Online Holiday Shopping: 5 Pitfalls to Avoid

Internet purchases work well as long as you don’t make these mistakes.

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The holiday season is fast approaching, and that means that many of us are getting ready to order gifts online. I love online shopping for gifts. You get a wider selection, and you can use online wish lists to help you find just what someone wants. However, there are plenty of pitfalls associated with online holiday shopping. Make sure you understand the possible problems, and prepare for them.

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Here are five common pitfalls associated with online holiday shopping:

1. Late Arriving Gifts

This is, perhaps, the most dreaded pitfall. After all, if your gift doesn't arrive in time, everyone is disappointed. Late gifts are often the result of not paying attention to when you need to have them shipped to arrive on time. Check with the online retailer to see when you need to have a gift shipped in order to have it arrive by the holiday. If you are mailing a package yourself, make sure leave plenty of time for the gift to arrive at your home, and then allow 10 to 14 days for the gift to make it through the mail if you are using regular First Class mail.

2. Difficult Return Policies

Before you buy a gift for someone online, make sure you understand the return policy. In some cases, there are no returns allowed at all. In others, it can only be an exchange. Be careful about what you have sent in such cases, since it may be difficult for the recipient to effect a return if the gift doesn't fit, or is the wrong color.

[Visit the U.S. News My Money blog for the best money advice from around the web.]

3. Shipping Charges

Before you decide to order something online, make sure you understand the shipping charges involved. In some cases, the good price that you get on an online gift is completely negated by shipping charges. Before you finalize the sale, make sure you pay attention to the shipping charges.

If the shipping is high, it might be better to try to find the item in a walk-in store and then send it yourself. Some online retailers will send an item to the brick and mortar store free of charge. This might be a better option than having it shipped. Also, try FreeShipping.org and FreeShippingDay.com for information on how you can avoid paying for shipping altogether. Moreover, if you want an item gift-wrapped before being shipped to the recipient, double check the cost of this service, and determine whether or not it is worth it.

4. Item Condition

Another issue is that you can't actually guarantee the item's condition. We had to stop buying DVDs online because they always seemed to end up bounced around inside their cases, arriving at their destinations hopelessly scratched up. There are plenty of other items that can be damaged in transit. On top of that, you may not even know whether or not the item is high quality to begin with. Without being able to see and hold the item, it can be difficult to ensure its quality.

5. Can't Pay with Cash

For those who prefer to pay with cash, online shopping can be difficult. Many are uncomfortable using debit cards, with sometimes inferior purchase protection, online -- but they don't want to use credit cards, either. Check for stores that will allow you to use a PayPal account so that you do not have to share personal information. Or, if you want, you can have temporary credit numbers generated. These work to mask your real information, and the number can only be used once, so it offers you extra protection against identity theft.

Pinyo is the owner of Moolanomy Personal Finance Blog, which covers a wide range of personal finance  and investing topics, with features that include reviews, comparison guides, and Q&A sections.