Black Friday mania has come and gone. Even if you didn't participate, you probably couldn't avoid seeing the many images of bleary-eyed consumers standing in snaking lines outside the department stores in the cold, dark morning hours, waiting for the doors to open. But have you ever heard of Cyber Monday?
I missed it, too. It was yesterday. Cyber Monday is the day on which the National Retail Federation says weary Black Friday shoppers return to their work cubicles and start surfing the Internet for online holiday deals. Retailers see their online sales begin to rise the Monday after Thanksgiving and peak around Dec. 12.
As a devoted fan of anything that allows me to avoid crowds at the mall this time of year, I'll be joining the cybershoppers this year. And while we're all hunting for the best online bargains we can find, let's make sure we keep a few things in mind while pointing and clicking our way to filling the family's Christmas stockings.
Secure your computer
Before venturing out online, it might be a good idea to make sure your computer's anti-virus and anti-spyware software have been updated and that your firewall is secure. You may end up venturing far and wide to places you don't regularly visit while searching for the perfect gift. Better to update your software now than spend your holidays trying to untangle the mess of viruses on your computer.
Know the store
Traditional bricks-and-mortar businesses such as Wal-Mart
But the big retailers may not have that special something you're looking for. When venturing onto lesser-known websites, see whether you can find an address and phone number for the store in case you have a problem and need to talk to an actual human being. Check the retailer against the Better Business Bureau's BBBOnline directory if you can't figure out whether it's legitimate or not. Heed your instincts.
Make sure, too, that your transaction is secure. When it comes time to pay, the website address should start with "https," indicating a secure connection, and you'll probably see a lock symbol in the lower right corner of the screen.
Check the details
It's one of the hassles of online shopping, but you probably won't know your shipping costs until you're almost done with the transaction. Check them out to make sure they're not so high as to make it worth your while to battle the shopping hordes at the mall after all.
Print a copy of your final receipt and order number. You'll probably get this information emailed to you, too. Either way, have the record in case your order disappears into cyberspace.
Use a credit card
Under federal law, you have some protection against unauthorized charges to your credit card if there turns out to be a problem with your order or with the retailer. The law limits your liability to $50 in most cases, and you can protest a charge with your credit card company if you don't get what you ordered.
So instead of standing in long lines and listening to the never-ending songs of the season, simply relax in your chair and enter the virtual shopping world. Your sanity will thank you later.
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- Avoid the Runaround on Holiday Returns
Wal-Mart is an Inside Value pick. Amazon is a Stock Advisor recommendation, and Overstock is a former Rule Breakers selection. Try out any of our newsletter services free for 30 days. If you're looking for more great personal-finance tips, try out ourGreenLightservice.