Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Essential "Cyber Monday" Shopping Guide from 2GuysTalking...

Black Friday has come and gone.

How did you fare?

I thank the stars that I've never been prone to get into the family truckster, with wife and children in tow during the wee hours of Friday after sleeping off some of the Tryptophan from our Thanksgiving feast.

What I have found however is that I'm very often going to take advantage of some outstanding deals that will be arriving in your Email boxes via newsletters and featured on the front of websites for "Cyber Monday" - another in the line of "shopping opportunities that make you grab Mr. Wallet and drool with anticipation. In an effort to help ensure I myself am being something other than a key-klacking shopping dumbass, and to educate my friends and readers, I've come up with the "Essential Guide to Safe Cyber Monday Shopping!" Read on below for questions and I'm eager to know what YOU think about them.

-- Do you really need what you're buying? I've been fortunate enough to get bit by the "priority bug" early in life and whatever I'm planning to purchase in almost all cases gets a good once-over in the way of "need". When I have so many different projects that could use time and attention, much less outright equipment to help pull them off, it's easier for me to understand whatever I'm looking at through my virtual window as a "must have" or not. Most people don't have this skill in their personal toolbox so it's one of the most important parts of ANY kind of shopping really. Food, tech, cars - anything really. Think twice before succumbing to the spector of "oh, gotta' have this!" It will help you not only have more money, better credit AND "less stuff" but also provide you with better familial relationships. This bullet point brought to you by Gloria Wilkerson - Queen of the Wilkerson Treasure Chest.

-- Take Time to Hunt for Best Pricing: I've become almost more fond of "the hunt" for special prucing than the actual buying at this point (because of the bullet point above, frankly). There are so many websites that help you "hunt" not only for the best product for you but the best PRICE. A website that has become my go-to for shopping in general used to be called "Froogle" - a fractal product search service of Google. Apparently someone complained about it's connotation and now it's called "Google Product Search." Regardless of it's moniker, it is an outstanding launch point for the hunt of just about anything on the internet that you're interested in purchasing. Whether you've got the SKU of the item, just it's name or model number of even vauge search criteria, you'll find not only the item you're looking for but things akin to that item. Best yet, you'll be able to organize the product search based on price - from lowest to highest for example. The most important thing to remember here is that you truly lose NOTHING when you take more time to search - except for perhaps the "WANT" that's driving you to purchase whatever you're looking for anyway. Either way, you'll either find what you need at the best price via hundreds of research points on the Internet, of you'll lose interest in purchasing what you "wanted" to begin with. In both directions - you win! I've saved 20-45% on purchasing things this way, and have been able to take advantage of free warranties, free shipping, piggy-backed purchases that cost nothing extra and more. Try out YOUR favorite product/what you're searching for now and see for yourself!

-- Find Out What Other People Think of Sites You Might Buy from Online: There's a reason that ALL of us have those internal shopping "red flags" when buying either in person or online. Listen to them. If you're not sure of a company's "reputation" online, look them up on Google - "reviews of __insert store/service name__" and read librerally. In many cases, you'll find answers from someone about something they've purchased from the company. It'll sway you one way or another. If you see more good than bad - that's fine, but see how MANY bad there are. Knowing a general "vision" of what the company offers to all of it's customer base is key to ensuring that you get what you're paying for, but more importantly, that you get what you're going to be satisfied with. Third party sites also exist for research for this kind of thing. Try BizRate.Com or Epinions.Com to see what's said about almost any company online. I almost always try to give a company "a call" if they make the red flags go off. If you wan't reach them, shop elsewhere and feel safe in the knowledge that you gave them a shot. Again, LISTEN to the rattling of the little red flags in your life. They're there for a reason.

-- Make Sure to Update your Browser Software: We're not going to turn this into a "which browser is better" moment, but remember: You are only as safe as the software accessing the Internet in regard to shopping. If you haven't recently updated your computer system to the most recent browser version, now is the time. Often it's as easy as going to the "Help" section inside of your browser's main menu, and clicking on "Check for Updates". That's it. You'll be run through a small process of getting the most recent updates and if you've been regularly, you may not even notice what happens to get you caught up. Worst case, it'll take a few minutes which gives you even more opportunity to search, to find another great deal OR - perhaps rethink if you even need this new pieces of tech that will sit in a bag or on your workstation collecting dust. Either way, you get an updated browser, and you add in more time to search/find better deals.

