With each passing year, more Americans turn to the Internet to do their holiday shopping. In fact, more than 52 million people (37 percent of American consumers) shopped online from work during last year's holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation.
While many consumers are familiar with shopping online, it's still important to take some necessary precautions to protect your privacy, according to FindLaw.com, the Internet's leading online source for legal information, and to ensure that what you buy arrives before Santa does.
Here are seven tips from FindLaw.com about shopping online this holiday season:
- Shop early and save. The best way to avoid the holiday shopping rush, even online, is to shop early. This may sound crazy, but write up a holiday shopping list as early as possible - and start shopping right away - months before the holiday season begins. You'll not only find more bargains (reducing your overall holiday expenses), but you'll spread out your shopping so you won't face a major credit card bill in early January. Plus, you'll know that your holiday gifts will be there on time, which will allow you to avoid holiday stress.
- Shop reputable online retailers. Shopping online with major retailers such as Walmart, Sears, Target, Barnes & Noble and Amazon poses little risk. Organizations such as eBay, Yahoo Shopping and Bing Shopping make some effort to check out and rate merchants who do business through their sites. If you're shopping with a lesser-known retailer, look for reviews and ratings on Google about the retailer before shopping.
- Secure site. When you place your order, make sure the site where you're entering your credit card or PayPal information is secure. Here are a couple ways to tell: Look in the Web address bar. If there's an "s" after "http" and a closed padlock icon to the right of the browser address, the site is secure.
- Return policies. Regardless of whether you're shopping for a holiday gift online or from a catalog, make sure you understand the retailer's return policy. Because you're buying an item that you can't see or touch, and because it's being transported, the product you buy online may not meet your expectations. Make sure you know if and how an online retailer handles returns and exchanges.
- Keep your receipts. When you buy a product online, print out the receipt at the time you're ordering the product. Save it and make sure to compare it to the receipt that comes with the product when it is delivered to your home or office to ensure that you received everything you ordered, and that you were correctly invoiced.
- Coffee shops and airports. Many people like to head to their local coffee shop and peruse the Internet on the shop's free Wi-Fi. What many may not realize is that person sitting next to you sipping a double latte may actually be a hacker attempting to capture your personal data. As tempting as it is, never shop while using a public Wi-Fi network at the coffee shop or in the airport, and never leave your computer unattended, even for a quick trip to the bathroom.