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.

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 and sometimes encountering rude shoppers and surly clerks.

Why put yourself through that?

Every consumer knows that now, you can shop online – 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 online. Sometimes you need a little guidance to help you navigate the online sites to find what you need and get the best deal.

Shop Safely and Protect Your Information

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 because they don’t want their information compromised.

The first tip is to shop and check out of any online store as a guest. Don’t let any site – even reputable household names like – 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.

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 if the item you initially ordered. Some products weigh a lot but dot cost a lot and them you feel cheated paying an exorbitant shipping fee.

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 can help or hurt you. It might turn out that you save money using a flat fee shipping option – but you might also pay more than it’s worth.

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 is to sign up for Amazon Prime. This is a program where you get free two-day shipping on many items. This program pays for itself in shipping costs alone and comes in really handy for last minute holiday shopping.

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 and some comments left by the buyer right on the site.  But it might also include blog posts with thorough user reviews and no star rating.

You want to look for products that are ranked at three stars above.  But never just look at the star rating only to make a buying decision. It’s important that you read the comments and judge for yourself.

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 that, and it’s typically something that’s a higher dollar amount for you to order.

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 just in case.

Sign Up for Sales Alerts

Sales alerts online can be a real blessing for you around the holidays. By signing up (or opt 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 go through a store strategically, buying things that are on sale so they pay next to nothing for them.

If it’s 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.

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.

Plan to stay up late or get up early on days when sales start because there will be shoppers who know exactly what they want and are going to get it. Don’t expect to sleep in until an hour before the sales end and turn on your computer and find the top notch deals, because they will have been snatched up already!

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.

You can 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 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! You can shop for tons of toys on Amazon, and many other things 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.

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 will become for you. You’ll not only buy all of your seasonal holiday gifts on the web, but you’ll probably become accustomed to finding good deals for every day of the year when you need something and prefer to buy it online rather than get out and look for it locally.

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