5 Mistakes Online Shoppers Make

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Shopping online at home in your PJs is quick and easy, but that convenience makes it all too easy to waste money on things you won’t really need or spend more than you would in a store. Here’s a look at online shopping mistakes that could be costing you money.

1. Getting sucked in by a sale

Unroll.me, a free service for streamlining your email, reports that its average user has about 91 retail email subscriptions and 250 overall subscriptions. With all these sales offers crowding our inboxes (“Today Only: 50% Off Everything!,” ” Buy One Dress, Get One Half Off!”), it’s easy to browse mindlessly for things you hadn’t planned on buying but now simply have to have. I’ve used Unroll.me to unsubscribe from marketing emails or “roll them up” into a daily digest so I’m not distracted by deals I don’t actually need.

2. Buying more to get free shipping

Many retailers offer free shipping if you spend $25, 50 or more in a single order. Last fall, Amazon raised its threshold for free shipping from $25 to $35, likely prompting many consumers to simply order extra items to meet the $35 minimum. If you’re an Amazon Prime or ShopRunner member, you may be inclined to shop through the services you’ve already paid for rather than comparing prices to get the best deal. Amazon has a lot of selection but not always the lowest prices. Even after you factor in the cost of shipping through another retailer, you may still come out ahead by shopping through another website or at a store rather than ordering online. In some cases, the retailer will ship your item to a store for free so you can avoid paying shipping but still get exactly what you want.

3. Failing to search for promo codes

Why pay full price when you could get free shipping or a percent off your order? Before you check out, do a quick search for discount codes. Websites like RetailMeNot and CouponCabin collect promo codes for popular retailers, so it’s worth a look. If you’re a frequent online shopper, then you might want to sign up for cash back websites like BeFrugal, Ebates, Extrabux, or Upromise and earn back a small percentage of qualifying online purchases. Sometimes using an outside promo code may cancel out cashback through the website, but many of these sites offer promo codes of their own.

4. Not checking return policies

Shopping online is convenient, but not if you need to return an item. Some retailers like Zappos.com are extremely generous about returns (Zappos offers free returns for a full 365 days after purchase), but others will charge you for return shipping if you decide to send an item back. This can create a scenario where you keep something you don’t want simply to avoid the hassle and expense of returning it. Read the return policy before you buy online. This is especially important if you’re buying clothing, because sizes can vary and it’s sometimes challenging to find the right fit without trying something on first.

5. Using debit instead of credit

Given the recent data breaches at several retailers, consumers should be careful about the information they give out in stores or online. Compared to debit cards, credit cards are generally more secure for online transactions and offer  better consumer protections against unauthorized transactions. However, shopping online with a credit card shouldn’t give you license to charge with abandon. It’s best if you pay off the balance in full each month to avoid financing charges. You also want to avoid showing high balances on your credit report summary from month to month to keep your credit scores from taking a hit.

Susan Johnston
Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in Bankrate.com, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, MediaBistro.com, Parade Magazine, and SELF, among other places.

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