Pretty much everyone is familiar with the day-after-Thanksgiving shopping madness of Black Friday, which dates back to the 1950s. Cyber Monday—the online shopping rush that takes place the Monday after Thanksgiving—is far more recent. The first Cyber Monday took place in 2005. Online shopping was just starting to become popular, and retailers saw this as a way to drive business to their websites. For those shoppers who try to avoid setting foot in a store during Thanksgiving weekend (or between Thanksgiving and New Year's to be safe), Cyber Monday provides welcome relief. However, with identity theft and scams on the rise, it’s important to safeguard your information and your wallet. Read on for some Cyber Monday shopping tips.
Although amazing deals can be found on Cyber Monday, don’t get so caught up in the excitement of a good find that you purchase unnecessary merchandise. It doesn’t matter how cheaply you can buy something if you aren’t going to actually use it. So, grab a pad and pencil and make a list of everything you need, and also note where you think you’ll find each. You may be at this for a while, so make sure you change into your favorite set of comfy men’s or women’s loungewear. Be sure you have backups—such as an alternate color for that sweater you have in mind, in case your first choice isn’t available. You’ll also need to consider your budget. Several hundred dollars can separate the cheapest and costliest versions of an item. For small and large appliances, electronics, and tech, check reviews as part of your planning process.
So long as there are computers, there also will be hackers and other cybercriminals. Therefore, keeping your credit card and identifying information secure is critical any time you engage in online shopping. Secure sites encrypt your information to keep it safe. Before you enter a password or your credit card information at a website, check the site’s uniform resource locator (URL). It should start not with “http://” but rather “https://” (the “s” stands for “secure”). To the left of the URL, you should see a small lock icon. The “https://” and the lock icon indicate that the connection between the site’s web server and your browser is encrypted.
It’s also important not to make any purchases on a public Wi-Fi—thieves often hang out in communal gathering stops in the hopes of picking up personal information. Unless you’re planning on using your smartphone as a hotspot, skip grabbing a latte and a table at your local coffee shop. Instead, make your own hot drink at home, curl up on your couch with your favorite fleece throw, and order away while safely connected to your home network.
It’s not enough to check that the connection is encrypted. You’ll also need to ensure that the site is legitimate. For example, in an email, you can hover your cursor over the sender's name to see their email address. If anything other than company-dot-com follows the "at" symbol, it’s likely fake. The same holds true of any links within the email itself. Poor grammar and spelling errors are also clues to fake emails. While a “buy one, get three free” offer for, say, snow boots may be tempting because everyone in the family needs them, the odds are that if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t. Go to the website directly from your browser rather than the email link to be safe.
In addition to advertised sale offers, retailers often offer special discounts to individuals who signed up to receive promotional emails and/or texts or belong to a loyalty club. These offers can be substantial. If you consistently buy from certain online businesses, it may be worth signing up. You can always set filters in your email to minimize inbox clutter; you may also be able to limit the number of emails or how often you receive them. Just make sure you’re buying something you can use, either for yourself or someone else in your family or as a gift.
Note that buying off-season clothing (we’re looking at you, swimsuits can be tricky; unless you’re certain that something you buy now will fit six months down the road, stick to what you can use now. Be aware that if you leave something in your cart, the retailer’s bot will notice and may offer an additional discount. Waiting for that to happen can be tricky, though, especially when items sell out quickly.
Shopping on Cyber Monday can be a great way to avoid the post-Thanksgiving horde yet still accomplish your holiday shopping in a stress-free manner. And don’t forget to order gift wrap. That way, you’ll also have plenty of time to get things wrapped and mailed early enough to avoid long lines at the post office.