Eager to chase down Cyber Monday deals, or just doing some online shopping before Christmas week arrives?
Here are some tips that some shopping gurus and consumer experts say you might want to consider. They might help you find a good deal, protect you from an unhappy experience, or just streamline your search.
1. Plug into your favorite stores. One route to bargains is getting connected directly to your favorite retailers. Big retailers typically offer email newsletters or Twitter alerts about special promotions. It's also easy to simply log into the website: At L.L. Bean's home page, for example, you'll see a link to "sale" items right near the top.
2. Let the web deliver deals. Expand your deal-finding power by using websites like Dealio.com, where you can search for promotions across a galaxy of stores. Dealio lets you tap into online coupons for products and categories.
RetailMeNot.com can also help you search for coupon codes that will cut the cost of online purchases. Other sites for comparing prices across the web include pricegrabber.com and shopping.com. The comparisons will often show how much shipping costs, or if it's free. Finally, CyberMonday.com is a retail site that pulls together lots of the latest deals.
3. Take the web with you to the mall. For smartphone users, a burgeoning array of apps aim to integrate the power of the Internet with "being there" in a store, where you can see and touch some products in real life.
A mobile application from thefind.com lets people scan the barcode of an item with their phone, and then the phone will come back with a list of nearby stores and their prices for the same item. A similar app is available from ShopSavvy.com, among others. Coupon Sherpa has an app (for iPhone users) that snags relevant online coupons while you shop at a store.
4. Reap something extra. Sites including FatWallet.com add an additional perk: Beyond whatever bargains you find, you can earn cash-back rewards that will help pay for future purchases.
Another option: Buy through an affinity site and you'll be helping some other organization each time you make a purchase. At iGive.com you can pick a charity to be benefited by your shopping. An alternative is to start your shopping tour – Warning: self-promotion here – at CSMonitorMall.com, which results in revenue for this nonprofit news organization at no cost to the shopper.
5. Avoid scams and disappointments. The Better Business Bureau warns that offers on websites or in unsolicited e-mails that sound too good to be true may be scams. And even legitimate sites typically have weaker consumer protections for online shoppers than they do for the clientele in their bricks-and-mortar stores.
A feature in Consumer Reports' November "MoneyAdviser" newsletter notes that common "gotchas" include no-return policies or hefty restocking fees if you send an item back. So, before making a purchase, you might want to look for a company's customer agreement and give it a read, or check for possible trouble by seeing what comes up in a web search with the retailer's name plus "rip-off" or "complaints," the newsletter recommends.
6. Track the shipping time. Many retailers pledge delivery by Dec. 25 if you buy by a certain date. And federal regulations generally require shipment within 30 days of an order. The Consumer Reports MoneyAdviser says merchants must get the customer's permission to delay shipment (they can notify you of a new shipping date, and can interpret a nonresponse from you as permission).
7. Select your payment option wisely. Credit cards offer better consumer protection than debit cards, such as the ability to withhold payment for a purchase that's in dispute. Another option is the Paypal system, which can help consumers avoid typing credit-card information into so many websites.