Beat the mobs on 'Cyber Monday'
The Web kicks off its holiday-shopping season on the Monday after Thanksgiving.
(Money) -- If you didn't shop enough over the weekend, or you purposely avoided the mobbed malls, you have another chance to save on holiday gifts when you return to the office on Monday.
Nearly 75 percent of online retailers will offer special promotions on the Monday after Thanksgiving, up from 43 percent two years ago, according to a survey from the National Retail Federation, which in 2005 dubbed the day Cyber Monday after online retailers noticed that Web site traffic spiked that day.
Cyber Monday is not the busiest online shopping day, says Ellen Davis, a senior director at the National Retail Federation. But online retailers consider it the official kickoff to the holiday shopping season.
This year's promotions will include e-mail campaigns with special deals to current customers, as well as one-day savings on particular products. Nearly 25 percent of retailers will provide free shipping on all purchases with no conditions attached.
"Free shipping is from the consumer standpoint the most popular incentive," says Davis.
It's especially appealing these days since FedEx and UPS are charging 5 percent fuel surcharges for ground shipping and 16.5 percent for air shipping due to the jump in gasoline and jet fuel prices.
To find out which online retailers are offering promotions, head to cybermonday.com, which features deals, some of which are exclusive, from nearly 500 stores. You can narrow down the list of retailers based on specific wants, such as free shipping or gift cards.
Shopadidas.com plans to offer customers 25 percent off all running and training apparel on Monday only. "We have started to experience greater traffic increases on Cyber Monday throughout the last three years," says Carlene Faessler, e-commerce marketing manager for Shopadidas.com.
JoAnn.com, the online crafts store, will cover shipping for all purchases, as well as returns.
Shoppers at Ice.com, a jewelry merchant, will save 20% on many items and pay no shipping.
Even with these deals, remember to comparison shop at sites like Shopzilla.com and Shopping.com before you buy. Also, scour the fine print for the return policy. Can you return or exchange an item at their store? If you must mail returns, who pays for the shipping? Will you receive a store credit or a refund?
Also be sure to shop on secure Web sites that use encryption technology, which will scramble your personal information so hackers cannot access it. According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a secure Web site will display https://, with an 's', in the Web address. Note that this extra letter often does not appear until you move from browsing to ordering. A closed padlock symbol displayed at the bottom of your screen, or an unbroken key, also indicates that the site is secure.
Never buy from a Web site that does not include a physical address and phone number. You want to be able to track down the merchant if your mother's personalized bag never arrives.
Finally, use a credit card when shopping online. It is the safest method of payment. Legally you are responsible for only $50 of unauthorized charges, and you can withhold payments if you are disputing a charge.
Be sure to record every purchase and the price. Otherwise you may be blindsided by the dollar figure on the credit card bill come January.
But before you spend hours browsing at your desk, remember that nearly 75% of companies monitor their employees Internet use, according to the American Management Association.