If you're planning some online Christmas shopping this weekend, you're not alone. eBay predicts that Sunday 8 December will be the busiest web shopping day of the season, with 2.3 million Australians shopping on its site alone. Whoever your preferred retailer, follow these tips to make the experience as pleasurable (and affordable) as possible.
Shopping picture from Shutterstock
Online shopping isn't difficult, and most of these principles are common sense. Many also apply if you are going to venture out into meatspace and fight the crowds.
Make a list when you start . . .
Sure, online shopping is all about serendipity and the ease of seeking out anything you can imagine. But that doesn't mean you should work without a plan. Make a list (I'd favour using a spreadsheet, but anything from Evernote to a scrap of paper will do) and include everyone you need to buy for. That ensures you don't forget someone and end up panic buying in a suburban shopping centre on 23 December.
. . . and maintain it as you go
If your list is extensive and you're planning a shopping marathon, it can be easy to forget you've purchased for someone and end up doubling up. Once you've placed an order, note what you've purchased on your list.
Set a firm budget
Because you're not spending cash, it's dangerously easy to spend far more than you intended. Include a per-person budget on your list, and stick to it. Think of "just one more thing" as "just one more bill".
Search for coupons
Once you've found a potential gift, it always makes sense to do some searching and see if you can acquire it more cheaply elsewhere. In particular: search for the product name and the word "coupon". You'll often find discount offers that will save you money.
Compare total prices
The convenience of online shopping comes with a hidden sting: delivery fees. You need to factor those in to work out if you're getting a good deal, and often the only way to do that is to add items to your cart and find out the total cost. If you're ordering from offshore, also remember to factor in currency conversion charges.
Related note: if you're not going to buy an item, remember to remove it from your cart -- it's far too easy to not notice and then discover yourself accidentally buying it weeks or months later.
Use as few stores as possible
The most obvious strategy for avoiding excessive postage charges is to use as few stores as possible: you'll often find the postage remains the same, or becomes free if you spend more than a certain amount. It's not a failsafe strategy: in particular, if you're using Amazon, be careful to distinguish between stuff Amazon ships itself and stuff coming from third party resellers, which will often attract additional postage charges.
Check shipping details carefully
With Christmas just a few weeks away, you need to check projected shipping dates carefully, and err on the side of caution. While Australia Post is running weekend deliveries, buying from overseas from any site that's not prepared to predict a likely date is risky. Another detail to check: the shipping address. It's often more convenient to have deliveries sent to your office, but your default credit card address may end up being used if you're not careful.
Don't use the same password on every site
If you're signing up with lots of new stores, it can be tempting to use the same password on all of them. That's a very bad idea. Use a new and unique password for each site, and use a password manager so you don't have to memorise them all.
Don't be ashamed of gift cards
As we argued earlier in the week, in many circumstances a gift card can be a welcome and suitable gift.
Schedule regular breaks
Shopping online isn't exhausting in the way fighting through a shopping centre is, but it isn't something you should do for hours. Christmas might be close, but schedule breaks where you step away from the computer.