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Cyber Monday strategies: the do's and don'ts this shopping season

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It pays to be smart this Cyber Monday.

While there are steps to take to make sure you are getting the best deals, there are also potential traps you can fall into.

"Having a strategy for Cyber Monday is imperative, especially if you're looking to save money," said Sara Skirboll, a shopping expert with coupon website company RetailMeNot.

"Know who you're shopping for, know what you need to buy, and then spend two minutes looking around for those items," she said.

Shoppers are expected to buy more gifts online than in stores this holiday season, and nearly half plan to do it all on Cyber Monday. According to the National Retail Federation, more than 68 million shoppers will be taking advantage of deals and promotions this Cyber Monday.

Trust me, there will be lots of stores offering you two or three, even four different types of incentives and promotions.
Sara Skirboll
RetailMeNot shopping expert

Another survey, from Consumers' Research, the nation's oldest consumer organization, found that 31% of respondents will do most or all of their shopping online. Meanwhile, 25% said they intend to do most or all of their shopping in a store. Also, 46% plan to shop on Cyber Monday, up from 41% two years ago.

To get the best deals, here are some do's and don'ts to follow while you shop.

DO monitor social media

If you have favorite retailers, follow them on social media. They may announce any sales they're having there.

Look for them to tout online doorbuster and "Lightning Deals." These offers are often gone in the blink of an eye.

When it comes to Amazon Lightning Deals, for instance, "you can prepare ahead of time by looking at upcoming offers and mark to 'watch' them so you'll be notified before they go live," said DealNews.com senior writer Julie Ramhold.

"With other retailers, your best bet is to sign up for their newsletters, as they tend to send out communications about their sales."

DON'T grab the first sale you see

If you're seeing one price at Target, for example, odds are that Walmart has it discounted, as well, and looking around could save you a few dollars.

Also, don't take the face-value sale. Look at coupon sites such as Rakuten (formerly eBates), Coupons.com, and RetailMeNot.com. Look at emails for special offers for loyal fans and followers, too.

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RetailMeNot's Skirboll says always do a little more digging to see if there are further discounts you can get.

"There are tons of places to buy an Instapot, but who is going to offer you a coupon code, a cash back offer, free shipping, or all three?" she said.

"Trust me, there will be lots of stores offering you two or three, even four different types of incentives and promotions."

DO 'stack coupons'

If you have one coupon code that takes 50% off and another code that takes 20% off, you may be able to use both of them on Cyber Monday.

Sometimes those coupons can be used in conjunction with other discounts to get bigger savings.

DON'T just click on an email link

Beware of email scams and phishing. What may seem to be a legitimate website may, in fact, be a scam. A link may seem as if it is from a familiar retailer but there may be, for example, an extra letter in the name. Look closely.

To be safe, go directly to the site of the company that the email supposedly comes from. You'll avoid clicking malicious links that could cause you to accidentally download malware or spyware onto your laptop, tablet or mobile phone.

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DO double-check the web address or URL

Before submitting payment information, make certain that the web address or URL is correct. It generally should be a ".com" not ".net" address, for example. Also check for "HTTPS" in front of the URL.

If it says "HTTP" without the "S," your connection to the site is not secure, and someone can steal your payment card information.

DO shop with a rewards credit card

If you know you're going to be spending a fair amount of money, make sure you're getting the biggest bang for your buck by using a rewards credit card. Getting cash back may be the greatest reward for many shoppers.

CreditCards.com analyst Ted Rossman prefers making purchases through a credit card or airline partner portal, which will connect you with the retailer's site, instead of going directly to store's website.

"In doing so, you could earn an extra 5% or 10% in cash back or travel points (potentially even more)," he said.

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However, nearly 1 in 3 Americans said they're likely to apply for a store credit card this holiday shopping season, up from 24% who said so last year, according to CompareCards.com. Don't do it. The annual percentage rate on a store card generally is over 25%, compared to 17% for the average rewards card.

An exception would be if you pay the balance in full every month and received a generous one-time discount or ongoing discount at a store you frequent, such as 5% cash back at Target, Amazon or Best Buy, Rossman said.

DON'T shop on public WiFi

When you're making purchases online, avoid public connections, such as WiFi at a coffee shop, hotel or airport.

Fraudsters can get personal and financial information from using public WiFi that's not secure, including payment card information or login credentials. Stick to your home WiFi or a trusted network when you shop online.

DON'T buy more to get free shipping

If you're having to fill up your cart to meet a free shipping minimum, and the shipping charge is cheaper than what you'll spend on the extra items, it's worth it to just go ahead and pay shipping, rather than risk buying a bunch of things you don't need or want.

"If you can only get free shipping on orders over $35, but items under that amount incur a shipping charge, you can avoid that cost most of the time by opting for pickup where it's available," DealNews.com's Ramhold said.

DO considering giving while shopping

There are different ways you can give to those in need while you shop.

For example, when you buy eligible items on AmazonSmile, Amazon donates 0.5% of what you spend to the charitable organization you choose. Bomba will donate a pair of socks to a homeless shelter for each pair sold.

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CHECK OUT: How much to tip a doorman, babysitter, and others for the holidays, according to an etiquette expert via Grow with Acorns+CNBC.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.