Online holiday shopping done right

Online holiday shopping done right

Stripes Japan

Is it better to buy early, before Black Friday (Nov. 29, this year), or wait and let your fingers do the walking across the keyboard while crazed shoppers elsewhere fight over gifts at the local mall? Should you wait for the holidays to get closer and hope that retailers turn desperate for business and slash prices?

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 destinations on time.

Consumer-price research has shown that the lowest prices on many popular holiday gifts, such as flat-screen TVs, are not found on Black Friday. Black Friday sales for many popular products, such as those from Apple, may not be such good deals. However, some retailers, like Amazon and Best Buy, have been known to offer discounts of up to 25 percent.

Many retailers have already released their sales ads for Black Friday, and shoppers can see how they compare to current prices. Online shopping sites like have many of these ads, including those from Amazon, Target, Modell’s, Walmart, Toys R Us, Macy’s, Best Buy, Sears and Victoria’s Secret. The site also offers discount coupons and cash back on website purchases.

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, a part of the National Retail Federation. Not surprisingly, operates a website – – that promotes deals from a variety of major retailers.

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 retailers don’t ship to military 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. But there is online help. gives clients a stateside mailing address to use for online shopping. Purchases go to an distribution center, 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, plus the U.S. Postal Service’s regular postage cost plus an insurance fee.

Never use your credit card online with a site that doesn’t have SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed. You can tell if sites do through their URLs, which 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.

Don’t assume that public Wi-Fi “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.

In fact, be stingy with your personal information. Don’t give out your credit card or other financial information in exchange for an offer like a free gift card or chance to win a holiday vacation rental. Never email your financial information such as a credit card number 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.

Really. It may be long, but it can give important information: for example, what personal information the website collects, why, and how the operators are going to use it. If you can’t find the privacy policy – or understand it – consider taking your business elsewhere.

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.

One good reliable source for information about safe shopping and other online activities is the government website:

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.

Monitor your financial accounts: Read your bank and credit card statements regularly to ensure they reflect the charges you authorized.

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