Online shopping can sometimes decrease some of holiday stress
SIKESTON -- While many shoppers are gearing up for in-store bargains this holiday season, other shoppers are searching for online deals.
Lynn Caines of Sikeston estimates she will do 60 percent of her Christmas shopping online this year.
"It's very convenient," Caines said about online shopping. "I can actually go through a whole department store and only have to specify to what I'm looking for instead of fighting the crowds or driving there. They even comparison shop for you."
Caines, who has five children ranging in age from 9 to 15, likes to shop at walmart.com and overstock.com. She has bought items ranging from clothes and make up to movies and dishes online.
"My kids wrote me their Christmas lists and I order online, and they'll even wrap if you want it," Caines said.
Shopping online also decreases the stress often associated with holiday shopping, Caines said.
"Even if your kids don't know what they want, you can go to a store online and type in the ages, and there are gift ideas. You just discover new things," Caines said.
Caines likes that she can find something from a store that is located nowhere near her.
"Why should I drive, take the gas, the time, and fight the crowds when with a click of a button ... they will find it for me and send it free?"
Caines said she also likes to purchase something online and then pick it up at the store. She said retailers will also offer free shipping if consumers spend a certain amount -- an incentive many shoppers seem to be attracted to.
According to results of the 2007 eHoliday Study, conducted for the National Retail Federation by BizRate Research for Shop.org and Shopzilla, free shipping offers will abound online this holiday season. The most popular shipping promotion will be free shipping with conditions, which the majority of retailers, about 79 percent, will offer this holiday season. Free shipping with conditions means that a customer must purchase a certain item or a certain number or dollar amount of merchandise before receiving the offer.
"Free shipping offers drive online sales more than any other promotion, which is why they remain popular with retailers," said Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org, in a recent news release. "Unfortunately, free shipping is not free for retailers. Merchants can minimize the financial impact of these promotions by carefully analyzing the conditions required for their customers to receive free shipping."
Customers' top reasons for shopping online instead of in stores is the ability to shop at any time of day, not wanting to fight crowds in stores and the general convenience of shopping on the Internet. Shoppers also said they like the ability to compare prices online and that items are often easier to find online than in stores.
Local retailers also notice a boost in online shopping during the holiday season.
Angela Cliff, supervisor at JC Penney in Sikeston, said store employees get very busy with online purchases at Christmas time.
"You can have it delivered to your home or pick it up at the store, which is what many people do," Cliff said. "Since we do have the catalog department, most everything we have on the floor can be ordered through our Web site."
Often times orders take only two or three days to arrive.
Like most retailers, JC Penney offers a free shipping incentive. If consumers spend over $49, shipping is free, Cliff said.
"We have quite a few who order online," said Glen Burdin of Scrapbookin' outlet store at Sikeston Factory Outlet Stores.
The outlet store, which sells scrapbooking albums, stickers and other tools, has maintained a Web site for the past two years.
"It seems like, generally, sales do go up end of November and throughout December," Burdin said.
Most of the store's online shoppers live out of state, Burdin said. The store offers free shipping for orders over $50.
"Anything we advertise in the store, we generally do online, too, as much as we can," Burdin said.
In addition to free shipping promotions, Cyber Monday -- the ceremonial kickoff to the online holiday shopping season -- is just around the corner. The National Retail Federation said Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, is expected to be more promotional than ever as retailers offer one-day promotions and special offers to bring holiday shoppers online. Online retailers will be unveiling an array of deals to demonstrate what Web sites have to offer this holiday season.
Cyber Monday, a term coined by Shop.org in 2005, began after online retailers noticed a trend of people shopping online on the Monday after Thanksgiving. Since then, consumers have flooded Web sites on Cyber Monday and come to expect robust promotions and specials that day.
"As more people rely on the Internet for holiday shopping, retailers have stepped up their game to compete," said Silverman said in a news release. "This year, promotions on Cyber Monday are extremely competitive as online retailers use an assortment of one-day specials to send shoppers online."
Caines said she wasn't aware of Cyber Monday. The seasoned online shopper seems to already know the ins and outs of finding bargains online: shop only at well-known sites, always get a confirmation number, check the returns/
refunds policy and don't upgrade shipping because the item usually arrives within three to five shipping days.
Caines said: "If people are leery of shopping online, they shouldn't be -- it's so much easier."
> Plan ahead. Having a set list of gifts you intend to buy helps minimize confusion, especially if you intend to make multiple purchases through several Webs ites. Shop.org encourages consumers to start their online holiday shopping at www.cybermonday.com, a site which will offer current promotions of more than 400 online retailers throughout the holiday season.
> Shop safely online by using common sense. A golden rule of online shopping is that if something seems like it's too good to be true, it probably is and you should avoid it. Shop with retailers that you trust. If you aren't familiar with an online retailer, look for privacy and security seals, which indicate that their security and privacy measures have been verified.
> Make sure your gifts arrive in time. Check retailers' shipping deadlines, which are featured prominently on most retail Web sites. The information ensures that customers understand the last day when they can place orders for arrival by Christmas or Hanukkah. After standard shipping deadlines pass, many retailers will offer shipping upgrade promotions with later deadlines.
> Know the retailers' return and exchange policies. Return policies vary, so knowing ahead of time whether or not you will have to ship back returns or exchanges or if you can return them to the physical store in your area will help in the long run. Also be sure to find out who covers the cost of shipping if you need to return or exchange an item.
> Ship gifts directly to the recipient. Most online retailers can ship items to a different location than your billing address. During the holiday season, when many people are traveling, take advantage of this feature by sending gifts ahead of your arrival. Some companies can even ship to multiple locations so you don't have to lug holiday gifts all across the country.
> For instant gratification (or holiday procrastinators), buy online then pick up in the store. Many retailers offer a "buy online, pick up in store" option. Check with your favorite retailers to see if this is a service they offer, then skip the crowds and head straight to the customer service counter where your items will be waiting.
> Read the fine print. Retailers list important information such as privacy policies, warranty information, item descriptions, terms of agreement and company information on their Web sites. Much of this information is very useful, but is displayed in a smaller font.
> If you aren't comfortable paying with a credit card, research other payment options. Retailers place a tremendous importance on keeping their Web sites safe and protecting customers' information. But for shoppers who are still nervous about paying by credit card, other options are often available. Online retailers offer a variety of services, from letting customers fax in an online order to accepting third-party payment options. Some retailers also allow gift cards to be redeemed online.
> "Check it twice" before confirming purchase. Before you complete an online purchase, double check billing and credit card information, shipping address and total cost of the order. This will eliminate any potential panic after you've hit the final "confirm" or "submit" button. And remember not to click "submit" twice.
> Start a file folder. First, print and save all confirmations of your purchases. This will help in many ways, from returning or exchanging items to verifying credit card or bank statements. Also, write down each purchase. It's easy to forget how much you've spent if you don't keep track of it. This will help both budget holiday spending and balance your checkbook.