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Guest post: Shop Online Safely

David Delisle runs a Canada based coupon site, allcouponz.net. He is our guest today at ProBargainHunter offering some useful tips on how to make your online shopping safer. Enjoy!

The Internet is an exciting tool that puts vast information at your fingertips. With a click of a mouse, it lets you buy an airline ticket, book a hotel, send flowers to a friend, or purchase your favorite book.

Good deals, convenience, and choice abound on the Internet. But before you use all the Internet has to offer, be “cyber” smart to make the most of your online experience.

Security on the Internet

Shopping online offers many benefits that you won’t find shopping in a store or by mail. The Internet is always open – seven days a week, 24 hours a day – and bargains can be numerous online. Shopping on the Internet is no less safe than shopping in a store or by mail as long as you keep the following tips in mind to help ensure that your online shopping experience is a safe one.

  • Use a secure browser. This is the software you use to navigate the Internet. Your browser should comply with industry security standards, such as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). These standards scramble the purchase information you send over the Internet, helping to secure your transaction. Most computers come with a browser installed. You also can download most browsers for free over the Internet.
  • Shop with companies you know. Anyone can set up shop online under almost any name. If you’re not familiar with a store, ask for a paper catalog or brochure to get a better idea of their merchandise and services. Also, determine the company’s refund and return policies before you place your order. These should be clearly posted on the company’s Web site.
    Keep your password(s) private. Be creative when you establish a password, and never give it to anyone. Avoid using a telephone number, birth date or a portion of your Social Security number. Instead, use a combination of random numbers, letters and symbols.
  • Pay by credit or charge card. If you pay by credit or charge card online, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. Under this law, you have the right to dispute charges under certain circumstances and temporarily withhold payment while the creditor is making their investigation. In the event of unauthorized use of your credit or charge card, you generally would be held liable only for the first $50 in charges. Some companies offer an online shopping guarantee that ensures you will not be held responsible for any unauthorized charges made online, and some cards may provide additional warranty, return and/or purchase protection benefits.
  • Keep a record. Be sure to print a copy of your purchase order and confirmation number for your records. Also, you should know that the Mail and Telephone Order Merchandise Rule covers online orders. This means that unless the company states otherwise, your merchandise must be delivered within 30 days; and if there are delays, the company must notify you.
  • Pay your bills online. Some companies let you pay bills and check your account status online. Before you sign up for any service, evaluate how the company secures your financial and personal information. Many companies explain their security procedures on their Web site. If you don’t see a security description, call or email the company and ask.

Easy as ABC

When exploring online, think ABC to remember the privacy and security questions you should ask about a company.

About me. What information does the company collect about me and is it secure?

Benefits. How does the company use that information and what is the benefit to me?

Choices. What choices do I have about the company’s use of information about me? Can I opt-out of having information used for other purposes, and how?

Privacy on the Internet

Technology now provides companies with the ability to collect information about you and potentially give or sell that information to others. While the Internet can serve as a tremendous resource for information, products, and services, you should be sure to safeguard your privacy online by following these tips.

  • Keep personal information private. Don’t disclose personal information – such as your address, telephone number, Social Security number, or email address – unless you know who is collecting the information, why they are collecting it, and how they will use it. If you have children, teach them to check with you before giving out personal – or family – information online.
  • Look for an online privacy policy. Many companies post their privacy policies on their Web site. This policy should disclose what information is being collected on the Web site and how that information is being used. Before you provide a company with personal information, check its privacy policy. If you can’t find a policy, send an email or written message to the Web site to ask about its policy and request that it be posted on the site.
  • Make choices. Many companies give you a choice on their Web site as to whether and how your personal information is used. These companies allow you to decline – or “opt-out” of – having personal information, such as your email address, used for marketing purposes or shared with other companies. Look for this choice as part of the company’s privacy policy.

Enjoy your shopping,

David Delisle
www.allcouponz.net

Warm weather = bargains in department stores

I was listening to business news on National Public Radio today and among other things they were talking about how warm weather negatively affects sales at department stores and profits of the businesses behind. From Associated Press:

Several of the nation’s largest retailers cut their earnings forecasts Thursday after lingering summer weather and an uncertain economy kept consumers from shopping last month and left the big merchants with disappointing sales.

