Shoppers’ Guide: 20 Tricks on Shopping Smarter Online

Just in case your job requires you to be online during most of your work days, then it wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone you do a lot of online shopping. Not only is it quick and convenient, but it’s often necessary. And for some of us, physical shopping isn’t our thing. We just can’t go through the stress of facing the ever busy malls. Online shopping means you can order things from the comfort of my own home, saving fuel, time, and your sanity.

But how do you shop smarter or get an honest impression of a product? Before you exchange your hard earned cash for goods, no matter where you’re doing your shopping, it’s important to do your research.

Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous companies that pay people to write false reviews to manipulate you into believing that a product is really good – if the payer is the seller of the product – or really bad – if the person paying is in competition with the seller.

Here are some smart online buying tips that will help you sort through to the nuggets that represent a true picture of the product and of the seller.

Deal Right

1.  Track prices. When you shop online, prices are constantly changing. Retail sites usually have a complicated algorithm that raises and lowers prices based on a number of factors, like your purchase history, the day of the week, trending items, etc. Prices can even change multiple times in the same day! You can track prices on Aliexpress, Amazon, Jumia or Konga, and sign up to receive alerts when the items you want are on sale.

2.  Be a fan. If you buy a lot of stuff from a particular brand or store, be a super-fan! Some websites offer better prices for members, so take some time to make an account before making a purchase. Follow stores and brands you love on social media, and sign up for their email newsletter – you’ll get exclusive deals and early notification of upcoming sales.

Double-up on Security

3.  Open a “private session” or “incognito window” in your browser when searching for airline tickets or hotel reservations. Once the site determines you’re interested in a particular flight or hotel, the prices may increase. The same goes for standard online shopping, so delete your browser’s cookies and cache regularly when shopping online. (Visit Ask Leo – for a comprehensive explanation of how cookies work, and how to clear them on most browsers.)

4. Use familiar sites. Start at a trusted site. Search results can be rigged to lead you astray, especially when you drift past the first few pages of links. If you know the site, chances are it’s less likely to be a rip-off.

We all know carries everything under the sun; likewise, just about every major retail outlet has an online store, from Beware of misspellings or sites using a different top-level domain (.net instead of .com, for example)—those are the oldest tricks in the book. Yes, sales on these sites might look enticing, but that’s how they trick you into giving up your info.

5.  Be security conscious. When you’re ready to start entering your information to make a purchase, make sure the page is secure. You can tell by looking at the URL of the page; if it starts with “https”, it’s a secure site that will encrypt your information. Don’t enter your information on a page that doesn’t have the “s” or the lock symbol. And avoid sending personal information in emails, too.

6. Print a copy of your order for your records. After you submit an order, you will get a screen with details of the transaction. Print out a hard copy or save a copy as a PDF on your computer. Sometimes there is a link to a webpage where you can check the delivery status. You should also receive an e-mail confirmation with details on how to inquire as to the status of your order.

7.  Be wary of retail sites. Have a healthy level of scepticism about any retail site you haven’t visited before. Do a quick Google search for comments and reviews about the site – you’ll figure out very quickly if a site is dangerous or a scam.

8. Don’t overshare. No online shopping e-tailer needs your PIN, account number, or your birthday to do business. However, if crooks get them and your debit/credit card number, they can do a lot of damage. The more scammers know, the easier it is to steal your identity. When possible, default to giving up as little personal data as possible. Even major sites get breached.

9. Check your statements regularly. Don’t wait for your bill to come at the end of the month. Go online regularly during the holiday season and look at electronic statements for your credit card, debit card, and current accounts. Look for any fraudulent charges, even originating from payment sites like PayPal.

Speaking of, you should definitely only buy online with a credit card. If your debit card is compromised, scammers have direct access to your bank funds. Any seller that wants a different kind of payment, like wired money, is a big red flag.  If you see something wrong, pick up the phone to address the matter quickly.

10. Protect your PC. Swindlers don’t sit around waiting for you to give them data; sometimes they give you a little something extra to help things along. You need to protect against malware with regular updates to your antivirus program. Better yet, pay for a full-blown security suite, which will have antivirus software, but also will fight spam, spear-phishing emails, and phishing attacks from websites (the latter two try and still your personal info by mimicking a message or site that looks legit).  Remember, it’s not enough to just have it installed. Make sure your anti-malware tools are always up to date. Otherwise, they can let in any new threats—and there are always new threats.

11. Avoid public Wi-Fi connection.  Just like you would never show everyone in the store your credit card or debit card numbers, the same should hold true with your online shopping experience.  Be sure that you only shop from a secure connection.  Additionally, never use public computers to shop or check your accounts online.

12. Skip cards, use phones. Paying for items using your smartphone is very standard these days in brick-and-mortar stores, and is actually even more secure than using your credit card. Using a mobile payment app like Apple Pay generates a one-use authentication code for the purchase that no one else could ever steal and use. Plus, you’re avoiding card skimmers—hell, you don’t even need to take your credit card with you if you only go places that accept phone payments. How does that matter if you’re online shopping? Many an app will now accept payment using Apple Pay and Google Pay, like Groupon, Airbnb, Staples, Ticketmaster, and many others.

Go Big on Saving

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13.  Buy more, less often. Shipping fees can be very steep on some retail sites, but you can minimize them by buying more items, less often. So if you find something you like, bookmark it, and wait until you have 2 or 3 other things from that same site bookmarked before you buy. You’ll also use less packaging materials, which is an eco-friendly plus.

14.  Don’t check out immediately. Some sites have measures in place to avoid “abandoned carts,” where someone puts an item into their virtual shopping cart, but then doesn’t immediately go through the purchase process. Some sites may offer a discount or free shipping just to make the sale, so if you don’t need the item soon, it’s worth a try to let it sit in your cart for a while!

15.  Always check for a coupon code during check out. Open a new browser window, search on Google for “coupon code + [store/site name]” You never know what you might find!

16.  Comparing prices is the easiest way to save money, both in store and online. Compare prices for the same item across multiple retailers on sites like Aliexpress, Jumia, Konga, and other retail sites.

17. Count the cards. Gift vouchers or cards are the most requested holiday gift every year. Stick to the source when you buy one. However, make sure the site you’re using has a rock-solid and clear-as-crystal guarantee policy in place. Better yet, just go directly to a retail brick-and-mortar store to get the physical card.

18. Get money off with coupons. This is one of the more obvious ways to save money while online shopping. Many times, online stores will have a box to enter a discount code, so it is worth googling the “product + coupons” to see if there are sites that offer coupons or discounts to help you save money on your purchase. Try to find as many codes as you can this way – because some of the ones you find at first may not be active anymore.  

19. Peep the Sale. The very smart tip for online shopping is to always check the clearance/sale section on a website. Often, there are some great deals hidden in there with items that have been significantly discounted. You might even discover a similar version of an item that you were going to buy in the main shop. It is also helpful to keep an eye out for red text underneath specific items that indicate that they are on clearance. It’s nice to take advantage of these multi-buy deals instead of buying larger quantities of a similar style at full price.

20. Check the shipping costs. Shipping, especially for next day delivery, could make the total purchase price more than what you would pay in a retail store. At one time, many sites offered free shipping as a way to attract customers. While those days are over except during the holidays, some sites still offer free or discounted shipping for select items, purchases over a certain amount, or with a valid coupon code.

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