Shopping Online 101




Equipment Needed

When shopping online, there are a few pieces of equipment you will find essential to your pursuit of online thriftiness. One thing is, of course, a computer with connection to the Internet. For online shopping, the faster the connection, the better, but even dial-up does the trick when your hunting for great deals…it’s just a bit less expedient. Next, if you’re going to be hunting for printable coupons, you’ll want to have access to a printer that’s well stocked with ink and paper. You’ll also need a printer even if you’re making all of your purchases online so that you’re able to print off copies of receipts. Keeping a printed copy of receipts is helpful when you need to reference a tracking number or an order number.

Services Needed

As mentioned above, you’ll need to have access to the Internet to do all of this fantastic online shopping. Depending on the setup in your home, you may need a router or a modem to provide you with wireless access. WiFi access may be beneficial when online shopping because you are able to shop from the comfort of anywhere you choose…whether it be your couch, your desk, or even your bed, you’ll be able to search for savings in comfort. WiFi may also be beneficial if you’re online shopping outside of your home. Often, online merchants have limited time sales, so you may need to stop off at your local Starbucks, hook up to their network, and find your perfect deal before time runs out.

Mailing Address

Once you’ve found that perfect deal, it’s necessary to have a physical address where your purchases can be sent. If you only have a P.O. Box, there may be some limitations as to what can be delivered to that address. You may be required to provide a non-P.O. Box mailing address where you can receive your packages. This is usually only necessary if you need to sign to confirm delivery or if your purchase is too large to be stored at your P.O. Box.

Proper Methods of Payment

When it comes to paying for your purchase, online retailers want to make it easy for you to buy their products, so there are a large number of acceptable payment methods available to you. Obviously, paying with cash is not one of these options. However, depending on the merchant, you can send a check, a money order, or a cashier’s check. Money orders and cashier’s checks can be obtained from you local bank, post office, and occasionally, at your local grocery store. These methods of payment are best for those who do not have a debit or credit card with which to make purchases.

Debit and credit cards are by far the most common methods of payment when online shopping. Most sites provide details on their information gathering and storing policies which you can read up on to reassure yourself that your information is not being misused. Depending on the site and on the browser you’re using, you may be able to save your payment information with merchants that you use frequently to help you save time on future online purchases. Since I do ordering for our office supplies, Vons.com, Staples.com, and Amazon.com all have my information saved and accessible with just a couple clicks of my mouse.

Thousands of online merchants accept Paypal and other similar services as valid forms of payment. With these services, you enter your bank or credit card information once through the Paypal or other e-pay site, and you’re then able to access that information through whichever website you’re shopping on. Many sites have a Paypal Login in their checkout sections, so it’s easy to tell if the merchant you’re shopping with accepts Paypal as a valid form of payment. Some Paypal alternatives include Moneybookers and E-Gold.

Make Financial Data Easily Accessible

Some merchants provide you the option of using Bill Me Later. Bill Me Later is a credit account that you can use to make a purchase, and you don’t need to fill out a lengthy credit application. Simply click Bill Me Later, and you will be sent a bill that you can either pay in full without being charged interest charges, or you can make installment payments, but an interest fee will apply if you decide to go that route. Bill Me Later may come in handy if you’re desperate for something like a new laptop but you don’t have the cash to buy it outright. Apple.com knows this, and they’re an example of a merchant that provides the Bill Me Later option.

Many sites and certain web browsers have made it even easier for you to shop online by allowing you to save your financial information with them. On shopping sites, there will often be a checkbox below where you enter your payment information where you can click to have them save your payment information for next time. With web browsers, once you enter the payment information the first time, often it will auto-populate into the fields the next time you purchase from that site and start entering your information.

If you are at all leery about saving your credit card or bank account information online, take a few minutes to read over their privacy policy so that you understand, and are okay with, the way that they are going to store your information.

Confidence in Online Payments

Many non-tech savvy people have a fear of shopping online because they’re not comfortable with providing their personal credit card information to a computerized system. However, we – the children of the digital age – know that huge strides have been made in online shopping security. Web merchants have gone to great lengths to safeguard the privacy of their patrons. Any merchant that claims to protect your online identity will openly provide a security statement on their website that details how, why and for how long they will keep your payment information. If you ever doubt the safety of paying through a particular website, opt to pay with Paypal or a Paypal alternative. Paypal and companies like it are known for their safety and security practices. Paypal is owned by eBay.