Not that I feel sorry for the likes of Wal-Mart, Target, and J.C. Penney, but there was an interesting bit that really caught my attention. Nordstrom reported that “larger than planned markdowns used to clear excess inventory will hurt profits for the remainder of the year” (emphasis mine).

The logic is very simple. Businesses stock up seasonal merchandise anticipating a certain level of sales. Warm weather along with gas prices and credit crunch keeps consumers home forcing companies to mark down prices in an attempt to clear inventory of coats and sweaters. Guess who wins? It is us, bargain hunters!

Now I have an explanation to the fact that my wife comes home lately with stuff for kids that she literally buys for pennies.

My bargain hunting philosophy, things that matter

When I started this blog. I decided that I will write about things related to online shopping and in particular will talk about how to save money while shopping.

While shopping related events and news come and go, there are certain fundamental ideas that never get old. This blog post pretty much summarizes the principles that I try to follow in my quest to smart shopping.

Don’t buy what you don’t need

The temptation might be high but the most important principle of my bargain hunting philosophy is not to buy stuff I won’t use. There might be exceptions, and that is if you are sure it will make a good gift for someone you know, or if you are confident you can sell it for profit on eBay. The general rule however is that before you buy that flash drive for $5 after rebate, answer to yourself, why do you need 3-4-5 of these flash drives?

Buy used if it makes sense

Buying things used actually satisfies two sides of me, one I save money, two I give the thing second life. This is especially true of books and toys for kids which I never buy new. Half.com is where I usually end up buying books and garage sales is the main source of toys for my kids. I have previously discussed this subject and you might want to take a look at my list of things you should never buy new.

Don’t be afraid to buy in bulk

This of course doesn’t apply to everything however there is a certain class of things you can buy in bulk and save. Paying $$$ up front might look scary to some but don’t let your feelings confuse you — use the math. Here are some things I always buy in numbers:

  • napkins, toilet paper, paper towels
  • toothpaste, toothbrushes
  • canned food
  • batteries

Go DIY whenever it works

Doing things yourself might not always be the best option (check out the oil change discussion in the comments to this post) but there are many cases when it can save you money and you might learn something useful in the process. In addition there might be some other side benefits you didn’t expect.

For example I resist to the temptation to hire someone to mow my yard grass. I feel I need that bit of workout (applies to snow shoveling too). Also, I found I can save a lot by replacing the printer toner instead of entire cartridge, somewhat around $100 savings per fill up.

Consider hidden costs

Use your brains and view your new gadget or utility from all perspectives. If you buy a printer look at the per print costs. If you buy a car, consider insurance, maintenance, repair, and gas costs. These can be huge factors affecting the cost of ownership/use. This is exactly why I replaced my ink jet printer with a laser one long time ago, and why I switched to CFL lights as soon as I moved into our home.

Don’t run after the latest and greatest

I am sure many of you enjoy owning that latest gadget. This however may be very costly and if you wait a few months, the price may well go down by 50% or more. This is the nature of marketing. People want new stuff and merchants play on their feelings by jacking up prices. Resist the urge and wait it out. Buy two gadgets for the price of one later, give one to your younger sister/brother as a gift, and enjoy the feeling of giving!

Search and compare

I never buy a more or less expensive thing without first visiting a few other stores to compare alternatives. For online shopping, use this list of price comparison sites as a reference. For off line, call FruCall, or just visit a few competitors. Don’t go overboard though and weigh what is more important to you, the opportunity to save, or the chance of wasting time and effort.

Don’t forget to haggle

Remember that prices on big-ticket items are almost always negotiable. While there are some things we all know about (car, house, furniture) there are other things that are less obvious (bed mattress, household electronics). Here are a few haggling tricks to get you started. Negotiate your new car price via email if haggling face to face is not your thing.

Use credit cards with cash back

Credit cards with a cash back option are the easiest way to save while shopping. They require minimum effort and savings can be up to 5% on top of any other discount you find. Credit cards have been one of my favorite money savings tools. Read this blog post for an overview of how I use them.

