Internet Shopping and e-Coupons; Bargain Hunting Online Safely

savyonline1Internet shopping is not only convenient; it can provide significant savings.

“Value is the new black,” proclaims a new study by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates. The research found that the economic pressure on wallets has increased the number of online buyers who comb the internet for the best quality and price for services. Other findings include:

  • 72% of value hunters seek the best value, regardless of brand
  • 68% of online shoppers perceive “value” as online coupons and special promotions 51% pursue incentives, such as reward points or free shipping
  • 47% of online shoppers prefer shopping online to shopping in-store
  • 22% of shoppers plan to make more purchases online this year compared to last year

Using E-Coupons

If you are not familiar with electronic coupons (e-coupons), they are a great way to save even more on the items you purchase.

The use of e-coupons and discounts more than doubled in the first half of 2009 compared to 2008 as the worsening economy has brought frugal into fashion. While only 3% of all coupons used (up from 2% last year) they are growing quickly in popularity according to Inmar, a coupon-processing company.

E-coupons may be “pushed” to you by cellphone, iPod, email, Facebook and Twitter, can be purchased on eBay, or found through online searches for manufacturers rebates/special promotions, or simply by searching on an online store’s name plus the word “coupon” “promotion code” or “discount”.  They may also be automatically uploaded to shoppers’ loyalty cards, or found on screens built into grocery cart handles, and so on.  E-coupons can be printed for use in brick-and-mortar stores or entered as promotion codes in online stores.

It is, however, text messaging and email that are emerging as the most popular ways to obtain coupons in the US, with 8.6 million (8%) of the country’s households currently using one or both of these methods to receive money-saving offers, according to an analysis from Scarborough Research that explores and ranks the ways households obtain coupons.

The savings can be significant. If you have not tried e-coupons, you may quickly find yourself a fan as savings of 5-20% off individual items or whole purchases, and free shipping are common. Why pay more?

Key to successful online shopping and coupon use is doing so safely – getting your ID stolen, having your computer infected, or getting ripped of is no bargain.

5 Rules for Safe Bargain Hunting Online

A few precautions will significantly improve your safety; don’t shop online without them.

  1. Secure your computer. If your computer isn’t protected from viruses and other malware your financial information and passwords will be stolen as you make purchases (as will everything else you store on your computer or do online). This concept is so basic, yet only 20% of the US population adequately protects their computers. If the cost of security software is prohibitive, use one of the excellent free services.
  2. Use a secure connection – make sure your computer’s firewall is on. If you use a wireless network it needs to be encrypted so someone who is lurking outside the house can’t collect your information.
  3. Use strong passwords. It is convenient to have sites you shop on frequently store your financial information, but a weak password is all it takes for someone else to steal it. Passwords do not have to be hard to remember, just hard to guess.
  4. When searching, Do NOT assume sponsored sites are safe. Look at the Google search result for ‘coupons’ in this screenshot. The very first link is malicious. Because I use McAfee Site Advisor (it’s free), I see a warning notifying me of the risk. Without a tool like this, you have no way of judging if the site is legitimate or going to give you malware, spam, etc
  5. savyonline3








    NOTE: I find it utterly irresponsible of Google to push malicious sites at consumers. In basic search results, they need to show website that matches the search query. However, Sponsored Links are paid advertising placements. Companies pay Google to place their links at the top of the page and Google should not be so eager for ad revenue that they deliberately place consumers at risk by promoting obviously malicious links.

    Another NOTE: Ironically, this screenshot also shows that I got this malicious ad in spite of the fact that you see the notice that Google’s “Safesearch is on”. While it would be natural to assume that Safesearch would protect you from malicious sites, it doesn’t – it only blocks ‘inappropriate’ sites. Where inappropriate is defined as mature’ content, not malicious. If tool’s like McAfee’s Site Advisor can warn users, search engines can certainly give us the option to filter these out – why don’t they? If enough consumers demand this option, it will be provided.

  6. Trust is Key. Know the Merchant – or Their Reputation If you already know the retail chain, shopping their online store is very safe. If there’s a problem you can always walk into the local store for help.

If you know others who have had consistently positive experiences with the online store, you can be reassured of the site’s quality.

If you don’t know the store, it may still be the best bet, you just need to take a few more precautions. Conduct your own background check by looking at sites dedicated to reviewing e-stores (for example, Epinions, BizRate, Better Business Bureau). Another Web site to consider is The National Fraud Information Center which watches out for shady Internet dealings and offers consumer tips on its Web site. If the store isn’t listed as a legitimate site by one of these sources, move on.

Applying these 5 rules will go a long way to ensuring your shopping is safe and profitable… let the savings begin!

Linda

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