Shopping for the holidays online
Editor's Note: Time is running out, so you better get shopping!
So, you still have a lot of holiday shopping to do but don’t have time to stand in lines? Then get online and start shopping.
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:
- Research the products you want to buy. There is nothing worse than buying something and finding out later it doesn’t meet your needs.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
In the next couple of weeks, retailers will release their sales ads for Black Friday, and shoppers can see how they compare to current prices. Online shopping sites like BlackFriday.com will display ads, including those from Dell, K Mart, Modell’s, Radio Shack, Toys R Us, Macy’s, Best Buy, Sears, Victoria’s Secret and even the Exchange. BlackFriday.com also offers discount coupons and cash back on purchases made through the website.
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.
“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:
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.
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:// - without the “S”). 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:
PC Magazine - www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2373131,00.asp
U.S. Government - www.onguardonline.gov/articles/0020-shopping-online
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
Online shopping with NEX and AAFES
When it comes to holiday shopping, many military and Defense Department civilian personnel and their families in the Pacific are quite familiar with what’s available at their local exchanges. For more variety and harder to find items many are also well versed with a myriad of online ordering options from popular retailers back home. But what about ordering online from your exchange?
Chris Ward, Army and Air Force Exchange Service public relations specialist, and Dan Cougevan, merchandise and operations manager at Navy Exchange Japan District, told us about their online shopping services.
Q: What are some of the benefits of online shopping with the exchange compared to other online retailers like Amazon, Yahoo, etc.?
AAFES: Benefits include tax free shopping, special military only discounts as well as free shipping when using the Military Star card. In addition, our buyers are able to negotiate great discounts on name brand products, available exclusively to military shoppers. … It is always a good idea to shop early to ensure the best selection, visit the site often to see our daily specials and don’t forget to allow plenty of time for shipping!
NEX: Shopping at the www.mynavyexchange.com allows you to ship with confidence that the NEX stands behind you. If you’re not completely satisfied with your on-line purchase, you can return it to any NEX for a full refund. No sales tax. Many sites are now charging sales tax. NEX always ships to FPO addresses. Flat rate shipping is available. (Orders are) processed using secured servers. They can return their purchase to any NEX and not have to worry about the time and expense of mailing an item back. They never pay sales tax. There is a 14-day price guarantee. If they find the same item at a lower price within 14 days, they’ll get the difference. When customers shop at their NEX either on-line or a brick and mortar store, they are supporting quality of life programs through our annual MWR dividend. Shopping outside of the military exchange system benefits anonymous shareholders vs. military members and their families.
Q: How different is the variety of merchandise that someone might find in their local exchange compared to what you offer online?
AAFES: The Exchange carries name brands at great prices both in-store and online. Michael Kors, Coach, Ralph Lauren, Apple, Bose, Under Armour and Clinique are just a few. The eCommerce website is one of the Exchange’s strategic priorities – to offer customers broad product selections no matter where they want to shop.
NEX: There are different categories of merchandise not stocked at all locations. You’re sure to find the size and color you want at a great price!
Q: What kinds of items, if any, does the exchange offer stateside that may not be available overseas in the Pacific – and why?
AAFES: The only limitations to (shoppers outside the continental U.S.) are items that have shipping restrictions to APO/FPO addresses.
NEX: www.mynavyexchnage.com may have some items sooner than the local NEX in Japan due to the surface lead time it takes to arrive in Japan.
Q: What about deadlines? In order to have items ordered online from the exchange reach the Pacific what’s the cutoff date? What about ordering from these locations for stateside delivery?
AAFES: We recommend that eCommerce orders shipping (outside the continental U.S.) be placed by Dec. 1 in order to receive Christmas delivery. Online orders placed for delivery within (the continental U.S.) should be placed prior to Dec. 15 to take advantage of lowest shipping rates.
NEX: Customers should check with the Post Office for holiday deadlines. It’s always wise to shop early to ensure timely delivery.
Q: Do you offer any Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales or promotions?
AAFES: We will offer special promotions each day beginning Thanksgiving Day and continuing through Cyber Monday. A broader selection of items will be available online and in-store for this important holiday shopping weekend. We have worked with our suppliers to ensure we have the best and a competitive selection.
NEX: www.mynavyexchange.com will have a Cyber Monday Sale.
Q: What are the most popular online shopping items you sell during the holiday season?
AAFES: Customer favorites are always electronics, including Apple products, blue tooth speakers, computers, Beats headphones and Bose sound systems. Additionally, this year’s assortment makes available popular items such as name brand cosmetics including Estee Lauder, Lancome and Clinque as well as desired apparel and accessories from brands such as Coach, Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors.
NEX: Table computers, digital readers; all Apple products; professional-grade juicers and blenders; single-serve coffee makers such as Keurig and the new Starbucks single serve coffee maker; digital SLR and action cameras; men’s and women’s outerwear; jewelry; tactical and sporting goods; handbags; and high-end cookware.
Takahiro Takiguchi, Stripes Okinawa