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Smart Shopping Online

September 01, 2008
It's out there, it's easy and, believe it or not, it saves you money. Online shopping is a booming business that has seen consumers spend more than $34 billion in 2007.

While most people turn to online shopping for the sake of convenience, savvy shoppers have discovered that many retailers now offer savings for online purchases through the use of coupon codes. The key is finding the codes.

In 2003, entrepreneur Scott Kluth decided to find the codes for consumers by creating CouponCabin.com, a Web site that houses a database with thousands of coupons and deals from over 950 online stores across the country. By using CouponCabin.com to connect shoppers with coupon codes from popular merchants, Kluth has helped millions of consumers save time and money on their online purchases. With five years of experience in online couponing, Kluth has learned a series of tips to help you save the most money.

Money-saving tips for online shopping

Understanding coupon codes

Coupon codes are not often found on a given retailer's Web site; rather, they are usually given to repeat customers as a means to reward frequent purchases. Online coupon codes are specific to a given merchant and often have terms that exclude certain brands or products. Codes tend to have a specific offer attached, such as free shipping or a 15 percent discount for an entire order, and are usually applied automatically to a purchase.

Finding the best coupon codes

• Ensure that the coupon site allows you to search by store to view an alphabetical list of available merchants, or by category to find a deal on a specific item.

• Be conscious of shipping and handling fees, as in many cases a free shipping discount could be of greater savings than a 10 or 15 percent-off coupon.

• Seek out specialty coupon codes that are geared to a specific audience (e.g., mothers of young children) for those unique purchases, as retailers will focus on their markets. Other specialty sites (e.g., Restaurant.com) work directly with coupon sites like CouponCabin.com to offer exclusive savings.

Using online coupon codes

Coupon codes are easy to use, particularly as many online retailers will prompt the consumer to enter the code during the checkout process. After finding a coupon on a Web site, shoppers should click on the associated link to shop at the merchant's site. It is at the checkout that consumers will be prompted to enter their coupon code, sometimes also referred to as a "promotional code."

It is important to verify that the savings afforded by the coupon have been applied to the shopping cart before completing the order. Be mindful that coupon codes often have expiration dates.

Maximizing savings with coupon sites

A reliable and innovative coupon site should:

• Be easy to navigate.

• Be updated throughout the day.

• Test the coupon codes to ensure accuracy.

• Not require you to provide any personal information.

• Provide reviews for the merchants listed on the site.

• Offer a weekly newsletter containing the top coupons.

Security tips for online shopping

A recent online shopping report released by Pew Internet & American Life Project showed that 78 percent of people polled find online shopping convenient, and 68 percent agree that it saves them time. Despite the popularity of shopping over the Internet, three-quarters of people surveyed still do not feel comfortable releasing personal and/or credit card information over the Web.

To maximize personal security when shopping, consider the following precautions to ensure that online transactions are as safe as possible.

Shop at secure Web sites

Check to see if a Web site is secure by looking for the locked yellow padlock on the status bar of the site. The presence of this padlock demonstrates that the site uses specific encryption methods to ensure that hackers cannot steal personal and/or credit card information.

Research the Web site before placing an order

Try to do business with companies that you know and trust. If a company is unfamiliar to you, make sure you do the appropriate background research to know as much as you can before buying its products.

Check the Web site address

Before submitting any personal or payment details to a host company, look at the rectangular window at the top of the screen to verify that the Web site address is correct and that you are dealing with the right company.

Read the privacy and security policies

Consumers should make a point of searching for and reading through the privacy policy before submitting personal information to an online retailer. Any reputable e-commerce site offers information about how the company processes orders, if the company intends to share information with a third party or affiliate, and how the affiliate intends to use this information.

Never release Social Security number

It is important to understand that consumers should not release a Social Security number when shopping online. Merchants do not require this information when processing online orders, and releasing this information puts the consumer at risk for identity theft.

Disclose the bare minimum

While there is a certain amount of personal information required to process an online order (e.g., name and address), online merchants often try to obtain further details about personal lifestyle and annual income. As this information is primarily used to target consumers for marketing purposes, it is important to refrain from entering such information to avoid spam, direct mailings and solicitor calls.

Keep passwords private

Most reputable e-commerce Web sites require that users log in with a username and password before placing an order.

Maximize safety by choosing a password that is at least eight characters long, includes letters and numbers, and is not based on personal information such as:

Date of birth.

Mother's maiden name.

Driver's license number.

Social Security number.

Pay using a safe method

The safest way to shop online is with a credit card, as consumers are protected under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act. If a problem arises, shoppers have the right to dispute charges to a credit card and withhold payment for the sake of a creditor investigation. In the event that an investigation reveals that a credit card was used without authorization, consumers are only responsible for covering the first $50 in charges. It is helpful to restrict online payments to one credit card to make it easier to detect wrongful charges.

Consider single-use card numbers

To maximize security when shopping online, some credit card companies have started to offer single-use card numbers that can be used at an online store. These randomly generated numbers can only be used at a particular Web site and for a limited period of time. In the event that a hacker obtains personal credit card information during the submission process, he will not be able to use this number for a purchase anywhere else.

While the single-use card seems like an ideal solution, it may still be difficult to use it in certain shopping situations. For example, consumers purchasing movie or airline tickets are often asked to show a physical credit card to complete the transaction. In this situation, showing the vendor a physical card when a single-use virtual number has been used will not confirm the purchase.

Pay attention to shipping details

According to the law, a company must ship a consumer's order within the time frame stated in its advertisement. If no time frame is outlined, the retailer must adhere to one of the following:

Ship the order within 30 days of purchase.

Provide the consumer with an Option Notice prompting the consumer to either cancel and receive a refund for the order or agree to the delay.

Print copies of orders

After placing an order, the host site should generate a confirmation page that includes the following information:

Cost of the order.

Customer information.

Product information.

Confirmation number

It is important to print at least one copy of this confirmation page in addition to the page that outlines the host site's company information (i.e., company name, postal address, phone number, legal terms and conditions as well as the return policy). Consumers should keep these printouts for at least the period covered by the return and/or warranty policy.

All materials courtesy of: CouponCabin

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