With the official start of fall in the books, it comes as no surprise that we’ve seen rainy days and dropping temperatures. As the days become colder, venturing out to shop might seem like more of a chore. But there’s no need to worry, fellow shoppers, the Internet will save us. According to the U.S. […]

With the official start of fall in the books, it comes as no surprise that we’ve seen rainy days and dropping temperatures. As the days become colder, venturing out to shop might seem like more of a chore. But there’s no need to worry, fellow shoppers, the Internet will save us.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, retail e-sales for the second quarter of 2011 were $47.5 BILLION dollars. That’s a lot of online shopping, am I right? Given the ease with which the average consumer can make an online purchase, it’s no wonder more people are turning to the Web for their shopping needs. You can even buy your groceries online with sites such as Fresh Direct or Peapod. Although I haven’t ventured into the fresh foods corner of the Internet, I have done my fair share of purchasing online.  As I’ve searched (and searched and searched) for the best online deals, I’ve picked up a few tricks for effective online shopping. 

1) USE PROMO CODES. That’s right, those nifty promo code spaces at the checkout are not just for the well-connected; rather, they are for the well-informed. Just because you don’t have a promo code on hand doesn’t mean you can’t save a few bucks. One of the better sites I’ve come across for finding codes and coupons is RetailMeNot. Simply enter the name of the store (or product) to narrow your search, and, with any luck, you’ll find at least one useful code. Admittedly, some of the promo codes are expired, but that’s what’s so nifty about the site: It tells you up front how effective the code has been for other shoppers. I’ve found that anything over a 75 percent success rate is a good bet to give a shot. 

2) USE YOUR RESOURCES. Did you know you can save 10 percent on any purchase at BarnesandNoble.com just by being an AAA member? Neither did I. Other popular retailers are also listed with deals of up to 10 percent off any purchase, including WalMart.com and Payless.com. Another great resource is your place of employment. Larger companies often offer their employees special discounts at local businesses or even online businesses. Contact your HR department to see if there are any discounts available. And don’t forget to check with any other organizations you are a member of … you never know what you’ll uncover.

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3) SHOP AROUND. There’s nothing easier than searching online for a product you need. It saves hours in the car, and online items are often discounted. No matter how tempted you may be to buy from a particular retailer, you should always look at other stores for the same product at a better deal. In fact, I recently found myself in this situation. I was looking for a kitchen cart (the kitchen in my new apartment is more of an afterthought than an actual room) and found the perfect one at Target.com. Unfortunately, the $199 price tag was a little more than I wanted to spend. That said, I did a bit more sleuthing and found the same cart for $149 at HomeDepot.com. Sold. 

4) WHAT’S THE RETURN POLICY? One of the biggest questions I ask myself when buying online is: How can I return this? If the retailer has a physical store, can I return the product to the store? If not, will it cost me shipping to return the product? One of the best return policies I’ve come across is from shoes.com. Not only will shoes.com ship your purchase for free, but it will also send you a free return label should you choose to send your shoes back. (But don’t do it too much. The website keeps track of your returns and will charge you if they become excessive.)

5) EMAIL BLASTS ARE YOUR FRIEND. Whether you despise “junk” email or not, there’s no getting around the fact that stores love to send coupons. If you haven’t already, set up a separate email account for junk e-mails and add yourself to the email lists of your favorite stores. Most will send you a coupon just for signing up. 

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6) KEEP IT SAFE. Although there isn’t a 100 percent guarantee on the security of your credit card information, there are ways to safeguard against online thievery and identity theft. First, shop with reputable retailers. A good way to determine who you’re dealing with is to search for privacy statements. A security-conscious company will make sure to post privacy and security information as visibly as possible. Another way is to make note of the checkout process before inputting any credit information. For instance, is the retailer using full encryption? You can determine this by looking for a small padlock at the bottom of your browser or by a message from the retailer, which indicates you’ve entered a secure site. As you would do with any purchase, make sure to keep a copy of the receipt and any shipping information. 

7) KEEP IT LOCAL. There’s no better way to ensure a quick delivery than by ordering from in-state or even in-town stores. Not to mention the feel-good points for supporting local merchants. Many local stores have taken to the internet to accommodate more customers. Be sure to check Milwaukee Magazine’s online shopping guide for a list of local retailers and their websites.  

Happy Autumn and Happy Shopping. Please be sure to add any additional tips to the comments.

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