How to Avoid 10 Common Online Shopping Mistakes 

The rise in online shopping has also led to new scams and other traps. Avoiding common mistakes can help you confidently shop online with bigger savings and better results.

By Karen Lynch | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor

5 Min Read | November 1, 2021 in Money



Online shopping is at an all-time high – therefore, so are online scams and other traps that can hurt your finances.

The good news is you can find more and more ways to save money with online shopping.

The surge in online shopping that began last year isn’t expected to slow down anytime soon. As online commerce grows, though, shoppers may want to take extra care to avoid common online shopping mistakes. For example, more online shoppers attract more scammers, while the shopping surge can lead to more delays in shipping. On the brighter side, you can often avoid paying full price if you know how. Here are 10 tips – from taking basic security measures to sticking to your budget – that can help you sidestep common online shopping mistakes.


1. Seek Out Discounts and Deals

Comparison shopping is usually the top recommendation here, since so many online retailers are competing for your business. Other tips include reaping points, discounts, and cash back while shopping online – using rewards credit cards, coupon codes, loyalty programs, and online shopping portals. These kinds of opportunities are proliferating, and more and more shoppers are using web-based portals and mobile apps to earn back a percentage of their purchase price at retail sites of all kinds. Some shoppers are also “double-dipping” by using rewards credit cards on shopping portals – online programs that offer additional rewards simply for making purchases through the portal instead of going directly to a retailer’s website.


2. Rethink Impulse Buys

A recent poll showed Americans spend an average of more than $2,100 a year on impulse buys, mostly online. A lot can go wrong with an impulse buy, from overpaying to underappreciating what eventually arrives on your doorstep.1 Some shoppers don’t even take the time to review what’s in their shopping cart before hitting the “buy” button – never mind checking the sizing chart. One result: Americans reportedly returned $102 billion worth of products purchased online last year.2 You might just want to hit the pause button when shopping online and give yourself time to think before clicking to buy.


3. Read the Reviews

A practice handed down by journalists is to read many reviews of all types, not just a few, to get a truer picture about how well a product might hold up or how hard it could be to assemble. But you need to use your own judgment, since some products draw both fabulous and horrible reviews, and you can’t be sure who exactly is writing them or why.


4. Factor in Shipping

Shipping is a big factor in online shopping, affecting everything from the price you pay to the time your purchase arrives to the possibility that you might return it. Shipping can be expensive, especially when surge pricing goes into effect during the holidays. If shipping isn’t included in the price of your item, consider searching online for a “free shipping” coupon code or opting for free in-store pickup. Especially around the holidays, when high demand stretches delivery schedules, pad your calculations for when a gift might be received.  


5. Check Return Policies

Don’t forget to check return policies before you buy. Are returns free? For how long? Under what conditions? For a refund or a store credit? Even if the store’s return policy has limitations, don’t forget that some credit cards offer purchase protection and/or return protection. You may be able to get extended warranties or be eligible to return purchases within a certain time period, even if the seller won’t take them back.


6. Gift Well

Choosing the right presents for friends and family isn’t easy, but you can make it easier – by asking what they want. Short of that, you can listen throughout the year to what they like to buy and what they care about, sending gift cards from their favorite brands, making gift donations to their chosen causes, or buying online from their favorite local shops. Keep in mind the time it will take to deliver your presents, but knowing exactly what they want can help prevent the headache of having to make returns. Plus, it can be much easier to shop around the internet for the best prices, rather than going from store to store.


7. Stick to Your Budget

As of 2019, Americans spent an average of $1,000 online on nonessential merchandise,3 often overspending their budgets.4 Experts suggest tracking your spending and making considered choices when shopping online. To learn more about making a budget, check out “How to Make a Monthly Budget, One Step at a Time.”


8. Look Out for Scams

In the first half of 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received a record 43,000 complaints about online purchases that never arrived.5 The FBI chimed in with tips for avoiding these scams.6 Before buying from an unfamiliar retailer, check out the company’s reviews on other websites. Be especially wary of unrealistically discounted prices. Social media is a growing source of fraudulent offers. 


9. Protect Your Transaction

No matter how legitimate the site, the FTC and other government agencies advise using a credit card instead of a debit card.7 Credit card companies let you dispute charges in many cases and may temporarily withhold payment while investigating complaints. You can also dispute charges on your debit card, but you may be more exposed because it draws money directly from your bank account. To learn more about how credit cards can offer more protection than debit cards, read “Cutting the Confusion: Debit and Credit Cards are Way Different!” 


10. Safeguard Your Identity

Identity theft is also surging online. You should be alert to whether the site you’re purchasing from has a URL that begins with “https:” (the “s” stands for secure). Saving credit card information on a retailer’s website increases the chance of identity theft, if that site is hacked. Experts recommend that you don’t do it.8 Shopping on public Wi-Fi networks may also expose your personal information to hackers. 


The Takeaway

It’s easy to make mistakes when shopping online. But many mistakes can be avoided if you read these 10 tips and take a mindful approach to online shopping.  

Karen Lynch

Karen Lynch is a journalist who has covered global business, technology, finance, and related public policy issues for more than 30 years. 


All Credit Intel content is written by freelance authors and commissioned and paid for by American Express. 

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