Patience / Time

Online shopping is enormously more expedient than traveling to stores’ physical locations, but some patience is required in order to successfully shop online. You’ll need to be patient with your Internet connection if you’re connected via dial-up, you’ll need to be patient with during the little time it takes to validate your payment information, you’ll need to be patient through the time it takes to research, and you’ll need to be patient during the shipping process. Depending on the merchant and on the product you’ve purchased, delivery can range anywhere from one day to a couple of weeks. The extra time you wait to receive your purchase is often well worth it when you look at the savings you received by shopping online.

Discontinued / Sold Out Items

On top of better deals and added convenience, another upside to online shopping is that you may have access to products that are discontinued or sold out at the store. Many websites have overstock or discontinued sections where you can find products that are no longer sold in the stores. Also, did you try looking for a Nintendo Wii when it first came out? There were online stores and websites like eBay where you could find a Wii even if you were unable to find one in a store. Granted, you may end up paying more, but come on…it’s a Wii. Totally worth it (until you throw the “WiiMote” through the TV).

Make Online Shopping Entertaining

If you’re not a big fan of shopping in stores, and if you’re a fan of a challenge, try treating online shopping like a game…like a money-saving scavenger hunt. Put the idea in your mind that there’s a deal out there for what you want. Once you have the objective in mind (paying less than you would at a store), begin the hunt. You’ll find that online shopping becomes more fun when there’s a goal in front of you.

Don’t Hesitate

If you’ve never experienced online shopping before, just remember that there’s a first time for everything, right? Knowing that, there is no reason to shy away from online shopping just because you haven’t done it before. You may find it preferable to shopping in stores – no long lines, no salespeople to pressure you, multiple payment options, and the list goes on. Good coupon sites, like Savings.com, are designed with the user in mind. While some sites are disorganized and they make it hard for you to find what you’re looking for, sites like Savings.com provide you with multiple avenues to reach the coupon you’re looking for. You can search with a keyword, you can search by merchant, or you can search by popularity or newly added deals. We make the whole process as simple as possible. Online merchants follow the same train of thought – they want to make it as simple to find and purchase what you’re looking for as they possibly can make it.

Research Product Options Thoroughly

Another upside of online shopping is that it allows you to do research on the product you’re looking for with the utmost ease. While looking at a coupon on Savings.com for something like a Blackberry Pearl 8130, you may decide that you want to know more about that specific phone. All you have to do is open another window or tab in your browser, and you can find all you could ever want to know about the Pearl. You may also find out that it’s not available from certain cell phone carriers or you may find an article comparing the Pearl to the Blackberry Curve, and this could lead you to decide to buy a Curve instead. You’ll also be able to compare prices and plans from different cell carriers, which could lead to significant savings. By shopping online, you’re able to compare all of your options before you make a commitment.

Cover Your Bases

By shopping online, you’re able to cover all you bases by knowing as much as you want to know about the product you’re looking for. Consult as many resources as possible before making a decision. Take the time to research your product on multiple sites to get different opinions on it. Consumer Reports, blogs, and message boards are all great ways to gain information about something you’re interested in. Another good resource is user reviews. While opinions may vary, you’ll be able to get information from people who actually have the product and have used it. You’ll get a more honest review from them than you’d get from any salesperson.

Save Valuable Resources

During your travels through the Internet while shopping online, you will come across various web sites that incorporate some of the functionality I described earlier. Each site will offer a different experience, a different community and varying tastes. Bookmark those resources that prove valuable to you so you can develop an efficient process and spare yourself the time with having to discover them all over again.

Ask Your Friends

Your friends are very valuable assets when you’re just beginning your career as an online shopper. They may be able to tell you what sites they use to find product reviews and information when they online shop. Many of your friends will probably be able to recommend a couple of their favorite online coupons or online deals sites as well. Take advantage of their knowledge and check out any leads they give you about good sites to reference while shopping.

