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Cyber Monday: Some simple tips to scoring deals, and keep data safe when shopping online

Marc Saltzman, Special to USA TODAY
Published 5:00 a.m. ET Nov. 30, 2019 | Updated 12:50 p.m. ET Nov. 30, 2019

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You smartphone can help you save big this holiday season. Here’s a look at some apps to help you land the best deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Marc Saltzman, Special to USA TODAY

We all have that friend who always seems to get the best deals while shopping.

Oh, you know the one. You spend $100 on pair of designer shoes, but they find the exact same pair for $75. You’re proud of your 4K TV purchase, only to find out your friend’s television is bigger, thinner, and smarter – yet you paid the same amount.

What do they know that you don’t? Perhaps they’re shopping online, where you can find aggressive prices and free shipping among the highly competitive landscape. Or maybe they know of a few extra ways of scoring a great deal or earning cash back on purchases?

Either way, we can share these tips and tricks right here.

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With the arrival of Cyber Monday, December 2, the following are a few ways to emerge as a Super Shopper over the post-Thanksgiving weekend.

Start early for Cyber Monday deals

You remember what your parents told you: the early bird gets the worm. This is certainly true on Cyber Monday, especially among online stores with limited “door crasher” sales.

That is, quantities will likely be limited on the popular and heavily discounted items, so log on the day or night before Cyber Monday, as some retailers may honor the sale price to avoid you leaving and going elsewhere (and so they should). Or pour yourself a cup of hot cocoa and log online at 12:01 a.m.

Research rules when hunting deals

Because you’ve got many thousands of stores at your fingertips, be sure to compare prices on the web – and it helps when you know exactly what you’re looking for.

Plus, there are handy “price comparison” sites that can do the work for you, such as PriceGrabber.com and Bizrate.com.

Speaking of research, read reviews from both critics and customers, to avoid buying a dud, on popular sites such as Amazon.com.

Another must-use site or app is Slickdeals.net, as it houses very active community forums solely devoted to getting deals at retail or online. You can also take advantage of Deal Alerts, which notify you whenever a deal matching what you’re looking for is posted.

Be sure to factor in shipping costs and try to keep the purchases within the U.S. or else you may face a longer delivery time.

Get cash back

It’s one thing to save money while shopping smartly, but what about earning money? A few websites and apps give you back money on your purchases.

Rakuten (formerly eBates), for example, pays members cash back every time you shop online through participating retailers – and it includes places you’re likely shopping at anyway, such as Amazon, Walmart, Macy’s, eBay, and Kohl’s. 

Here’s how it works: sign up for a free account and always start shopping at the Rakuten app or site, or else you won’t get the cash back. Once you buy the item, you’ll start earning cash that can be sent to you via check or deposited into a PayPal account.

The percentage of cash back varies by retailer, but hey, it’s found money. 

On a related note, when shopping online be sure to use a credit card that rewards you with cash back or other benefits. Yes, it’s ok to double-dip in this instance.

Mind the marketplaces, too

It’s not always the retail chains that have the best deals. Consider online marketplaces that connect buyers with sellers directly. With eBay, for instance, most of the products available are brand new (contrary to popular belief), and you don’t have to bid on an auction item if you click the “Buy It Now” button.

Also try local classifieds sites – such as Craigslist, letgo, and Facebook Marketplace – as they also have tens of thousands of items. Some are brand new and others are “previously enjoyed.” If you’re meeting up with someone to buy an item, be sure to do it in a public place (and perhaps bring a friend along) and inspect the item before you hand over the cash.

Be warranty wise

Whether you buy online or at retail, it generally doesn’t pay to buy an extended warranty for your consumer electronics, as they aren’t likely to break down during the extended service contract period.

Consumer Reports also warns of extended warranties that have fine-print terms that limit or void your claims.

That said, if the extended warranty is very affordable (compared to the overall cost) and can extend the warranty period significantly, perhaps it’s worth the peace of mind. But usually, it’s not.

Online shopping safety tips 

Online shopping is safe, but there are a few things you can do to minimize your risk:

  • Stick with reputable websites that take secure payment options such as credit cards and PayPal, both of which offer buyer protection.
  • Only give out your card info when the URL (web address) shows https: (not http:) or a little padlock in the browser, to confirm it’s a secure connection.
  • Always check the store’s return policy. When shopping at an unfamiliar merchant site, look for some sort of security seal of approval, such as Better Business Bureau, VeriSign and DigiCert.
  • When on marketplaces like eBay, be sure to check the seller’s reputation and read comments before buying a product, to see what the experience was like for previous customers.
  • Use good passwords – at least seven characters long, a mix of capital and small letters, numbers and symbols. And don’t use the same password for all your online activity.
  • Whether you shop on a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop, always keep the operating system up to date, to avoid cybercriminals exploiting a weakness. Also use good cybersecurity software that can detect and delete any threats. 
  • And don’t forget about the number one tip about shopping: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.  

Follow Marc on Twitter: @marc_saltzman. Email him or subscribe to his Tech It Out podcast at www.marcsaltzman.com.

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