Metro Weekly

Web of Receipt

Money: Safe and smart holiday shopping online

I have a confession, a very un-American confession. I hate shopping malls. Can’t stand them.

I hate trying to find parking, hate pushing through hordes of teenagers, hate the Muzak, hate the food courts, hate the whole idea of a place that has no point except to get you to buy stuff.

Comparison shopping sites:

Where to find Internet coupons:
Amazing Bargains
Clever Moms

Lists of legitimate Web sites:
Better Business Bureau
Consumer Reports

Not surprisingly, I’ll do just about anything to avoid malls. Of course, that makes the holiday season and its required purchases of gifts for friends and family a pretty tough time for me. Fortunately, the Internet offers me and my fellow mall-phobes an escape. On-line you can peruse hundreds of different stores to find the best price without becoming physically exhausted or cranky.

And, if you’re like me, cyber-shopping might even keep you from making some over-priced purchases. After all, there’s no chance of standing in a crowded department store tired, achy and frustrated, shelling out too much money for not-quite-right gifts just to bring your shopping trip to a merciful end.

Internet shopping allows you to browse in the morning or evening in the comfort of your own home. Then again, nothing’s perfect. For example, the ease of online shopping can lead you to buy more gifts than you should. So here are some tips to heed if you take to the web to fulfill your holiday responsibilities.

  • Contrast and compare.
  • Just like in the real world, comparison-shopping is the only way to buy online. When you find an item you like, save it in the site’s shopping cart, then scour the Web for a better price. You may find it easier to open another browser window so you can skip back and forth to compare the items, prices and shipping costs.

    You might consider checking sites, such as MySimon, BizRate, PriceGrabber and FatWallet which list the price of an item at different stores.

  • Stay on budget.
  • The best way to save money while shopping online (or offline) is to create a budget and stick to it. It’s easy to get swept up in the spirit of giving and go overboard, especially when you’re paying with a credit card. So make a list of everyone you need to get a gift for and write the top dollar amount you will spend for each. Then stick to it.

  • Find the sale button.
  • Most sites have a clearance or sale button that will pull up great deals just by clicking. Check it out. You may find the gift you were looking for, or another that’s just as good.

    Also check out the gift-wizard or gift-ideas button. The results might not always be low-priced, but you can get some good ideas to help you on your bargain hunt.

  • Find your favorite places.
  • Almost every business has a Web site, so if you have a favorite store, look for it online. Some businesses have special sales offered only on the Internet, so you might do better than you would by walking into the brick-and-mortar store.

  • Watch shipping costs.
  • Remember to factor shipping costs into the final price of the gift. Many sites have free shipping during the holidays for orders over a certain amount or certain number of items. If you find one of those deals, search the site for other gifts on your list to see if you can reach the minimum. But don’t buy things you don’t want just to get free shipping.

    You’ll also need to verify the delivery date. Paying for Express shipping will nullify any bargain price you found, so for the best shipping deals buy early. Just in case, find out if there is a guaranteed delivery date and what steps will be taken if your items don’t arrive on time.

    Finally, you may be able to avoid shipping costs completely if the company allows you to place your order online, and then pick it up at your local store. Many large chain stores have this option.

  • Sign up for coupons.
  • Sites such as Amazing Bargains and Clever Moms keep track of Internet coupon codes, so before purchasing an item, check to see if they have a coupon for it.

  • Shop only legitimate sites.
  • Beware of any offer that sounds too good to be true. The lowest price is too high if you end up with a shoddy product or no product at all. To avoid getting ripped off check out three specific topics.

    First, most legitimate stores, such as Gap and Barnes & Noble, have a return policy that allows you to return online orders to their local stores. Lillian Vernon allows you to return personalized merchandise. Second, don’t buy electronics until you check the site’s warranty policy. Make sure your product comes with a warranty, and read the specifics before buying. And third, verify the legitimacy of the company. It takes a computer con artist about an hour to set up a Web site that looks legitimate, so shop at sites you know and trust. If in doubt, check with the Better Business Bureau and Consumer Reports.