Shopping while surfing will save consumers time and money. But buying online is not exactly the panacea to holiday headaches - long lines at the department stores may be replaced by busy servers, and don't be surprised to find that the must-have toy is sold-out on the Web, too. Plus, there's the delivery wait.
Starting early and familiarizing yourself with e-shopping guidelines should help as the season shifts into high gear. Lisa Hahn, president of Caugherty Hahn Communication, is an expert on direct shopping via catalogues and the Internet. She shares some tips for Internet shopping this holiday season.
- Set a budget and make a list -- Consider who you are shopping for and how much you plan to spend. Remember family, friends, business colleagues, teachers, hostess and thank you gifts.
- Don't wait -- Internet shopping is fast, but last-minute shoppers may be disappointed if their must-have gift is sold out. Most holiday products are in stock and ready to ship. If you see something you want, order now, especially for the hottest new must-have toys.
- Look for specials. Many Internet sites offer a special of the week. Visit favorite sites regularly to catch best buys. Most companies will offer gift messaging, and sometimes a gift card and gift wrap either free or for a nominal fee.
- Use e-mail to ask questions. If the e-tailer doesn't respond in an intelligent and timely manner, you might not see anything but a charge on your credit card. When in doubt, check it out.
- Shop with Pen & Pad. Same as with catalog shopping, keep a record of your order. Make a print out or write it down. Note date of orders, credit card used, and expected shipment date on your calendar. Although online shopping is usually glitch-free, it's best to stay on top of your transactions as well as to remember individuals for whom you have shopped.
- Expect order confirmation. E-tailers should confirm your order by e-mail. Check to be sure that everything you ordered is listed. The e-mail should contain contact information for any problems you may have with the order.
- Save on shipping charges. Some companies offer special deals on shipping if your order is of a certain value, such as free shipping with $50 order. Look for deal.
- Keep track of order deadlines - Most companies can ship holiday gifts up to the last minute with express delivery service at an additional cost. Generally, for express delivery, you should order by Nov. 28 for Hanukkah, and Dec. 19 for Christmas.
- Find the right site. Many of your favorite catalog companies have Web sites offering the same great products and service you expect. Look on the catalog for the URL or go to the Direct Marketing Association's Shop the Net, as one option.