The only challenge with credit cards is to remember that all your savings will evaporate if you don’t pay your balance in full. Once you get that part right — just rip the benefits. For optimal credit card rewards, make sure your cards are tuned up.

Visit deal sites

Once in a while I entertain myself or my close ones to a gift. Gifts are twice more entertaining if I don’t have to pay for them my arm and leg. Free gifts are especially enjoying. Deal sites is what I use for my gifts. I usually give them a visit once every other day and see if anything really hot pops up. In addition to deal sites from my monthly list I can recommend deal aggregators (reviewed here and here).

Read my blog

This list will not be complete without a shameless plug like this. ;-) I have been noticing lately that I use my blog as a reference to all things I know about online shopping and bargain hunting (well, this is one of the reasons why I started it). To organize things a little bit, I have collected the most valuable pieces in the Links section for easy reference. For other things I just use blog search.

What is your shopping philosophy? Do you have some bargain hunting tips you would like to share?

Discount shopping at the Target store

Target Discount ShoppingThis is not exactly online shopping (which I mostly write about) yet a very useful hack if you happen to go to your local Target store for a discount shopping raid.

You know how all prices end with 9’s to fool us to believe they are less than what they really are? Here is a simple rule that will help you figure out when it is the time to buy a discounted item at Target.

Full prices end in 9. Every time Target discounts, the final digit of the price drops. The lowest the final digit will go is 4. If you see something you want and the price ends in 4, buy it. You won’t get it for less.

Now I only wish someone confirms this tip before I go on a shopping spree! :-)

Source: Decoding Target Discounts at Atwater Village Newbie (via Consumerist)

Most common retail ripoff techniques

You don’t have to convince me about all the cons of retail (in-store) shopping — just read about my recent experience with holiday shopping at the local mall.

Folks at TrampolineSales have published a very well written article that summarises most common reasons why you must exercise extra caution when shopping for big ticket items like furniture or expensive electronics.

Here are a few highlights with my comments. For details go to Top ten retail ripoffs exposed at TrampolineSales.

  • The “Bait and Switch” Fraud — advertise at lower price, have no item in stock, offer a replacement of lower quality or at a higher price. I have seen a lot of this during my Black Friday shopping. They get your ass to the store and hope for you to buy something.
  • The “Keep You Waiting /Wear You Down” Ploy — this is very popular at car dealerships. The sales person keeps going and coming back supposedly talking to the manager and negotiating the lower price for you. In reality this is an attempt to make you invest more time in the shopping process and get you committed to a purchase.
  • Extended Warranty Scare Tactics — according to this ConsumerReports article there are only two exceptions when the extended warranty is worth it: you buy a rear-projection microdisplay TV or an Apple computer. In other cases the manufacturer warranty should be sufficient.
  • The “I Made a Mistake Adding This Up” Trick — the sales person gives you an erroneously high estimation (for a furniture ensemble or a car with options). Later when you find that the price is lower you are more inclined to buy the thing. The tactic is called “softening up” the client. I have never seen this one being used.
  • The “Get `Em Saying Yes” Routine — the sales person asks a few obvious questions that highlight the product qualities and gets you to answer “yes” to all of them. After that the answer to the ultimate question “will you buy it now?” comes logically. I have seen this every time I was shopping for an expensive brand name item (for example a mattress).
  • The “This is the Last One” Ruse — pressuring a client with the fact that this is the last item in stock can have very powerful effect. This is exactly the feeling that reinforced my decision to buy our current house 4 years ago. I still don’t know (and will probably never do) if that guy sitting outside the developer’s office was really up to buying the same house we wanted.
  • The “Today Only” Tactic — chances are you have seen those limited time offers not once. The truth is that usually after one offer runs out another one starts right in. Comparison shopping is the best counter tactic against this trick
  • The “Turn Over” Maneuver — have you ever heard “Hold on, let me get the store manager to see if we can get you a better deal.” right before you were ready to leave the store? If this happens — you will likely be subject to additional pressure from another sales person. It is not even the fact that the guy will be a manager. Beware of this tactic.



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