Perfect presents just a click away
Times were that Christmas and other holiday shopping unofficially started the day after Thanksgiving, with people, full of cheer from the feast enjoyed the day before, patiently waiting in line in front of their favorite stores until they opened. But with the development of the Internet, shoppers no longer have to wake up early and stand outside in the cold; they can fill their holiday stockings from the comfort of home. And they no longer have to wait until “Black Friday” because more and more online stores are offering special deals even before people sit down for their traditional turkey dinner.
In 2010, Americans spent $186 billion on online shopping, according to Orange Collar Media, and that figure is expected to swell even further, to $250 billion, by 2014. Electronic shoppers plunked down over $186 each on average on Black Friday. So it is clear that purchasing holiday presents on the Internet is here to stay.
Before you shop
Regardless of when you decide to shop, there are three basic rules you should follow to make sure you get the most out of holiday gift-giving:
1. Research the products you want to buy. There is nothing worse than buying something and finding out later it doesn’t meet your needs.
2. Prioritize the shopping sites you intend to visit. Find out which ones are offering the best deals on the items you most want to buy and hit those websites first.
3. Ask yourself how much you want to spend and stick to it. Does it really pay to go into debt for a present that the receiver may or may not want or use?
There are two other important guidelines to follow.
1. Know the total price of a purchase. This includes any shipping and handling charges, which can have a major impact on the final cost of an item. Check to see if a store is offering free shipping during the holidays.
2. Know the store’s return policy. Make sure you understand the return policy, including the deadline for returns and what paperwork you’ll need. You will likely have to pay to ship the product back, so keep the box and packing materials until you know you are going to keep the purchased item.
When to shop
The question you have to ask yourself is when to shop. Is it better to buy early, before Black Friday, or wait and happily let your fingers do the walking across the keyboard while watching TV news from the States showing crazed shoppers fighting over gifts at the local mall? Or should you wait for the holidays to get closer and hope that retailers turn desperate for business and slash prices, rather than carry over inventory into the new year for January sales?
With each choice you take your chances, and military overseas also have to consider holiday mailing and whether presents purchased online will get to their intended destination on time.
Consumer-price research firm Decide Inc. has compiled data showing that the lowest prices on many popular holiday gifts, such as flat-screen TVs, are not found on Black Friday, according to an article in The Huffington Post. The same story indicates Black Friday sales for many other products, including those from Apple, are not such good deals, though it concedes that some retailers, like Amazon and Best Buy, could offer discounts of up to 25 percent on Black Friday this year.
RetailMeNot.com, a major online coupon site, has reported that almost 40% of shoppers had started to make purchases before November, and that many retailers are already offering special deals.
Countering this are some predictions that Black Friday sales may be better than ever this year. CNBC has apparently reported, for example, that some retailers will price the new iPad mini and the fourth generation iPad below the sticker in Apple stores.
Many retailers have begun to release their sales ads for Black Friday, and shoppers can see how they compare to current prices. Online shopping sites like BlackFriday.com are already displaying the ads, including those from Dell, K Mart, Modell’s, Radio Shack, Toys R Us, and even the Exchange. Ads from other stores like Macy’s, Best Buy, Sears, and Victoria’s Secret are expected to be posted shortly. BlackFriday.com also offers discount coupons and cash back on purchases made through the website.
It has also been predicted that many online retailers will offer free shipping for goods purchased on Black Friday as a buying incentive.
If you’re not sold on Black Friday being a good time to shop, you could wait until Cyber Monday, a name given in 2005 to the first Monday following Thanksgiving, which is one of the biggest online shopping days of the year, according to its creator Shop.org, a part of the National Retail Federation.
Not surprisingly, Shop.org operates a website - www.cybermonday.com – that promotes deals from a variety of major retailers to promote online shopping, many with free shipping.
If you choose not to shop before or during these two special days, you’re in luck this year because Black Friday falls on Nov. 23, the earliest date possible for the day after Thanksgiving, giving you extra time for your holiday shopping.
“Give the Gift of Groceries”
Unsure of what to get a friend or family member in the military, Commissary Gift Cards, available in denominations of $25 and $50, are an easy and convenient way to wish them a happy holiday while providing them with the necessities of life.
Anyone can buy cards for authorized personnel – members of the military, retirees, and their families – and are available for purchase at commissaries worldwide and on the commissary website. Cards can be sent anywhere in the U.S. as well as to APO, FPO or DPO addresses overseas.
For users, card balances can be checked by phone or online.
