Tips and Tools to Make Cyber Monday Merry, Bright, and Affordable

Here it comes – the e-commerce shopping spree you've been waiting for all year. Cyber Monday. No need to brave the massive crowds, race between stores, stand in line, nor struggle with packages as you pack them into your car or onto the subway. Coffee in one hand and credit card in the other, give your computer a few clicks and your shopping is wrapped in no time.

Ah, if only it were that easy.

You could get lost in website after website until your browser goes into overload with all the windows you have open. Your computer gets so confused that the heat fan kicks on while your fingers burn up the keyboard. What is the culprit that makes Cyber Monday as much of a chore as Black Friday? Data, data, and more data.

What you need to make Cyber Monday productive is information, and there are a handful of effective and efficient ways to cut through the data clutter to get it. Try these tactics and tips to limit the stress and leave you with the warm glow that comes from getting that special gift for all your special someones while staying within your budget:

1. Bring a plan to the computer
The worst thing you can do is spend Cyber Monday browsing without a direction. Have your list and budget in-hand, ready to go before you sit down at the computer lest you'll be lost floating around from site to site. Certainly a hand-written list or excel spreadsheet will work. If you have a lot of gifts to buy or want a high-tech gift tracker, check out the Gift Planner app or Christmas Gift List app.

2. Know your credit card benefits
Many credit cards offer extended warranty and return protection when you shop online and use the card as payment for the entire purchase. These benefits can save you a lot of money and time if something goes awry with the gift. Also, take a gander through their websites and see if they have special offers that you can use for your Cyber Monday shopping.

3. Check out CyberMonday.com
Speaking of a plan, CyberMonday.com is your best first stop. The team over at Shop.org created CyberMonday.com in an attempt to stop the madness on this wild online shopping day. The site's functionality is impressive and comprehensive. Sign up for sales alerts via email and through its Twitter and Facebook accounts. The site features hourly specials and exclusive deals you won't find anywhere else. This year there's a new category for environmentally safe products that is especially valuable when you shop for toys for the little ones in your life. It also has a built-in price comparison tool and designated categories for free shipping offers, coupon deals, and holiday specials. Best of all, it's not just for Cyber Monday. Visit this site all year long for great savings across the 800 online retailers that participate on the site.

4. Price comparison tools
Just as mobile apps are useful for in-store Black Friday shopping, technology is your Cyber Monday friend, too. PriceGrabber is a great tool that lets you search by product name or category and then sort on a variety of metrics such as price range, free shipping, and retailer. Pricewatch is another reputable price comparison tool.

5. Load up that online cart
While the shelf space and inventory on e-commerce sites is vastly larger than brick-and-mortar stores, it's not infinite. There is just so much supply and the demand is fierce. If you hesitate, you could certainly lose the item to another eager shopper. To avoid this, add items to your online shopping cart even if you're undecided about whether or not you want them. This way they're reserved for you as you continue to browse. You can always edit your cart before you make the purchase.

One word of caution: some sites will timeout due to inactivity if you hop from one site to another and you're away from any one site too long. Some sites will save your cart even if you timeout. Others will not so feel free to browse, but don't hesitate for too long.

What to do with all those boxes
Once the packages start to arrive, make sure to save all packaging, receipts, and packing slips. You will need all of the original packaging and the receipts to make any returns. Speaking of returns, make sure you familiarize yourself with all of the return policies for each site where you buy gifts. They vary widely and some sites don't allow returns at all. Check the packing slips against your online order email confirmations to make sure you receive everything that you ordered. These retailers are slammed with orders and many still use a pick, pack, and ship method that is subject to human error.

With these tactics and plans, you'll be in good shape to shop until your fingers drop on Monday. Have fun and grab those deals!

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