With tons of incentives for online holiday shopping -- from free shipping to discounts -- cyber surfers are faced with innumerable Black Friday and Cyber Monday online shopping options. The real key to online shopping is going to the right web site to find the product, and your journey may begin with a simple Google search for your product.
Two out of five Americans shopped online for holiday presents last year, according to the National Retail Federation, and that number is expected to continue to grow as more people get faster Internet connections, become more comfortable with online shopping and find new ways to shop using mobile devices.
Many will turn to the Web for deep discounts and deals on Cyber Monday, the first Monday after Thanksgiving, one of the biggest online shopping days of the year.
"There are tons of incentives over the holidays for online shopping, from free shipping to discounted items," said Hillary Mendelsohn, who has written eight books about online shopping and is the founder of www.thepurplebook.com, a sort of Yellow Pages for shopping Web sites.
Mendelsohn said the key to online shopping is going to the right Web site to find the product. Some tips:
- Start with Google or another search engine. Type in the exact name of the product or the product number and the manufacturer's name. "When you narrow the search, you get a true sense of the Web sites that have the product and you can do a much better price comparison than you can on any of the shopping search engines," Mendelsohn said.
- Be careful when using coupon Web sites. "On a lot of these sites, it will say, 'Sorry, no coupons available' or have the name of the store and it will seem like there is a coupon, but it actually takes you to another site," Mendelsohn said. She suggested going to a search engine and entering the store name and coupon code.
- If you buy from a store's Web site frequently, join its e-mail list, which will offer deals and discounts. "I really recommend having a separate e-mail account for online shopping so your inbox doesn't get flooded with offers," Mendelsohn said.
- You will not always find the best deals when using shopping Web sites that are aggregates of a handful of stores, she said. "It's pay to play. It's best to go online to a search engine," she said.
- Use a credit card not a debit card to get the best consumer protections with online purchases.
The National Retail Federation also offers useful online shopping tips. Among them:
- A golden rule of online shopping is that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is and you should avoid it.
- Check retailers' shipping deadlines.
- Know retailers' return and exchange policies.