There’s no need to wait in long lines at crowded stores to snag the perfect holiday gifts at the best prices. All kinds of great deals can be found online.
However, online shopping comes with its own perils when you’re trying to stick to a budget. Buying virtually makes it easy to buy a cartload of stuff in a few simple clicks — without really paying attention to the real-life dollars you’re spending.
Before you hit that “buy now” button, check out how to avoid making these 10 common mistakes when you shop online.
10 Online Shopping Mistakes to Avoid This Holiday Season
As you browse online for your holiday finds, avoid these pitfalls to keep yourself from spending a ho-ho-whole lotta money.
1. Getting Fooled by Terrible Discounts
When is a Black Friday sale not really a sale? When the discounts aren’t any better than the ones you normally receive.
For example, if you can typically find your favorite brand of shoes for $50 — even though the “suggested retail price” is $90 — consider $50 the benchmark. So if a retailer advertises the shoes for 50% off, but the discount is off the regular suggested retail price of $90, it won’t be much of a deal because you’re only saving $5 off of what you’d normally pay.
Let it be a lesson that just because an item is listed on the sale page of a website doesn’t mean something is worth your money.
2. Spending More to Get “Free” Shipping
We’ve all been there. You know you can get free shipping if your order totals more than $50, but your cart comes to $48.50.
Maybe you can find something for $1.50 to meet the minimum… or maybe you’ll just toss in that $10 item you don’t really need but lets you get the free shipping.
Rather than sorting the sale section from low to high, step away from the virtual cart and rethink your original purchase.
Would it be worth paying to have that original item shipped and sticking to your original budget? Or consider other shipping options the retailer offers — could you use a ship-to-store option that lets you save on shipping and drive up to get the goods?
3. Not Abandoning Your Cart
Yeah, it might be bad form to leave a cart full of stuff in a brick-and-mortar store, but do it online, and you could score a better deal.
Some retail sites will trigger an email coupon when you leave items in your cart and close your browser. Leave your cart for a few hours (or a day) and you could receive an email saying, “Did you forget something? Here, have a discount!”
If you don’t need to place the order immediately, a short period of indecision can help you get a better deal.
4. Falling for Expensive Promoted Products
Websites like Amazon, Etsy and eBay know that consumers want convenience — and are easily distracted by the first item they see in search results. So they place advertised products in the search results, even if you choose to sort by price from lowest to highest.
Before you click on that attractive-looking item, thinking it’s in your price range, double-check for an indicator that it’s a promoted product.
5. Not Shopping in Incognito Mode
Did you know some online shopping sites will show higher prices depending on your location, the time of day you’re shopping and whether you’ve checked out the item on the site earlier?
Shop in your browser’s private mode to avoid retailers switching up prices to try to get you to buy now.
6. Shopping While Intoxicated, Tired or Hungry
No. Do not.
That is how you end up with a skirt two sizes smaller than what you normally wear, because you think you might be able to fit into it eventually. And it’s a final sale. Just don’t do it.
If you have the tendency to shop when you’ve been drinking or late at night as you try to cure your insomnia, do yourself a favor and protect your wallet from your worst shopping tendencies.
Put a few of these shopping safeguards in place to prevent your retail hangover.
7. Not Doing Your Research
Never make an impulse buy based on the image of the item alone.
Did you read reviews for the product? (Bonus points if you peep user-uploaded photos.)
Did you check the specs on expensive electronics to make sure you’re getting a high-quality item? Or that it has the connectors you need for it to work with your current setup?
Did you check the clothing size chart?
If you can’t rattle off the reasons it’s worth buying that product right now, step away from your laptop. You’re not ready to buy.
8. Not Checking the Return Policy
A lot of online stores let you make returns, but some of them also make you jump through hoops before you can get your money back.
Before you buy, check the store’s restrictions on returns and find out how much it will deduct from your refund (for return shipping or restocking) if you send the item back.
9. Not Using a Cash-Back Program
If you’re not shopping online through a cash-back portal, you’re missing out on free money.
Check out these Google Chrome extensions — they automatically detect if there’s a rebate, cash-back offer or deal for your purchase.
Bonus points if you shop with a credit card that offers cash back or reward points.
10. Not Having a Budget
Before, when you headed to the store, you may have had a list, or if you shopped with cash you’d know how much you had left to spend. It’s a lot easier for online shopping to get out of control since you can hop from site to site — and can do it any time.
Plus, online retailers purposely try to get you to spend more by suggesting similar products you might like based on what you’ve searched for.
If you set aside an hour before you start your holiday shopping to review your numbers and create a holiday budget, you’ll be able to make the holiday cheer (and more cash) last into the new year.
Lisa Rowan is a former writer at The Penny Hoarder. Staff writer/editor Tiffany Wendeln Connors and senior writer Nicole Dow contributed to this post.