With consumer confidence at its highest in seven years, the National Retail Federation estimates that the average American will spend 5% more this holiday season, with shoppers making 44% of their purchases online.
Few realize that online shopping requires serious strategy for the biggest savings. Below are the biggest -- and often avoidable -- online shopping blunders to avoid this holiday season.
1. Not using a rewards credit card
Let's face it: As much as you promise to cut your gift list in half this year, your giving heart will likely make additional purchases in the weeks leading up to the holiday.
If purchasing gifts for family and friends is a non-negotiable part of the holidays, you might as well get a few perks in return. A rewards credit card can give you cash back on purchases and really add up during the holiday spending season, with many cards giving anywhere from 1% to 5% back.
2. Relying on your debit card
Most experts agree that avoiding credit cards is the best way to prevent overspending this holiday -- great advice for shoppers with an insatiable urge to buy. However, swiping your debit card instead could cause an identity theft headache.
Credit cards only hold you to a maximum liability of $50 in the event of unauthorized credit card charges. And if you report your card lost or stolen before a fraudulent transaction is made, your liability drops to zero.
On the other hand, debit cards are held to timeline expectations, which means you could be held accountable to unlimited liability if you don't notice an unauthorized charge early enough.
3. Not searching for coupon codes
It's the oldest trick in the online shopping book, but it's worth repeating: Before placing your order or even browsing a website for deals, always search for online coupon codes available for that retailer.
Finding coupon codes is as easy as performing a simple Google search for "[store name] coupon code." A list of websites specializing in coupon codes, such as RetailMeNot.com, will appear with a list of active (and verified) codes that have been successfully used by shoppers like yourself.
This strategy, coupled with using a rewards credit card, is a double-savings treat anyone can appreciate.
4. Forgetting to sign up for a cash-back program
But why not triple-dip? That's right, the online-shopping web of savings gets even more intricate with easy-to-use cash-back websites like FatWallet.com.
Once you've created an account on FatWallet, find a store on the site and click its link, and you'll be redirected to the store's website. This is how cash-back programs track and credit your purchases. Cash-back percentages range from 1% to 6% or more, depending on the retailer.
5. Paying for expedited shipping
The NRF reports that 16.3% of retailers began offering free holiday shipping by the week of Oct. 28 last year, which means free shipping orders are in full swing after Thanksgiving.
Planning your online shopping ahead of time and placing orders more than 14 business days in advance of Christmas usually safeguards you from having to pay more to get presents under the tree on time.
6. Buying gifts separately
Speaking of shipping, there's no doubt that although a good number of stores offer free shipping, this expense can add up when you're shopping online. If your gift list permits, do your best to shop department stores or online retailers like Amazon, which have a wide variety of products in stock. This will help you qualify for free shipping with some retailers and combine your shipping costs if you are charged.
This way, you can get gifts for your whole family all in one order. Combining shipping costs is a great way to save over the holiday season.
7. Shopping on sites with complicated return policies
Retailer return policies are often overlooked when online shopping, but returning goods to an online retailer can be challenging.
Some retailers still require you to pay for return shipping if the ordering error was your fault, which means you'll waste just to exchange clothing and footwear for a different size. Be sure you're shopping from sites that make returns easy and inexpensive, just in case.
8. Not comparison shopping
Yes, Amazon and Walmart have highly competitive pricing, but that doesn't mean they're the end-all e-tailers. Before stockpiling your virtual checkout cart, make sure you spend a fair amount of time comparing prices between online stores.
For example, one site might have the product priced at $49.99, plus standard shipping at $12, while another store offers the item at a slightly higher price of $56 but also provides free shipping on orders over $50. That's a $5 savings for the product with the bigger price tag.
9. Getting lazy with website security credentials
There's more to online shopping than finding the best deals. It's important that you can trust the website on which you're entering your personal credit card information.
Always ensure the website URL begins with "https://" instead of just "http://," which signifies that you're visiting a secured website. When you're going through the checkout process, it always helps to identify a badge that says you're undergoing a secured checkout. When possible, revisiting online stores you've successfully purchased from in the past can offer some more reassurance.
Ultimately, there is never a 100% guarantee that a website can't be compromised, but that's where your credit card's fraud liability protections come in.
10. Failing to register for price-drop alerts
Thanks to the ballooning trend of online shopping, applications and email services have been developed to notify you of price drops on items you've listed. A couple examples of downloadable applications that check on price reductions for you are Ciuvo and PriceBlink.com.
Last year, I personally put a slight spin on this online shopping technique. I had my eye on an Apple iPad Mini, but significant discounts were scarce on this hot holiday gift. So I signed up for email alerts via Refurb.me for Apple's refurbished tablet, which helped me flag down new listings on iPads as low as $250.
Going through the motions just to save a few dollars seems excessive, but when you're shopping for multiple friends and family members, the savings can start a nice rainy day fund for 2014.
This article originally appeared on GoBankingRates.com.
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