For the last few weeks, I've been writing about holiday shopping and all the angst it can bring, especially in these troubled economic times. I've also been taking a survey here on PlainTalk about your holiday shopping plans and it appears that most people will be buying gifts this year, although perhaps for a reduced number of people or with a smaller overall budget. So for those of you who are making your list and checking it twice, here's a Web site that can help you save big.
Maybe you've never tried online shopping. More and more Americans are shopping from the comfort of desk or couch. Why not? You save on gas and time, and looking for the right online stores can mean saving on sales tax and shipping, too. Watch for so-called "sales" that offer meager discounts, however, since the shipping often adds 10-15% onto your total. One possible drawback - online shopping isn't as "green" as it might seem, because items need to be shipped which widens your carbon footprint, and many retailers still use tons of very non-green packaging, like styrofoam. However, you can purchase inexpensive carbon offsets from sites like Carbonfund or focus on local retailers, so the shipping won't cause much more damage than your daily mail.
With online retailers, a very smart thing you can do is sign up for email alerts from your favorite sellers. This will clue you in to special deals, so if you can, hold off on shopping until they give you a good reason to click "Purchase." Before you make that click, check your In Box, too -- sometimes you've forgotten that 25% off email or free shipping offer, and then you'll be kicking yourself for ordering too soon.
Want to give your online shopping a boost this year? Visit Hoffman Estates, IL-based Coupon Cabin. www.couponcabin.com gathers online deals from well-known retailers all into one, easy-to-browse place. Just looking at the site a few days ago, I saw deals from The Home Depot, Target, Zappos, Macy's, Kohl's and many other famous names. The coupons are only good for ONLINE purchases, but of course you can browse a brick-and-mortar store, then go home and place your order. By the way, did you know some stores will do the online ordering for you, if you come in for an item and they don't have it in stock? Also, many retailers will allow you to make free returns, even if you bought the items online - save on those shipping costs!
Coupon Cabin also offers access to Restaurant.com, where you can purchase $25 restaurant gift cards for only $10 - and sometimes even less!! One interesting thing to note about Restaurant.com is that they feature local restaurants - I assumed it would contain mostly chains, but the focus is local, including Des Plaines stand-bys like the Black Ram and Cafe La Cave. Do read the fine print, as certain rules apply, like minimum purchases or gratuity included, and sometimes gift cards for certain restaurants are out of stock. If you think this might make gift-giving awkward ("Hi, I bought you this discounted gift card, and you have to spend a minimum of $50 for it to work.") use it to treat yourself or help pay for a night out with friends. A tip -- more gift certificates are added on the first of the month, so wait until December 1st and start shopping on Restaurant.com.
Many people avoid online shopping because they fear their credit card information will be compromised, maybe even their entire identity! While this is certainly a terrible experience, the fact is: it also happens in retail stores. So, if that's been your reason to avoid shopping on your computer, you may want to reconsider. I remember a friend who refused to send her credit card number over the Internet for many years - she would place her order, and then fax in her credit information. As if sending a fax to a roomful of strangers in another state was safe!
That's a little bit about saving money online this holiday season. For more online suggestions, check out this feature from CNN: http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2008/holiday.shopping/index.html.
Later this week, I'll introduce you to some places where your shopping can provide delightful gifts for friends and family, but also make a vital difference in the larger world. Wow - can you believe it's almost Thanksgiving!?!?