A Guide to Shopping Online in 2020

Even in a normal year, holiday shopping can be a hectic and overwhelming experience for many. This year, more than any other, shoppers are hoping to avoid large crowds and the chaos that we have all grown accustomed to.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, you can expect most businesses to be adhering to social distancing measures and limiting the capacity of persons allowed in their stores. As a result, many forecasts are predicting that online shopping will hit record levels in 2020.

Well-established retailers will serve shoppers by placing a larger emphasis on things like online-only deals and free shipping promotions. However, you should still expect very limited quantities and purchase windows on the holiday’s most popular items and deals. Instead of camping outside to nab the best sales this season, you may be required to wake up at odd hours and furiously click a “refresh” button on your computer. Will you be ready?

Use this guide to help you get prepared for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and all your other online shopping needs this year.

Safe & Secure Online Shopping

If you are a newer online shopper you may want to limit shopping to brands and stores that you recognize; and only on websites that provide a secure online shopping platform.

IMPORTANT: Any reputable online store should have “SSL” (Secure Sockets Layer) to give you the peace of mind that your credit card details are secure. 

It is easy to spot a store that uses SSL. The website’s URL, in the address bar, will begin with “https” (as opposed to just http). Or, a padlock icon may appear in the address bar, on the left of the site’s URL, providing evidence of basic online security.

Preparing for BIG SALES & DOORBUSTER DEALS early

Before Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales arrive, you should already be thinking about what you need (or want) to buy the most. Compiling a wish list can avoid feeling overwhelmed, confused, and stressed out when your shopping day arrives. To avoid unnecessary spending, you may also want to decide beforehand how much you are willing to pay for your desired items. Prioritizing items into “must haves” and “can wait until later” lists can be helpful.

Finding the Best Holiday Sales

Many retailers advertise Black Friday and Cyber Monday specials early, often 2-3 weeks before sales begin! It is a good idea to browse the websites of your favorite retailers early to see what sales they are offering. 

Sales Day Planning

While some stores offer deeply discounted specials starting from midnight on Black Friday, others have separate sales throughout the weekend and discount their items even further on Cyber Monday. 

If it is expected that items on your wish list will sell out within the first few hours of Black Friday, you may want to consider being online and ready to purchase as soon as the sale opens. 

TIP: Try SYMBALOO to Save Your Favorites!

Symbaloo is a free online bookmark manager that helps you save and organize your favorite websites and links. You can also use the Symbaloo bookmarker tool to quickly save a product page or store website, as you are browsing; especially helpful for holiday season shopping.

Organizing all of your favorite retailers or product pages, prior to the sales day, will help make your shopping experience more efficient and stress-free!

2020 Gift Ideas

To say the least, 2020 has been different for many of us. We may be facing more difficult circumstances, challenges, and stressors than in previous years.

With many people spending a lot of time at home, you might want to focus on making your loved one’s home experience that much more enjoyable. This year’s trending items have included: cozy blankets, extra long phone chargers, a treat hamper, house plants, and a luxury coffee maker – just to name a few.

“Quarantine gifts” are also particularly popular at the moment. These can include items such as a good quality laptop stand, a collection of luxury teas, comfortable and stylish sweatpants, or socks and an oversized mug to accommodate copious amounts of coffee consumption when working from home!

Online Subscriptions & Digital Gift Cards.

If you are still struggling to find a perfect gift, or simply want a more convenient option, you can also consider an online subscription or digital gift card.

An online subscription can be anything from a monthly subscription box (featuring makeup, socks, pet treats, food, crafts and more) to a streaming service like Netflix; or, a subscription to an online course or event.

Digital gift cards can be purchased from a store’s website and emailed directly to the recipient. Many shoppers have also prioritized gift cards from local businesses, to support them in these difficult economic times.

Shipping and Curbside Pickups

An online store’s shipping policies are a very important aspect to consider before making your purchase. Most online stores offer free 3-5 day shipping with a minimum purchase amount. 

If you find that your purchase sum is less than the minimum required, instead of paying a shipping fee, you may consider a curbside pickup service (if available). Other retailers offer fast in-store pickup services, allowing you to collect your package from a local store, at your earliest convenience.

Fast Shipping

If you need a package delivered within 24 hours, this is possible from many retailers as well. However, this shipping option can be expensive, especially for larger items.

How to Checkout for Gift Purchases

With the world practicing social distancing, due to the pandemic, the unfortunate reality is that you might not be seeing some friends or loved ones this holiday season. The good news, however, is that you can arrange for gifts to be shipped directly to the recipient. Many online retailers will also offer gift receipts and gift wrapping as well.

Shipping directly to your gift recipients

After you have made your purchase selections, you will navigate through the store’s checkout process. At checkout, most stores give you an option to indicate that the item is a gift. 

Checking this gift option will automatically include a gift receipt (hiding the item’s price) instead of a regular receipt. This receipt can still be used by the recipient for any returns or exchanges necessary.

Pre-Wrapped Gifts

In addition to gift receipts many retailers also offer gift wrapping as well, especially during the holiday season. Often for less than $5-10, your gift could arrive beautifully pre-wrapped.

Return & Exchange options

One of the only real downsides to shopping online is that you can not see the item “in person” before buying it. Sometimes photos of the product are not accurate and what you receive might not be what you were expecting. This is especially true for clothing, since you are not able to try it on before buying it online. 

Most retailers will offer you a full refund or exchange, if you are not happy with your purchase. In this case, you may need the receipt and any tags and original packaging. 

Before taking the plunge and making an expensive purchase, it is always recommended to check the store’s return and exchange policies; as it is assumed you have accepted these terms when you make your purchase.

Some online stores will allow you to ship the item back to them free of charge while others may require you (the buyer) to pay for shipping. There are also limited time periods in which you can exchange or return your item, so make sure you are aware.

Price Matching Policies

If you have a favorite store and want to buy a big ticket item, you might find it at a lower price in another store. This leaves you with a conundrum: do you support your favorite store and pay more, or, do you save money and shop at a store you don’t like? 

Did you know that many stores, especially the big box stores, offer generous price matching policies? This means that if you find the item at a lower price, at a competitor store, they will match the lower price!

This price match period usually coincides with the same period of the return policy, but can often be extended during the holiday season. You can usually obtain price matching refunds by visiting the customer service department in-store or by contacting a store’s customer service via phone or email. 

Price Matching Exceptions

In terms of Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals and sales, many stores are reluctant to price match items that are on sale in another store. These items may be subject to the store’s price matching exclusion list, so it is a good idea to check with the store to find out what their holiday season price guarantee policy is. In addition, price matching usually does not apply to clearance or liquidation sales.

Happy Shopping and Good Luck!

It will surely be a unique year for holiday gift buyers, but hopefully this guide has provided a useful framework to approach your holiday season.

Good luck, good tidings, and happy holidays!


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