Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Black Friday might feel a little different this year with more people shopping online instead of in stores to avoid the crowds and chaos of years past. As the holiday season continues in full swing, make sure you score the best deals and avoid headaches by following these seven tips.

1. Come up with a game plan

Aim to complete all of your online holiday shopping as early as possible to avoid shipping delays or out of stock alerts due to the surge in online ordering. Lots of holiday shopping traffic has migrated online in recent years, and experts predict that trend will accelerate this year. One study showed that nearly half of Americans started shopping online this year as early as September, citing that they were using their extra time at home during the pandemic to get a head start.

2. Create a budget and stick to it

Regardless of when you start shopping, the key to enjoying an affordable holiday season is creating and sticking to a budget. According to estimates from Deloitte's 35th annual holiday retail survey, families are expected to spend on average $1,387 per household, which means a little bit of planning can go a long way in making the most of the money you have available. Set yourself up with a clear objective: How much do you plan to spend, and for how many people? As you shop, keep a ledger of your spending to make sure you stay within the limits of your budget.

3. Organize your holiday gift lists

Once you have a dollar figure in mind and how you're going to allocate it, it's important you stay organized. Of course, there's an app for that! Gift-list apps like Giftster and Santa's Bag can keep track of your holiday gift ideas and purchases. In addition to creating profiles noting your recipients' favorite stores and sizes, some apps allow you to track the status of each gift, including what you have bought and wrapped, view gifts from previous years, and most importantly, track how much you've spent to date.

4. Take advantage of real opportunities to save

Don't get too caught up in the holiday marketing hype about doorbuster deals. Before you hit "purchase," do your homework to see if the items for sale are really great deals or duds.

Check pricing tools such as Google Shopping and CamelCamelCamel to separate the good sales from the ho-hum. You can also provide your email address and receive alerts when the price of something you want drops. And always seek out coupons and promo codes to score markdowns on the items that comprise your list. Online deal finders like RetailMeNot, Groupon, and Honey work with retailers to make promo codes readily available for your use on everything from discounts to free shipping.

5. Beware of fake websites

Just because a website looks official doesn't mean it is reputable. Be mindful about online scams and identity theft when shopping for holiday deals. If an offer sounds a bit too good to be true, make sure you do your due diligence.

In its 2020 Online Purchase Scams Report, the Better Business Bureau found that the top reason that people lost their money to online scams was due to being enticed by a sale price. Learn as much as you can about an e-commerce merchant before you complete a purchase. If a site is secure, the web address should start with https://" (the extra s is for secure") and include a lock icon on the shopping cart page. Check recommendations and feedback from other customers to gauge a business' reputation and value. If the site is missing contact information, that is a red flag.

6. Read up on return policies

Read the fine print on each retailer's return and exchange policies before you place your order. Due to the coronavirus, some jurisdictions prohibit the return of certain products. Keep in mind that return policies for sale or clearance merchandise might be different than merchandise sold at full price. Make sure you understand whether you or the gift recipient can get a refund, exchange or store credit for unwanted merchandise. Also, find out if you'll have to pay a return shipping fee. Sometimes merchandise can be returned to a store instead of the online merchant.

7. Keep tabs on all your orders

Save a copy of the confirmation page or email receipt until you receive the item and are satisfied. Most online stores will email receipts, which will help you track your order and ensure the correct amount is charged to your card. In case of a fraudulent transaction, some credit cards provide tools to help you protect yourself.

Cheers to cyber-safe holiday shopping

Holiday shopping can be a source of cheer and comfort this year, providing a much-needed sense of normalcy. Staying organized can help you stay on track, helping ensure you don't let cyber grinches turn your merriment into mayhem.

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