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19 more online shopping days until Christmas

The holiday season is fast approaching, and with gas prices skyrocketing and time a valuable commodity, many people are turning to the Internet to shop. In August, researchers for IMRG (Interactive Media in Retail Group) asked questions and opinions from more than two million online shoppers about their Christmas shopping habits in 2008. They found that

  • Internet shopping is set to reach a record high this Christmas
  • up to 68% of shoppers are planning on making at least one purchase online
  • of those, around 78% planned to do at least half of their shopping online (up from 56% in 2007)
  • 86% of shoppers will research Christmas shopping options on the Internet before buying in-store

Be prepared for shopping online with these tips:

Do some research before buying

If you are visiting a site for the first time, do a little snooping around before you commit to a purchase. Start by looking at the WOT scorecard to see ratings and comments from our trusted sources and experienced users.  Also, read reviews from other sources.

WOT user Chief_runningwater says, “I always check out reviews for online shopping centers before I buy also I check if its paypal compatible and if it isn’t I look for something else because I don’t trust giving out my information to websites I never used before even if it has good ratings."

Look for a real address and phone number

If the merchant only lists an email address or a post office box, that’s a big red flag. See if the company has a street address and phone number. The FTC recommends calling the phone number listed to confirm it’s working.

Check if the site is secure

WOT user demonon practices safe shopping, “I look for a secure connection and if the website can be trusted. I would never buy something if I wouldn’t know if the store would be legitimate or safe.”

Look for trust marks, seals and signs that indicate a secure Internet connection:

  • When you start typing in your credit card number look at the web address. It should include “https” or “shttp”. The "s" that is displayed indicates that website is secure.
  • Look for a closed padlock or key displayed at the bottom of your screen. If that lock is open or the key is broken, you should assume it is not a secure site.
  • Look for certification seals. TRUSTe, one of WOT’s trusted sources, certifies trusted sites with a Privacy Seal, so you know your customer information is protected.

Designate a single credit card for online transactions

WOT user Jazspeak offers this suggestion, “It is good practice to set up a bank account and credit card specifically for Internet shopping and keep the account entirely separate from any accounts. Best to have a very low limit on the credit card, although the major high-street banks don’t much like this because a low limit tends to mean less money for them. However, a low credit limit on the credit card does mean that potential crooks don’t have the opportunity to steal as much as they might otherwise.”

Some WOT users prefer to use PayPal when shopping online. Jwilbur explains, “Unless I REALLY trust a site I try to never shop unless the vendor accepts Paypal. If I do have to use a non-paypal/non-trusted site I only shop with my Platinum Amex which specifically protects me from any and all web rip-offs.”

“Paypal is also a very easy to use method of online payment that is reasonably secure, especially when linked to the Internet-specific bank account and credit card, “said Jazspeak.

Well-known names mean better protection

Bigger sites like amazon.com have established a good reputation, so you can be confident when shopping with them. However there are some smaller merchants offering great deals. Use common sense and remember if the deal is too good to be true, it probably is!

WOT user cbowers18 prefers the bigger names, “It’s been years since I bought anything online, other than from a site I have used before and know (LL Bean, Tiger Direct, etc.)

If you want to compare merchants try using comparison shopping engines. They each have a type of screening process to verify the merchant’s identity, online sales experience and ability to deliver the purchased items.

Is online shopping safer than shopping offline?

Your online shopping experience can be a positive one if you use precaution and common sense. “People should be aware that as long as they are dealing with reputable companies, online transactions are far more secure than the face-to-face transactions people perform every day,” says Jim Stickley, CTO and vice president at TraceSecurity, a company that works with financial institutions to better their network security systems to deter identity thieves. “Online transactions eliminate the middle man, such as the clerk who processes your credit card payment, so there are less people who physically see your private information.”

Consumers who research companies before making purchases, watch for warning signs of fraud, use credit cards for purchases and keep receipts should be safe shopping online this holiday season.

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