Money Monday: How To Get The Most Out Of Your Online Holiday Shopping

BY: - 3 Dec '12 | Money

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With Cyber Monday sales totaling nearly $1.5 billion, it’s clear that Americans are embracing the internet for their holiday shopping like never before. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of power tips to help you get the most out of your online holiday efforts while keeping your budget intact.

Remember it’s real money you’re dealing with

While using your computer or smart phone to nab the greatest deals seems like a smart play, it does come with an inherent risk. Primarily, it lowers the “pain of paying.” You see, it’s difficult to hand over hard earned cash but much easier to pay with a credit card. That’s why studies show that consumers spend more when they use credit rather than cash.

And since the internet is basically a credit based system, it’s all too easy for us to spend without fully appreciating that we’re parting with “real” money, especially when retailers make it so convenient with “one-click” ordering.

Don’t get caught up. Remember, it’s all too easy to spend money online without realizing you’re parting with actual money. Keep a running tally of the money you’ve spent online. Better yet, make a holiday budget and stick to it, whether in the real world or virtual one.

Outsmart the online retailers

Did you know that online retailers price discriminate all the time? They offer different prices and discounts to different customer on the very same items. Surprisingly, your computer operating system, the way you enter a merchant’s website, and how you search for a particular product may all determine whether you pay a higher price or not.

Some websites show users of Mac computers higher prices than their PC using friends. Enter a website by typing the address directly into the web browser and experts warn you may be offered higher prices and fewer discounts. So what are some of the best ways to ensure you get the lowest holiday prices?

Shop like a bargain hunter. Arriving at a website by way of a shopping search engine will often result in you being served up lower prices or being offered more lucrative discounts. Experts advise that you never go directly to the product page of an item you’re interested in. Browse around first. If you have an Apple computer, try checking the prices for the same merchandise on a Windows PC.

Most importantly, consider disabling the cookies on your computer. These small bits of information (cookies) are stored on your browser by the websites you visit. They allow merchandisers to track your web usage patterns. Using this information they often charge your higher, or in some cases lower prices, on their merchandise. If you have access to more than one computer try checking the prices on a computer using a browser with the cookies disabled.

Find the best price always

Comparison pricing is perhaps the best way to use the internet to nab holiday deals, and specialized search engines and smart phone apps make it easier than ever. Google Product Search, Nextag, and Bizrate are among the most highly rated comparison search engines. Smart phone apps like Red Laser, allow you to find the best prices both online and at local bricks and mortar stores.

Never pay for shipping

Shipping costs can put a huge dent in your holiday shopping budget, but there are a number of ways to get around having to pay for it. Check with the retailer first. Many, like Amazon, offer free shipping if you order a certain dollar amount worth of merchandise.

Alternatively search coupon websites like RetailMeNot where you can search for free online shipping discount codes at major internet retailers.

Site-to-store shopping is another option that allows you to avoid shipping costs. Major retailers like Sears and Walmart allow you to purchase online and then pick up your item at a nearby store.

If you’re the patient type you can always wait until Monday December 17, free shipping day. That’s when thousands of retailers offer free shipping on holiday merchandise. Check-out for a list of participating merchants.

Always have a back-up plan

In life even the best laid plans fall ruin sometimes as online shoppers discovered last year when several major retailers failed to follow through on delivery promises. Best Buy, for instance, received backlash after it accepted online orders in November but then waited until the week before Christmas to tell customers that their orders had been cancelled.

It pays to have a back-up plan in case a retailer drops the ball or an item doesn’t arrive on time as promised. Last minute gift cards can often serve as a plan B, and some online merchants even allow you to purchase virtual gift cards which you can send to loved ones by way of email.

BMWK. The internet can make the holiday season less stressful and cheaper. What are some of the best web tools or tricks you use to find low holiday prices?


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