Online shopping tips for the holiday season

The major shopping holidays are behind us, but the season itself is far from over. In the weeks leading up to the New Year, people will still be scurrying about, trying to find the perfect gifts for their loved ones. However, just as many people will search for this year's best presents online from the comfort of their own homes.

If you plan on browsing the Web instead of brick-and-mortar stores for gifts this year, you may want to check out these tips for saving money and staying safe.

Find the deals
When you stroll through the mall to find gifts, you're likely enticed by signs that proudly proclaim which products are on sale. This may lead you to discover a great present because your attention was directed to merchandise you wouldn't have noticed on your own. You don't have to miss out on this experience just because you're shopping online. You can find what items each store is offering deals on and how long the sales last right from your couch.

There are websites that can provide you with coupon codes that include discounts, free shipping and buy-one-get-one deals. A few popular choices are RetailMeNot.com, Coupons.com, Couponcraze.com and Couponmom.com. You can copy and paste a keyword or product name into the appropriate form as you check out and watch the total price go down. However, you shouldn't wait too long to use a coupon code because sometimes there's a limited number of times it can be entered.

Reader's Digest suggested following your favorite companies on Facebook if you have an account. They may post about flash sales or special discounts as the holiday season goes on. You can receive similar information by signing up for a retailer's e-newsletter or emails.

Compare and contrast
It's easier to compare prices for gifts you're considering online than in stores, especially with apps and browser add-ons that do most of the work for you. Some of the best ones are PriceGrabber, InvisibleHand and PriceBlink, according to U.S. News. Google Products also shows you how much specific items are going for on an array of websites. It's important to consider tax and shipping costs when you're comparing prices. You may also want to review each store's return policy, particularly when you're shopping for someone else. Some stores offer free shipping for customers that spend above a certain dollar amount, which means it might be more efficient to shop on one website rather than several. 

In addition to revealing retailers' different prices, you can check out reviews of the products you're interested in. Amazon reviews are great for this, even if you're not shopping on that site, because it's a commonly used resource. You may also be able to find reviews on the company's website or online forums that reference the item.

As you're comparing products on a site-to-site basis, don't forget about the in-store prices you're missing out on. Follow the advice of Reader's Digest and verify that the online retailer is promoting merchandise at an equal or lesser price than your local brick-and-mortar store.

Protect yourself
With the prevalence of security breaches in the retail world, it's wise to be wary of potential shopping scams. Senior Planet warned against charitable scams that focus on natural disasters, firefighters and police officers. You should also make sure you never submit credit card or personal information while you're on a shared network, such as those find in libraries or coffee shops.

Fraug.org recommended making your online purchases with credit instead of debit. It's easier to file claims against fraudulent charges when they're on credit, plus unauthorized debit card transactions will immediately draw funds from your account.