-- Search for The Padlock: So you've got your browser updated - DANDY! Now it's time to make sure that the avenue that you're shopping is "secure." Again, depending on the browser you're using to search, when you get to the "key places" to put into details, you should see something that resembles a "padlock" (often at the lower RIGHT hand corner of your browser window) that helps to verify that the page you're viewing/interacting with IS secure. If you don't see one, time to shop elsewhere. Identity theft is real, prevalent and is only getting larger so taking a few seconds to ensure that you're on the right path to purchasing and not losing your shirt, money and potential deal online is key to having a positive experience while shopping on the Internet.

-- Account Password Required? Be Smart! Many shopping websites online require you to "make an account." Think of it this way: When you go to the bank, to open an account, it's a time investment to get it done, right? Well do it RIGHT here as well. Invest the time to make sure that all of the information you need put in is THERE. NO WEBSITE should ask or "require" your Social Security Number to have an account and folks - the passwords that you select to attach to your account are as important to the keys to your home. Take the time to make a password that ISN'T your, a family member or pets name. Make sure there is at least one capital letter, and one number that appears between words that can be found in a dictionary. Samples: momentitoplease - while unique, is NOT a good password. Momentito2010Please is going to give you infinitely more value and keep your account information and details safe. Are you scared to use larger, more exotic passwords? Let the fear disappear by using a Password Manager like "Roboform" that asks YOU for one password that unlocks and gives you access to ALL OTHER passwords used during your online experience. It's incredibly inexpensive and has changed the way I use online information. It's available also for smartphones and all manner of technology. Check it out and tell them that 2GuysTalking sent you! Bottom line is if you were building a fence to ensure people couldn't get into your home, you WOULDN'T make one out of that 8-in high rabbgit fence. YOU'd be pouring concrete foundations, stacking in the oak panels and one-way glass to makre sure you get to see who's coming your way. Take the same care and effort online to make sure that the bad guys SEE the effort you've put into your fence and move along to the next potential victim.

-- Use a Credit Card When You Can: Many people are now shying away from credit card usage (a big bonus frankly - I wish I had stopping using Credit Cards long ago), but the bottom line is that using one when shopping online is a BIG bonus. Many protections are built in (not ones that you have to pay extra to take advantage of, by the way) the deal you have with credit card companies to help limit your liability in the case of identity theft, or if the company that you're purchasing from is nefarious. Make sure you call your credit card company (during the week, and during regular business hours to help get the most satisfying customer service experience, in my opinion) and ask them outright about the protections they afford. Tell them that you don't have all day and need the nuts and bolts of the agreement and guess what? They'll tell you what it is.

-- Don't have a Credit Card? Use a Separate Account to Limit Exposure/Loss: Alright, so you've been able to avoid the hideousness of using Credit Cards. Good for you! But now you need to make an online purchase. Since you don't have a Credit Card, you still need to acquire a debit card with a Visa or MasterCard logo on it. If you're able, try to do this by securing a NEW account that you only use for online purchases. This allows you another layer of protection but also RESPONSBILITY. You'll need to actually transfer purchase amounts of cash into the account. This allows you to track your efforts, your habits but also HOW MUCH MONEY you're spending. It also provides you a LOT of insolation for purchasing because if someone tries to steal thousands of dollars out of an account that only has a couple of hundred dollars in it - too bad for them. It's win-win for you and is actually the way that most transactions should go.

-- Print Copies of Your Final Order Page: "Do you have your receipt?" aren't just the first words asked by trained sales staff, they are ensuring that you're a real, paid customer that needs assistance and not someone trying to rip them off. To help avoid any problems with "the order you had", make sure that you print off the last page of any order that you've made online. That way, you have a paper "receipt" of what you've done in addition to any documentation from your credit card company/bank to help verify your purchase. This will turn that "this might work out for you" situation when shopping online into a "where is my stuff - here is what I paid for" situation which is what everyone wants.

Do you have one I missed? Something that you observe that helps to keep you safe or perhaps keeps some of the benjamins in your bank account? Let me know in the comments section below and we'll add it in!


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