When You Shop Online...

More Americans than ever let their keyboards do their holiday shopping. Be smart about online shopping.

By FamilyTime


Who wouldn't want to shop from the comfort and privacy of their own home rather than battle the holiday crowds? This is especially true if you know what you want to buy. For the best online experience, know what you're doing before you sit down at the computer.

Start Early
While on-line merchants are geared up to meet the demand for holiday buying, it's a good idea to shop early to insure everything gets to you in time for Christmas or Hanukkah.

Most sites suggest placing orders by mid December for Christmas. You can always pay extra for express shipping those last-minute gifts, although this may not mean overnight service. You should get the order in two to three days, however.

Shop Smart
Rely on known merchants. This might mean staying with brand names and merchants with solid bricks-and-mortar reputations. Or it means relying on sites with impeccable reputations or that you have used before with good results.

If you are interested in bargains, look for shopping portals dedicated to finding good deals. These often direct you to shopping bots (short for robots), which rapidly search for items in specific categories. Search engines such as Google will help you find these.

Sign up for e-mail alerts. Many internet sites will send you email when there is a sale or special offer.

Before tapping the key that finalizes the order, check all amounts and totals. Cross-check items and charges. Take your time.

Print and keep -- or store them in your hard drive -- all orders, item descriptions, and email communications. These will help if you run into any problems.

Examine the merchandise as soon as it is delivered. If you are not home all day, consider having it delivered to your office, if your boss agrees. 

Read Shipping and Return Policies
Before you place an order, check the shipping fees and read the return policy. Does the company charge a flat fee or a per-item fee? Does it charge multiple fees if the order is sent in several shipments?

Even if the site is run by a bricks-and-mortar company, you may not be able to return the merchandise to the store. Read the fine print to determine this and other policies.

Check to see if you or the company pays for return shipping. Is there a "restocking fee" deducted from your refund? (Sure, it's a bore to labor over these regulations and rules, but at least you're wearing your slippers!)

Contact the company by telephone or email immediately with questions about your order.

Pay with a Credit Card
Using a credit card or systems like Pay Pal is the safest way to pay for items online. Very few online companies accept any other form of payment.

With a credit card, your liability for unauthorized charges is limited to a small amount (usually $50). You are protected under the Fair Credit Billing Act and can dispute charges and any problems.

If you make a lot of online charges, consider dedicating one credit card to them. This way, it's easy to keep track of purchases.

Look into Gift Certificates and Wish Lists
Some portals offer gift certificates that can be redeemed at any of the businesses they represent. Most online merchants sell gift certificates, too. These may be for online merchandise alone or can be used in stores. Determine this before you buy.

Many companies allow you to create "wish lists" of items you would like. These can be sent to friends and relatives who are stumped about what to buy you this year!

Pour yourself another cup of tea or cocoa, sync the iPod to some good music, and browse the internet. Holiday shopping just got easier!