11 Things You Need To Know About Online Shopping

by Lara Rutherford-Morrison
Originally Published: 
Young happy woman using laptop at home
Iuliia Bondar/Moment/Getty Images

Money is a feminist issue — and yet, women are still reluctant to talk about it. According to a recent Bustle survey of more than 1,000 Millennial women, more than 50 percent of people said they never discuss personal finances with friends, even though 28 percent reported feeling stressed out about money every single day. Bustle's Get Money series gets real about what Millennial women are doing with their money, and why — because managing your finances should feel empowering, not intimidating.

In 2016, a yearly survey by comScore and UPS found that, for the first time, people were doing more of their shopping online than in person. And it’s no surprise: Shopping online is fast, economical, and incredibly convenient. However, there are a few things you should know about online shopping before you set yourself loose on the internet marketplace. A savvy online shopper can save time and money, but it’s important to be aware of the risks of shopping from your computer or smartphone.

If you’re trying to stay on budget, shopping online may be your best friend. “It can be easier to stick to a plan,” Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, a certified life coach and founder of The Fiscal Femme, tells Bustle. “When you have a plan and are searching for a specific item, shopping online can make it easier to avoid distractions, depending on the site. For example, if you are grocery shopping online, you might type in each item on your shopping list into the search bar and then choose which you want. When we're in the grocery store, we see many things that aren't on our list and might decide to buy them anyway. In this case, we're more prone to impulse.”

Shopping online is fast and easy, but those very qualities can make it dangerous. “The convenience of online shopping is also a pitfall,” Ashley warns. “We can do it wherever and whenever we want. To go out and shop in a store takes more time and planning which can often serve as a barrier for impulse purchases and buying things we otherwise wouldn't.”

Again, shopping on the internet is convenient, quick, and you can do it from the comfort of your very own couch. Just keep these things in mind when you’re adding items to your (virtual) shopping cart.

Check out the “Grown-A$$ Finances” stream in the Bustle App for more tips and tricks on how to save and spend your money.

1. Some days and seasons are better times to shop online than others.

Prices and discounts fluctuate throughout the year. According to Lifehacker, you’re most likely to find the most discounts in November and January and on Tuesdays and Thursdays. March is the worst month for finding discounts — so if you’re thinking of making a big purchase online, you may want to wait a few weeks.

2. You can save money by searching for coupons before you buy.

Before you buy anything online, do a quick google to see if there are any discounts or coupons available. Just search the name of the company where you’re shopping and “coupon 2017”; there’s a good chance you’ll find a coupon code to apply to your purchase. I’ve gotten a lot of free shipping this way, and every little bit helps, right?

3. Be on the lookout for hidden or last minute fees.

I recently went online to buy a piece of furniture. After doing my homework and finding a discount and a coupon for free shipping, I was feeling pretty good about the price I was paying — but then, when I got to the end of the checkout process, I was presented with an extra $50 “special handling fee” that, somehow, hadn’t been mentioned elsewhere in the purchasing process. I went ahead with the purchase, but, needless to say, that last-minute fee left a sour taste in my mouth.

When you’re shopping online, keep an eye out for extra charges that may crop up at the last minute — that great “deal” you’re getting might not be so great when you add up the total cost.

4. Be careful about signing up for newsletters and email lists.

When you go onto a company’s website, you’ll often get a pop-up asking you to sign up for the company’s newsletter and an offer of a coupon in exchange (usually for around 15 percent off). In many cases, you’ll automatically be signed up for email lists when you purchase something online or from a store. If you know that you’re going to buy something, taking advantage of these coupons can be a way to save money, but Ashley from The Fiscal Femme warns that company emails often do more harm than good.

“These daily or weekly emails prompt us to check out a new product or sale when we otherwise wouldn’t,” she points out. “It can create a want or need where there wasn't one and this can cause us to spend more and yearn for more. Unsubscribing from email lists is a great way to decrease your desire to shop.”

5. Read the reviews!

Product reviews can be incredibly helpful when you’re making online purchases. They can tell you if the product looks the way it does in photos or how it holds up over time; and, for apparel especially, they can give valuable info about fit. Keep an eye out for patterns: If reviewer after reviewer says that a shirt runs small or that a chair that looks blue online is actually gray in person, believe them.

6. But also be skeptical of the reviews.

Customer reviews can be super handy, but sometimes they can also be super fake. In fact, since 2015, Amazon has sued over 1,000 people involved in fake product reviews on its site, including sellers that have paid for fake reviews and reviewers who have made them.

Practice some healthy skepticism of online reviews. NBCNews suggests that to spot fakes, keep an eye out for reviews that are hyperbolically enthusiastic (i.e. “This travel iron has CHANGED MY LIFE.”) or overly specific (meaning that, if a reviewer sounds like he or she is parroting a press release, something is off). If a product has a lot of reviews and they are all positive, that should raise some eyebrows, too.

7. Even if you’re shopping in virtual stores, you’re spending real money.

I know that I’m pointing out the obvious — of course you’re spending real money when you’re shopping online — but I’ve found that shopping online has a magical ability to make me… forget. At least temporarily. I’m as guilty as anyone of feeling like the money I spend online doesn’t really “count,” especially on sites like Amazon, where I can hit “Buy now with 1-Click” and not even have to go through the process of getting out my credit card and entering the numbers. Shopping online is extremely convenient, but that very convenience can be dangerous for a budget.

8. Price comparison websites and apps can help you find the best price.

Shopping online allows you to check out prices from multiple retailers to make sure you’re getting the best deal. You can get started comparing prices on sites like Google Shopping,, and Nextag. (There are a bunch of price comparison apps out there that will let you compare prices when you’re shopping in person, too.)

9. Incentives are designed to get you to impulse buy.

Amazon and other websites will sometimes offer free shipping— if you spend above a certain amount. It’s a strategy intended to get people to buy more than they originally intended, and it works: A survey by The Yankee Group found that almost half of shoppers made impulse purchases due to the promise of free shipping.

Sometimes those free shipping offers can be good deals — if you'd already planned to spend above the threshold — but be careful that you don’t fall into the trap of spending cash you can’t afford on stuff you don’t need.

10. Stay safe.

When you shop online, you transmit sensitive info like your credit card number — so it’s important to be careful about where you shop and the information you give out. PC Magazine suggests that, at the very least, you should only shop on websites that start with “https://,” rather than “http://.” That extra letter means that the website has an added layer of security; you should also keep an eye out for the little lock icon that shows up when you’re on a secure website. Stick to websites you know, and steer clear of websites that ask you for extra identifying information. (An online shop should never ask for info like your Social Security Number, for instance). In general, if a website seems fishy to you, don’t give it your credit card information.

11. Avoid counterfeits and scams.

As the saying goes: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Counterfeits are rampant online, even on well known sites like Amazon; in 2016, Birkenstock even pulled its products from the mega-retailer because so many third parties were using Amazon to sell fakes. It can be difficult to spot fakes online, but use common sense: Buy directly from brands’ online stores (rather than third parties), and be suspicious of prices that seem unrealistically low. Again, if it feels “off,” shop somewhere else.

Still not sure if you should make an online purchase? Follow the Fiscal Femme’s advice, and use the “48 hour rule.” When you find something you want to buy, wait 48 hours before hitting “Checkout.” If you still want the item after a couple of days, go for it — but there’s a good chance that you’ll simply lose interest after you cool off. “Often you'll find that it's not even worth going back for once you're out of the moment,” Ashley says.

Check out the “Get Money” stream in the Bustle App for more tips and tricks on how to save and spend your money.

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