Whether you’ve been ordering online for years or were forced to for the first time because of the pandemic, you no doubt appreciate all the benefits compared to retail (“brick and mortar”) shopping.
After all, with online shopping, you can shop 24/7 in the comfort of your pajamas; you don’t have to fight traffic to drive to the mall and circle the parking lot; you don’t get stuck behind someone in line at checkout counting change (or pulling out the wrong credit card); it’s easy to compare prices between multiple online retailers; and products are shipped right to your door, of course (heck, even groceries).
OK, so you’re already sold on it. “Marc, you’re preaching to the converted,” you’re thinking.
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Granted, there are a few things you can do to ensure your online shopping experience is a smooth one.
A few suggestions:
Save money (or make money)
Free shopping apps, websites and browser extensions are highly recommended.
Slickdeals, for example, is billed as the largest online deal-sharing community with about 12 million users and one simple goal: to spread the word on the best deals found on products, services, travel and more.
All online or retail deals discussed are voted on by the community and the hottest ones move up to the Popular Deals section (such as 70% off an air fryer) and after vetted by the Slickdeals editors, may graduate to the coveted Frontpage of the app or website.
If you want to price-watch an item, you can sign up for “deal alerts,” and be notified if such a bargain is posted.
The Slickdeals browser extension automatically flags available coupons and promo codes upon checkout.
Speaking of browser extensions, Honey can be added to your favorite web browser – be it Google Chrome, Safari, Edge, Firefox or Opera – and then you shop online like you normally would. Honey will sense where and what you’re shopping for and let you know if there are coupon codes available to apply to your cart or if finds the best price elsewhere.
You can also add items to your Honey “Droplist” to keep an eye on price drops.
Once you buy the item at the store, you’ll start earning cash that can be sent to you via cheque or deposited into a PayPal account (as often as every three months) or with Ibotta, receive a gift card, if preferred. The percentage you get back varies, but can really add up.
There is also a free browser extension, should you prefer Rakuten to automatically find and apply coupons (and compares prices), so you get the best deal.
Honey Gold Rewards is similar to Rakuten, where you can earn points for shopping on participating sites.
Also consider saving money with Amazon Warehouse. Just as you might shop at a thrift shop or second-hand store in person, Amazon, too, has this lesser-known section with great deals on quality used or refurbished products.
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Here you can shop for millions of pre-owned and open-box items, including used computers and tablets, home and kitchen items, unlocked mobile phones.
Even though you’re buying a discounted Amazon Warehouse product, many items qualify for Prime or free shipping. Caveat emptor: these items generally do not come with a manufacturer’s warranty, but all are backed by Amazon’s liberal return policy.
Now that we’re spending more time out of the home – perhaps you’re back working in an office or plan on traveling more this spring and summer – what can you do to ensure your packages are safe from “porch pirates” or becoming damaged by inclement weather?
You have some options, but there are pros and cons for each.
For one, if you’re allowed to get deliveries at work, you might consider it for some extra peace of mind. Ok, so not so convenient for groceries that include fresh or frozen foods.
Alternatively, you have deliveries sent to a PO box near your home, but that will cost you a rental fee, of course and you’ll need to pick up your parcels on the way home.
Instead, if you’re an Amazon shopper – and chances are good that you are – Amazon Key In-Garage Delivery is a super convenient (and secure) way to have Amazon packages and groceries delivered inside your garage – whether you are home or away.
Free for Amazon Prime members ($139/year after free trial), simply select “Free Key Delivery” at checkout and your package will be delivered inside your compatible smart garage (like Chamberlain MyQ, for about $30). Drivers receive one-time, verified access by scanning your package. (No need to share your garage PIN code or open the door for them.)
Then you’ll receive real-time notifications every step of the way and can even use an optional camera if you want to watch the driver place your goods just inside your garage door and then close it.
You can type in your zip code to see the In-Garage Delivery services are available in your area.
If you don’t have a garage, you might opt for a locking mailbox on your porch for couriers and mail carriers. Some don’t have smarts to them, such as the Danby Parcel Guard Basic Mailbox ($229.00), a simple lockbox that can fit parcels up to 15 x 10 in x 8 inches and features an anti-theft drop slot and keylock for you to open when you get home.
If desired, the mailbox could be bolted to the ground (fixings included) or additional weight can be added to the base of the unit (by adding sand or gravel).
But for $70 more, there’s also the Danby Parcel Guard Smart Mailbox ($299.00), a Wi-Fi-connected unit with motion sensor, camera, and alarm. This mailbox can send you real-time notifications on your smartphone when a courier is there. To open the electronic lock to access parcels inside (up to 15 x 10 x 8 inches), use the keypad or the app.
How to reduce the odds of fraud
Always use a secure Internet connection when making a purchase. Reputable websites use technologies such as SSL (Secure Socket Layer) that encrypt data during transmission. You will see a little padlock icon in your browser (and usually “https” at the front of your address bar) to confirm it’s a secure connection.
Many cybersecurity experts say it’s safer (and quicker) to shop from within a store’s app than the web.
Only shop on sites that take secure payment methods, such as credit cards, PayPal, Apple Pay or Google Pay. Personally, I use a Visa card with a high cash-back reward, plus there’s “zero liability” protection in the event there’s a dispute with your purchase (such as if you didn’t get it, it’s not what you ordered or in poor condition).
Never send cash or a check. Not even if a mom-and-pop online store asks for it.
Resist shopping over free public Wi-Fi hotspots. This could also put your credit card info and passwords at risk. Instead, use your smartphone’s cellular service or wait until you’re at home.
Follow Marc on Twitter @marc_saltzman for his “Tech Tip of the Day” posts Email him or subscribe to his Tech It Out” podcast. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Online shopping: How to protect your packages and find the best deals