For more information or to place an order, contact the Commissary at www.commissaries.com/giftcard/index.cfm
Source: Defense Commissary Agency
Online help for online shopping
Ever get tired of going back and forth between Internet shopping sites in order to find the lowest price, or feel that if you just look a little longer you will find a site that has the product you want at the price you want to pay? Then you are the person that shopping search engines have been created for. These sites do your comparative shopping work for you, listing online sites, as well as brick-and-mortar stores, that have the products you want and state the selling price as well. You can then go to the sites with the lowest prices, figure out the cost of shipping, read customer reviews of their services, and make your purchase.
Some of the more popular shopping search engines are:
Google Shopping - www.google.com/prdhp
Shopping.com - www.shopping.com/-
Yahoo Shopping - shopping.yahoo.com
Nextag - www.nextag.com/
Price Grabber - www.pricegrabber.com
Get help shipping to military addresses
Some retailers don’t ship to military post offices overseas and others do so only for some products. But there is a company that helps to get around the problem in order to give service members access to all products online.
Apobox.com serves as a middleman for overseas shoppers stopped from accessing products from certain retailers. These firms don’t ship to APO and FPO addresses because they have exclusive bulk shipping contracts with UPS, FedEx or DHL to lower costs, and only the U.S. Postal Service delivers to military addresses.
The site gives clients a stateside mailing address to use for online shopping. Purchases go to an Apobox.com distribution center, from where they are forwarded via the U.S. Postal Service to customers around the world.
The company claims that most packages are processed and shipped out within 24 hours of arriving at its warehouse. It charges a handling fee as low as $6 per package, depending upon weight, plus the U.S. Postal Service’s regular postage cost plus an insurance fee.
The number of retailers who are targeting the military market is growing, however. Oconus.com lists hundreds of companies on its website that ship to military post offices.
Source: Kanto Stripes
According to PC Magazine, once you decide to shop online, never buy anything using your credit card from a site that doesn't have SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed. You can tell if the site has SSL because the URL for the site will start with HTTPS:// (instead of just HTTP://). An icon of a locked padlock will appear, generally in the status bar at the bottom of your web browser or right next to the URL in the address bar.
For more information about computer safety for online shopping, go to the websites of sources in the know:
McAfee - www.mcafee.com/us/about/news/2011/q4/20111109-01.aspx
PC Magazine - www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2373131,00.asp
U.S. Government - www.onguardonline.gov/articles/0020-shopping-online
Shopping safe - 9 tips for purchasing goods online
Know who you're dealing with
Confirm the online seller's physical address and phone number before you buy. It comes in handy if you have questions or problems later.
Know what you're buying
• Read the seller's description of the product and even though it can be painful, the fine print.
• Check out the terms and conditions. Can you return the item for a refund if you're not satisfied? Who pays the shipping costs? Is there a restocking fee? Print and save records of your online transactions, including all emails to and from the seller.
• Buy gift cards from sources you know and trust. Avoid buying cards from any online auction sites because the cards could be fakes.
Be stingy with your personal information
• Don't give out your credit card or other financial information in exchange for an offer of the newest tech toy, a free gift card, a seasonal job or a holiday vacation rental.
• Don't email your financial information. Email isn't a secure way to transmit numbers—your credit card, your checking account, or your Social Security number.
• Don't click on a link in an email. Legitimate companies don't ask for your financial information via email or pop-up message.
Having an item's manufacturer and model number can help you compare "apples to apples" among merchants. Some retailers match, or even beat, a competitor's prices. Many merchants are offering free shipping this year, but not all—so factor the cost of shipping into the total cost. Or if you order online and pick up at the store, consider the cost of parking or public transportation.
Should you buy on public WiFi?
Don't assume that public "hot spots" are secure. Unless you can verify that a hot spot has effective security measures in place, you may not want to send sensitive information like your credit card number over that network.
Pay by credit or charge card
They offer the best consumer protections. Under federal law, you have the right to dispute charges under certain circumstances and withhold payment temporarily while the creditor is investigating. And if your card is used without your authorization, your liability generally ends at the first $50.
Wiring money can be risky. It's just like sending cash — once it's gone, it's gone. You can't get it back. Buying online using cash equivalents — debit card, personal check, cashier's check, or money order — can be risky. Use them only if you know the party you're doing business with.
Free can be costly
Free screen savers, e-cards, or other seasonal downloads could carry dangerous viruses. Keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware software current along with your firewall.
Monitor your financial accounts
Read your statements regularly, making sure they reflect the charges you authorized.
Source: Federal Trade Commission