(Family Features) Over the past year, online shopping has become the norm for all kinds of purchases, from groceries and household essentials to gifts and clothing.
Shopping for clothes and other items from the comfort of your home has multiple advantages, including the convenience to shop on your own schedule and the ability to do more thorough research to get the best prices before you buy. However, if you’re not used to doing it, shopping online for items you typically purchase at brick and mortar stores can be daunting.
To make your online shopping experiences more efficient and successful, consider these tips from Kellie Brown, fashion influencer and author of the “And I Get Dressed” blog.
If you have your eye on a particular item, shop around on multiple sites for it. Prices can vary from one website to another, and you could be missing out on big savings by not doing your research. When you’re comparing items, be sure to pay attention to details. Verify model or style numbers, colors and other specifics to ensure you’re comparing apples to apples.
Ultimately, you may find the same item with a slight difference that you’re willing to accept for a better price. Be sure you’re checking diligently so you have all the data you need to make a well-informed decision.
Doing research online may also help you locate discount codes that can help bring down the price if you buy from a specific online retailer.
Clothing is one category that shoppers either love or hate to buy online. Brown sees one distinct advantage: skipping the fitting room.
“Shopping for clothes online can seem daunting, but one of the biggest perks is being able to avoid the dreaded dressing room experience,” Brown said. “I hate the process of waiting in line, the overhead lighting, wonky mirrors and having to evaluate clothing in a flash.”
Buying online lets you ditch the fitting room in favor of the comfort of your own home, where you can take time to consider your new garments in private.
Brown cautions that the first rule of shopping for clothes online is recognizing sizing isn’t always universal. For example, a size 18 from one store may fit completely different at another store. If you know your measurements, you can compare those with the listed size chart. That way, you can select the best size for specific brands or products.
Joining a store’s loyalty program can be advantageous if you are a frequent shopper at a specific brand or retailer. Also, it’s important to realize not all credit cards are the same, and some offer rewards for online shopping, including cash back.
“The most versatile option is a card that adapts with your spending, such as the Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card that lets you earn 3% cash back in a category of your choice,” Brown said. “Hint: Online shopping is one of those categories. The rewards don’t expire, and if you are a Preferred Rewards member, you could boost your rewards by 25-75%, which means you could earn up to 5.25% cash back on your transactions. These rewards can be redeemed into your savings account as money for future shopping.”
Make sure you know the return policy of the retailer you’re shopping with to ensure your return or exchange will be accepted, if necessary. Being an avid online shopper, Brown offers a few important tips for dealing with items that may need returned.
Many stores won’t accept open packages or clothing with tags removed, so be sure you know the guidelines before tearing into your packages when they arrive.
You should also check whether you can return items to a local store, if there’s one available, or if you’ll have to ship a return, and find out who is responsible for return shipping costs.
It’s also important to be conscious of timing since most retailers have specific rules about how long you have to return an item. Some use the order date as the starting point while others use the delivery date. Especially with shipping delays that may occur, be clear on dates before you order. Many stores offer extended returns windows, but it’s still smart to know the expectations up front.
Online shopping offers plenty of benefits but being cautious with your credit card information and banking information can help you avoid certain risks. Consider these tips from Better Money Habits, Bank of America’s free financial education platform, to help you protect your finances while shopping online.
Use powerful passwords: Avoid the temptation to set a password you can remember easily and instead use something a little more complex that would be hard for others to guess or hack. Use a distinct password for each online account so you don’t make multiple accounts vulnerable if your personal information does get stolen. Also change your passwords periodically for added security.
Look for the lock: If you're shopping online, be sure the address begins with https. The “S” tells you the site is secure, and don't forget to look for the little lock icon in the browser before you enter any payment information.
Secure your networks: Whether using your home Wi-Fi, a mobile device while on the go or a public computer, you need to take steps to secure your info. Start by password protecting your home's network. When you log in to any financial account while away from home, like at a coffee shop or restaurant, don't do so on an open network. If you're using a shared computer, be sure to clear all your personal information when you log out.
Set up notifications: One easy way to keep an eye on your credit card information is to sign up for mobile or email alerts with your bank. This way, each time your card is used, you receive a notification. Plus, your bank may be able to notify you of any suspicious activity.
Online shopping can save you valuable time and money, especially when you’re smart about your purchases. Find more information at bankofamerica.com/morerewarding.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images (mom and daughter shopping on tablet)
Kellie Brown, a paid spokesperson for Bank of America. All opinions are her own.