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Shopping Online for the Holidays: What We Learned and Will Do Next Season

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This year we gave ourselves a pat on the back for doing around 95% of our shopping online, up from about 60% last year. We also became more savvy this year at maneuvering the holiday shopping online, but there still were some elements that we forget about or were unaware of, such as waiting for prices to go even lower for certain items. We've put together a list of some helpful tips and solutions for next year's holiday season, and are shooting to do 100% of our shopping online by then!

The Issue: Gift Vouchers/Receipts

Not until we were wrapping our gifts did we realize – what if the person we bought this item for already has one, or hates it and wants to return it? How is this possible when all we have is an email confirmation of the purchase, and an itemized invoice with all the items we purchased from that particular retailer? Plus, the amount we paid for it will (gasp) be revealed…

Our Solution: We've devised two easy ways for the receiver to make a return. First, we tried to stick to sites that also have brick and mortar locations – that way they can be returned at the most convenient location for the gift receiver, without the hassle of having to worry about shipping the item back. Secondly, although the price we paid for the product will be revealed, we made copies of the invoice receipt that came with the items and gave one to each gift recipient. We figure that if they do return the item, how much we paid for it will become known anyways – might as well take the mystery out of it early on! Plus, at least they will have something, besides the tag on the item, to prove the purchase, and instead of having to take the lowest markdown price on the item, which usually occurs when a reciept is not presented.

The Issue: How Late is Too Late to Order Online?

We were extremely nervous about this one, especially since Christmas fell on a Tuesday, and we weren't sure how early or late we should shop.

Our Solution: The last possible day for items to ship and arrive can vary drastically, depending on the site. Our rule of thumb was to allow 2-3 days for the item to be prepared and actually ship from the warehouse, and then another 3-4 days for it too arrive. We generally like to play it safe, so most of our purchasing was done a little more than one week before the holiday. However, this depends on how much you are willing to spend on shipping. We generally select ground, or hold out for free shipping offers, which means although the cost may be lower, but you may be compromising a quicker delivery time. Check the site's shipping options to see if they offer different delivery speeds, and if the price difference between each one is significant. Another suggestion that we have is if you plan on traveling for the holidays, why not get your items shipped directly to that destination? It could grant you an extra day or two of arrival time, and also provide you with the convenience of being able to travel lightly.

The Issue: Shipping Costs

We segue right into this concern from the above issue. We hate paying more than a few dollars for shipping, and will do all that we can to get free or discounted shipping. We know that every now and then Kohl's and Walmart offer shipping for under $1, but we don't want to be restricted to those retailers…

Our Solution:

We've discovered that free shipping offers are sprinkled throughout the month of December, so if you are an early bird when it comes to holiday shopping, you can get an equally good deal on shipping compared to the last-minute shoppers. We tend to see free or reduced-price expedited shipping upgrades the closer you get to the last day for items to ship and arrive on time, which for most instances this year, that day was the 21st of December. This means you still will pay for shipping with some of the retailers, but will get an added bonus of not having to pay the full amount.

The Issue: Shopping for Toys

Some kids may think they will die if they don't get the number one gift on their list. Did Santa not receive the letter? Were they a bad boy/girl this year? For those kids that have been nice, and not naughty this year, we'd hate for them to have these thoughts crossing their mind, because Mommy or Daddy or Auntie or God Mother held out for a deal and then there were none left.

Our Solution:

This could be a catch 22 – you want to get them that big ticket toy immediately, but its not on sale, and if you wait, you risk them selling out or it not arriving on time. We learned that the longer you wait, the more toys get discounted, so for those items that aren't as crucial, your wallet could benefit from waiting, However, for that big purchase, the #1 gift on their list, you may want to buy it earlier on. We recommend searching several toy e-tailers first before settling, such as Toys "R" Us, eToys.com, and DisneyShopping.com. We also found out this year that Amazon.com has a great amount of toys at prices that can't be beat elsewhere.

The Issue: Boxes, Bows, Gift Wrap

It's December 24th, in the evening, and you've just sat down to start the wrapping process. You feel content because all of your online purchases have arrived on time, and are patiently waited to be wrapped and labeled. Wait a minute…there are no boxes to put the clothes into, something you would have definitely asked for if you'd made your purchases at the mall.

Our Solution:

If you think you can't get boxes because you bought online think again! You just have to keep an eye out for the option. Retailers such as Saks and Neiman Marcus clearly advertise that they are available, and most times you can get free boxes and bows or even complimentary gift wrap for your items. Keep your eyes peeled for the checkbox option during checkout. Don't forget to also look out for the option to get a free gift card and message that you personalize on the site as you check out.

We hope our issues and solutions will prove to be a helpful checklist for you next holiday season to make shopping online even more convenient!

--Julia DiNardo

DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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