While Black Friday has traditionally kicked off the holiday shopping season, the digital age has made online shopping a popular alternative. In 2010, Cyber Monday — the Monday after Black Friday — unofficially launched the online holiday shopping season and generated nearly $1 billion in online sales. This year, that number is expected to increase nearly 20%.
The National Retail Federation reports that more than a third of shoppers will do their holiday purchasing online this year. With so many people scouring the Internet, online shoppers are encouraged to take necessary precautions to protect themselves while scoring the best deals.
Here are some tips for safe online shopping this holiday season:
Use Good Judgment. This is one time it’s not only acceptable, but preferable, to judge a book by its cover. Carefully choose which web sites you shop from, sticking to trusted major retailers that are reputable. If a web site looks sketchy, underdeveloped, or is promising an outrageous deal, it most likely is a phony.
Ensure Your Safety. While shopping online, ensure the area is safe and conducted over a secure connection. It’s better to shop privately at home where you know the connection is secure, rather than in a public place or at work where a third party can retrieve your personal information.
Watch Where Your Step. Do not click on links from e-mails or on social networking sites, especially if they offer a “free gift” such as a gift card or electronic device. If you cannot find the deal using a search engine, it’s probably a fake.
Take Precautions. Before you even begin searching the Internet for deals, ensure your computer software, browser and all essential security tools (spam filters, anti-virus, anti-spyware and a secure firewall) are in place and up-to-date.
Double Check Security Measures. When checking out an order from an online shopping site, always make sure the merchant has a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) web certificate. Look for the ‘s’ in the hyperlink address (the page will begin with “https://” instead of “http://”) for ensured security.
Return Policies. Familiarize yourself with the web site’s return and exchange policies. Also, check out the company’s shipping offers, which might be complimentary as many sites are offering free shipping for the holidays.
Keep Receipts. If possible, print receipts and confirmations for your files. At the bare minimum, save the confirmation notice or e-mail until after the product arrives and you receive your bill.
Use a Credit of Debit Card. The Better Business Bureau suggests that all online shoppers use a credit card or a debit card rather than wire transfers or other means, as they can be tracked. Also, many credit and debit cards have protection against fraud.
For those who prefer not to stand in wrap-around-the-block lines and deal with aggressive shoppers, purchasing holiday gifts online can be an attractive alternative. While not having to worry about getting pepper-sprayed or trampled, online shopping does offer its own set of challenges. Keeping the above suggestions in mind will help make this a happy — and safe — holiday shopping season.