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Do your homework, cyber shoppers

An Amazon.com worker selects merchandise thwas ordered online.  |  FILE PHOTO

An Amazon.com worker selects merchandise that was ordered online. | FILE PHOTO

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Updated: May 3, 2013 12:14PM



Only five years after the name "Cyber Monday" was

coined, it has come to symbolize an online shopping binge -- mostly done

from workplace computers. By last year, more than 96 million Americans

shopped online during Cyber Monday -- and this year is expected to beat

last year's record.

Online retailers have already sprung into action, and this year the

idea of waiting until Monday to do your holiday shopping is almost a

laugh. Your email in-box has likely been deluged with 50-percent-off

offers and special deals from retailers, starting on Thanksgiving eve.

They weren't taking any chances that you'd spend all your shopping

dollars in the Black Friday early-morning spending ritual. Why brave the

cold and the crowds when the National Retail Federation says 88 percent

of its members are offering cyber-deals?

Just a decade ago the debate was whether "bricks and mortar" would

even exist in the future. There are huge vacancies in retail malls

because of the economy, but the most successful retailers have managed

to combine both methods of selling. From cosmetics to clothing, and

particularly in consumer electronics, retailers have created

sophisticated ways to reach you.

There are two keys to successful online shopping. The first is

knowing exactly what you want, so you can compare prices. The second is

knowing how to get all the discounts, coupons and deals that can lead to

the lowest price.

Do your homework

The most basic requirement of cyber-shopping is that you must be very

clear about the product you're seeking. If not, you can easily become

confused, or led astray. That's especially important in shopping for

consumer electronics.

For example, consider a Vizio 32-inch television. Maybe you want to

stop in at a retailer to pick the model of your choice, with help from a

salesperson. Since all the display models are playing the same fake

scenes, you can go crazy standing in front of them without learning much

about the important issues, ranging from picture clarity to energy

usage. And if you wanted the TV for the Thanksgiving weekend football

games, you probably went to a retailer so you could bring the big screen

home.

When shopping online, knowing your specifications is critical --

because there are so many models of the same television brand, using

different technologies (LED vs LCD), with different resolution, such as

1920x1080. The latest models have wireless Internet apps. You probably

want to do some online research on "edge-lit" or "full array" (hint: big

price difference), as well as which are the newest models using the

latest in technology, and which are last year's leftovers. If you're

lucky, you'll have an electronics junkie in your family.

If you know exactly what you want, you'll find it's easy to search

online among the deals offered by well-known retailers. Using comparison

sites like CheapUncle.com is only a start. Be sure to click on the retailer's website to see the latest discounts. The same model at Amazon.com

costs $389 (with free shipping) compared with $449.93 at discounter

Tiger Electronics. But clicking on the Amazon offer reveals that it is

"temporarily out of stock."

More advice: Stick with a retailer you know so you don't get stuck

with a product that can't be returned or is not as advertized. Getting

$20 off the price won't make up for that aggravation.

And be sure to read the small print around costs for shipping and

handling. Quite often a low sale price is offset by higher fees to get

the product to your home in a reasonable amount of time. But in some

cases you can save sales taxes, and many online retailers offer free

shipping. It's important to compare total costs.

Check coupons

The most competitive aspect of online shopping revolves around use of

coupons. At most websites when you check out you'll see a box for

"promo code" -- and you'll be wondering who gets those deals. CouponCabin.com

is one of the premier couponing sites -- with more than 113,000 coupons

posted there. They even have a separate section for an estimated 1,750

exclusive offers that will be available only today -- Cyber Monday.

To make sure you're aware of the deals, CouponCabin created a browser

application you can download. It automatically shows active coupons and

deals that apply to your order. More than 1,500 merchant sites from

apparel to groceries, and from kids toys to electronics, participate in

this automatic toolbar coupon popup.

CouponCabin even offers a guarantee: If the "gold star" coupon you

use is not accepted by the merchant because it has expired, you'll

receive a $25 gift card from Restaurants. com. They also have a page listing sites with free shipping (something also found at FreeShipping.org).

So now, well-armed (or fingered) with the help you'll need to get the

best deals, it's time to shop Cyber Monday's bargains. Sadly, the one

thing online shopping can't do is solve the age-old problem of "what

will I give" her or him. Browsing the Internet might not be as inspiring

as walking through the store aisles listening to holiday music and

hoping you'll see just the perfect gift.

That's why retailers have created gift cards -- perfect for some, but without the romance. And that's The Savage Truth.

Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser.



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