Online Shopping for the Holidays

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“I need to touch things and see them myself,” says my friend Phyllis about the prospect of shopping online rather than dealing with the crowds, long lines and parking problems that come with pre-holiday mall shopping. I think she’s nuts.

Give me the mouse over the store any day. No searching for sales help. No, “Excuse me, do you have this in a medium? I only see large.” No mush-mosh of sweaters and tangled scarves that “folders” at The Gap or J Crew or the you-name-it department store cannot keep up with. And forget having to send out a search party for the salesperson who disappeared into the shoe stockroom for so long you’re not even sure you’ll remember what he looks like when he emerges, often to tell you, “No, we do not have the size you need.”

From lipsticks to Lexuses to lawn mowers, kids toys to fine jewelry, online sales across almost any category are on the rise. On Black Friday alone last week, online sales jumped 16% jump over last year according to CoreMetrics. Data is not yet in for Cyber Monday, which is today as I write, but I’ve added to the tally by ordering items as diverse as a pair of little girls pink studded cowgirl boots with a matching skirt from another site, a personalized Jets jersey, a shun santoku knife and a pair of leather gloves. Done in 30 minutes. If I am sounding smug it is because I am.

If you are a new online shopper or getting ready to take the plunge, here are some tips:

· It is not necessary to manually fill in all the required order information each time you make an order. Google has an auto-fill tool that allows you to fill all of it in with a click. The icon on the Google toolbar looks like a piece of paper with a yellow pencil on it. See what it looks like and download the Google toolbar.

· When your order is complete, print your order form even though you will get a confirmation email. If you do not get an email confirmation within 24 hours, call customer service to verify that your order went through, and you’ll have all the information you need right in front of you.

· Read your confirmation email carefully. If an item is on backorder, some sites tell you that as you are placing your order, but most do not. You will learn that annoying fact when you get your email so be sure to check. In years of online ordering, this has only happened to me once, but it is fresh in my brain because it happened today, which is why my granddaughter is now getting studded pink boots instead of fringy ones!

· Many sites are not charging for shipping during the holiday season. If you are buying something available in many places, don’t unnecessarily pay for shipping. Or, do what I just did. A major department store charged for shipping on an item I ordered today. I called customer service and said, “every department store site I go to is offering free shipping at least through today. Why aren’t you?” Guess what? Without a pause the representative said, “I am eliminating your shipping charges right now.”

· If you are buying a gift that you are going to hand deliver, save yourself money by not choosing the gift-wrap option and be a do-it-yourselfer.

· Buying for a collector of vintage items? You can feel safe ordering from eBay. Because those who sell on eBay are rated by consumers who have ordered from them, you can see just how pleased – or not – other customers have been. I have never ordered from someone rated less than 97%, and I’ve never had a problem.

· Returns are so easy. The store you are buying from provides postage-paid return labels which you can affix directly to the box or envelop in which your order came.

Whether you are buying a gift for someone else or a gift just for yourself, give cyberspace a chance. As the old – and newly revived – Alka-Seltzer commercial says, “Try it. You’ll like it.”

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