Your friends can also be helpful when you’ve got a specific product in mind. Perhaps they’ve purchased the same thing or they’ve heard about the product from someone else. It’s important to listen to their opinions, but it’s still also important to consult other resources so that you have multiple opinions to base your decision off of.

Just like a book or film critic that you consistently return to because you trust their opinion to be similar to yours; after online shopping for a while, you’ll find resources that you come to know and trust to have good reviews or to have the best deals. Be sure to bookmark these sites. Eventually, you’ll build up a list of places you’ll automatically turn to before making any purchase online. We’re hopeful that Savings.com will become a part of your deal-hunting arsenal.

Alas, then there is Spam. Not only is it an unappealing food product; it’s also an unappealing “side effect” of spending a lot of time online. Whenever you enter your email address on a website, there’s a good chance you’ll receive some spam in your inbox because of it. Luckily, all you usually have to do to get off of a mailing list is to click a link at the bottom of the message. Even then, be careful. Some spammers send out blanket spam to millions of people and those who reply asking to be unsubscribed end up on a list of known “active” email addresses, thus leading to their email address sold to other spammers resulting in even more spam.

Newsletters / Mailing Lists

Remember, though, that not all emails from merchants and deal sites are spam. Many merchants, like Macy’s, the Gap, and Orbitz, send special email offers to only the people on their mailing lists. These offers come in the form of exclusive special events, coupon codes, free shipping events, and more. Online deal sites, like Savings.com, may also send out newsletters to keep you apprised of limited time offers, special events, and remarkable coupon codes from select merchants. Keep in mind that you’re in control of the emails you get from Savings.com and the frequency in which you will get them (daily, weekly, monthly). Pick and choose from your favorite or most visited merchants and your most trusted coupon sites, and just get emails from the sites you’ll get the most use out of.

Consumer Reviews

As mentioned earlier, when doing research on a product you’re considering, consumer reviews are an excellent resource. What better place to get your information about a product than from real people that have real experience with the product? Sites like Amazon.com, Staples.com, and Buy.com offer customer product reviews on each specific product page. Remember that the only way consumer reviews work is if people actually take the time to write reviews, so after you buy your product, take a second to write a review so that other people can benefit from your firsthand knowledge.

Consumer Reports

Consumer Reports is also an excellent place to find unbiased and expert opinions on products and services. They review and report on everything from cell phones to automobiles. If you’re making a big-ticket purchase, Consumer Reports should be at the top of your list when doing research on the product you’re considering.

Avoid Being Impulsive

If you’re not big-ticket item shopping, but if you’re just shopping for the sake of shopping, beware of impulse purchasing. Being an impulse buyer myself, I should probably sit in front of a mirror while I’m typing this for you all. In any case, you should avoid impulse purchasing to the best of your ability. I realize that the $400 stilettos may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but when you get to the end of the month and all you’ve got left in the cupboard is ramen instant lunch, you’ll wish you had thought more carefully about your purchase.

Online shopping is a blessing and a curse when it comes to impulse purchases. On one hand, sites make is so easy to find just what you’re looking for at any given time that it can be hard to resist making a purchase. On the other hand, you don’t need to feel pressured to buy anything when you’re shopping online. You don’t have the dreamy sales clerk toying with your ego by saying, “Your legs look fantastic in those heels. So ma’am, I’ll just wrap these up for you then.” When shopping online, just say to the screen, “No thank you. I need to think about it,” and walk away (you don’t really need to talk to your computer, but if it helps, go for it). In most cases, the fantastic heels will still be there when you’ve had enough time to think about making the purchase. (For you guys reading this, simply replace “fantastic heels” with “Sony Playstation.” It doesn’t quite work, but it’s close enough.)

Budget Spending

As evidenced by my admission of being an impulse shopper, you may have gathered that budgeting isn’t my strong suit. I’m working on it though. Making a budget is one of the best ways for you to control your finances and for you to know just how much you’re able to spend each month on things that you want as opposed to things that you need. Find out how much disposable income you have each month, and allocate a portion of that amount to miscellaneous shopping. If you’ve got your eye on something out of your budget for the month, be patient, and save your monthly allotment for a couple of months until you have enough. This will guarantee you many fewer financial headaches down the road.

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