Black Friday. Either you spend it standing in line for hours to nab the hottest toy, or you fight the massive crowds to get a half-price flat-screen.

But Cyber Monday, the online shopping bonanza that occurs annually on the Monday after Thanksgiving, is when you can shop from the comfort of your own home and land great deals on products from your favorite stores.

Now that’s our idea of a good time!

While there are great deals to be had for online shoppers, it can be less clear on how to get them. Make the most of Cyber Monday deals and the rest of the holiday shopping season (while staying safe from online hackers) by following these 10 online shopping tips.

#1: Like, Like, Like

It’s likely (see what we did there?) that you already follow some of your favorite brands and retailers on social media. But if you don’t, now is good a time as any to start.

Why? Most businesses use their social media channels to tout promotions. During the holiday shopping season, they’re even more likely to use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, for example, to announce limited Cyber Monday deals and other flash sales.

Pro tip: Create a Twitter list just for retailers so you can quickly ID worthy deals throughout the holiday season and for Cyber Monday online shopping discounts. Be sure to purchase with purpose, though, instead of impulse buying. More tips on social media and your finances.

#2: Be an Early-Early-Early Bird

You know that saying about who gets the worm? It can be true when it comes to landing deals on your most coveted products, especially Cyber Monday specials.

Some websites offer Cyber Monday deals in advance of the actual day, discounting items in the days around Thanksgiving. All you have to do is a little legwork. Conduct an online search for “Cyber Monday 2021” to uncover online shopping discounts that are already available.

#3: Or a Late-Late-Late Night Before Person

Amazing shopping deals can cause you to cry out, “I can’t believe the price is so low!” But retailers usually limit those discounts. So once they’re gone, they’re gone.

That’s why it pays to do your online shopping at less-than-ideal times, especially on big events like Cyber Monday and Black Friday. Say you’re hoping to land a laptop for half off, for example. It might be wise to stay up super late or rise before the sun does.

Pro tip: If you’re groggy due to the early (or late) hour, be sure to enter your credit card information correctly the first time. Re-entering those 16 digits can take valuable time (especially if you need to do it more than once)—and that amazing deal could be gone by the time you hit “purchase.”

 #4: Use a Rewards Card

If you’re not diligent, shopping deals and sales can put a dent in your budget. Since you’ll be shopping online—and most likely using a credit card or debit card—why not take the opportunity to earn some cash back?

Pro tip: If you have stockpiled credit card rewards or shopping rewards at a particular merchant, redeem them to add even further savings to your deals. Who doesn’t like to get more bang for your (reward) buck?

 #5: Build Your Profile Ahead of Time

Already have your shopping list ready for the season? Streamline your online shopping by creating accounts with each merchant in advance of the big deal events like Cyber Monday or Black Friday.

Create a secure login and password and plug in your billing address, any shipping addresses, and your payment information. Then, once your shopping cart is full, you’ll be able to make your way through checkout quickly.

Pro tip: Security experts have lots of tips for creating a secure password, but the more nonsensical it is, the better. That’s because some cyber criminals use programs that can crack simple tricks, like replacing letters with similar-looking numbers.

Here’s one idea for generating a creative—and more secure—password. Combine the following three:

  • a seemingly unrelated person
  • an action
  • an object

#6: Resist Last-Minute Cart Suggestions

Don’t toss that fancy juicer into your digital shopping cart simply because an e-retailer said, “You might like this.”

This holiday season, you’ll be bombarded with offers of complimentary items, so it’s important to try to resist the temptations. Sure, it might be impossible to shop and not treat yourself to something, but make sure whatever products you purchase don’t bust your holiday gift-giving budget.

#7: Skip Shady Sites

We get it: You’re hoping to land the deal of the century on Cyber Monday or Black Friday. But no discount is worth it if it means you’ll be a victim of identity theft in the meantime.

Today’s tech-savvy cyber criminals can break into websites with poor security and steal your payment information. Worse yet, hackers can make you the victim of a phishing scam or other suspicious activity.

Stay safe while online shopping by only making purchases from sites that encrypt your data using SSL certificates and require two-step authentication. Only enter payment information on a webpage whose URL starts with HTTPS. (This indicates it has SSL protection.)

You should also look for a trust seal (or lock symbol) with the words “secure” or verified,” which means that the site is protected by a security firm. If the site doesn’t have both of these, click to close and find yourself another retailer.

These protections can’t guarantee your safety, but they can drastically reduce the risk of hackers nabbing your personal information.

Pro tip: Download your favorite retailers’ verified apps from Google Play™ or Apple’s App Store®. They’re much less likely to be compromised.

#8: Take Advantage of Tools

Just because you’re online shopping alone while sitting in your favorite chair, doesn’t mean you can’t have a buddy helping you keep an eye out for all the best deals. Price-comparison websites, apps, and browser extensions can help you ID the retailer offering the lowest price.

Here are a few price comparison websites to check out:

  • PriceGrabber
  • Google Shopping
  • NexTag
  • Honey
  • The Camelizer

Pro tip: Some comparison sites and browser extensions even allow you to earn cash back on eligible purchases, reducing your gift-giving spend or giving you a bit more to spend on presents for your loved ones.

#9: Read the Fine Print

Attention online shoppers! Pay attention to those disclaimers printed in small typeface when online shopping. Some holiday deals and sales have strict restrictions that can affect how much money you ultimately spend.

Don’t be surprised to discover the fine print is hiding that the best discounts require you to make a purchase within a specific timeframe, cannot be combined with another discount, and/or are ineligible for free shipping.

Pro tip: It also pays to take a close look at an item’s original price. Some online retailers inflate Cyber Monday markdowns, making them appear larger than they actually are. Use a price comparison tool to see if you really are getting a great deal—or are just being misled.

#10: Check Out Return Policies

Gone are the days of major retailers offering one-size-fits-all return policies that apply to all types of merchandise. Instead, it’s possible specific items or product categories will have more limited return windows.

For instance, say you bought that half-price flat-screen on Cyber Monday. While the merchant typically accepts returns within 90 days of purchase, electronics only have a 30-day return window. Additionally, the company only accepts electronics returns in unopened packaging.

Pro Tip: Some return policies include restocking fees. These charges can be a flat fee or even a percentage of the item’s cost. So if you’re returning a particularly expensive item, these restocking fees could end up costing you more out-of-pocket than what you initially saved with the Cyber Monday sale.

Discussion questions:

  • What’s better: The deals on Cyber Monday or Black Friday?
  • What’s the best way you’ve saved money during the holiday season?
  • Do you create a shopping budget for big events like Black Friday or Cyber Monday?
  • What precautions do you take to stay safe when shopping online?

Let us know your answers in comment section below!