bring back Lands’ End items, or to the Gap family of stores (Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic) to return their clothing.
Rue La La will pay for your return shipping if you elect to accept an account credit instead of a refund
Do you have a favorite Internet retailer? Scored any great online deals lately? Share with other Patch readers in the comment section below!