Americans spend more than $35 billion shopping online for the holidays, according to digital business analytics firm ComScore.
Shopping online can be convenient and hassle free. But there are a few things you should consider before doing your Christmas shopping via the Web.
First, know when to shop. “The first two weeks of November (11/1 to 11/15) are tons of friends and family discounts – generally 20 to 40 percent off,” says Megan LaBant Abrahamsen, creator and owner of online store Blue Star Bazaar. “Subscribe for e-mails from your favorite retailers. At this point in time (early November), there is still plenty of inventory and selection. Also, every time you are about to make a purchase, check deal sites for a coupon code--retailmenot.com and couponcabin.com are two good ones.”
Look for bargains online—there are plenty to be found. “Buy a discounted gift card for your favorite store, stack deals and then use it to buy clearance items. You can save a ton this way. A Google search for discount gift cards will bring up lots of results, and probably a good site called giftcardgranny.com,” explains savings expert Teri Gault, founder and CEO of The Grocery Game, author of Shop Smart, Save More and co-producer of OWN network's Super Saver Showdown.
Most deals—even online—happen on Black Friday. “Get the best of Black Friday without the crowds,” suggests Gault. “Amazon starts Black Friday specials the Monday before Black Friday. You've got a full week to browse, but you also don't want them to run out of the best items, so start looking early in the week. The shipping is also usually free if over a certain amount. www.blackfriday.com  updates the deals as they become available and you can link directly to the sales. Most Internet Black Friday deals are available starting at 2 pm EST on Thanksgiving Day. Buy early to avoid the stock being depleted.”
Browse and beware. Too good a deal could be too good to be true. “Beware of suspiciously low prices. If you come across the new product you have been searching for at an overwhelmingly low price, proceed with caution,” notes Shannon Van Buskirk, founder, managing director and COO of GovX.com, the largest online military discount shopping site. “There are many sites out there that offer the lowest of the low prices, but will ship an inauthentic, knock-off product.”
So how do you make sure what you’re buying online is real? “Confirming the authenticity of products when shopping online is huge. Look for e-commerce sites that offer drop shipping directly from the manufacturers, a sure way to guarantee the validity of the product and the credibility of the site,” advises Van Buskirk.
Because of the risks of shopping online, try to use a reputable site. “If you have a question and don't get an answer via email or phone, consider looking for a new site that takes the time to take care of its customers,” says Van Buskirk.
It may be easy to point and click items, but remember they still have to be shipped. “Start early. We see so many people who wait until the last minute to place their holiday orders online forcing them to select more expensive expedited shipping options to get their gifts delivered before Christmas,” says Joseph Few of online gift website Arttowngifts. “If they had simply placed their orders a few days earlier they could have taken advantage of ground shipping. This difference in shipping prices can be significant for the larger heavier packages. While ground shipping might be as low as $10.99, overnight next day air can be as high as $65 for the same item.”
Understand the shipping days and times to guarantee that your gifts arrive on time. “There is no shipping on the weekends and packages do not progress on weekends or holidays. So if you place an order for 2nd day air on Thursday night after a shipping deadline, the package will ship on Friday only if the company offers same-day shipping; most do not. The package will be delivered on Tuesday,” Few points out. “Most shoppers think their package will arrive on Saturday even though they didn’t select Saturday delivery. Shippers pick up packages in the afternoon so the order needs to be placed early in the day assuming that the company offers same day shipping.”