During the Covid-19 pandemic, online shopping has been a blessing and also a curse. While services like grocery delivery add convenience, browsing online retailers is an easy habit to get into.
With Cyber Monday approaching, you might be raring to online shop. Given the pandemic, many retailers have canceled or limited their Black Friday offers to prevent people from congregating indoors and potentially transmitting the virus. That means, you'll likely see more online shopping deals from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday.
Here are seven potential mistakes to avoid while you online shop during Cyber Monday:
There are three components that, taken together, make Cyber Monday sales seem intriguing: the limited time window, the depth of the discounts and the fact that it's marketed as an event that only happens once a year, explains Priya Raghubir, a marketing professor at New York University's Stern School of Business who specializes in consumer behavior and psychology.
It's easy to get excited about a big discount: "The depth of the discount really attracts consumers," Raghubir tells CNBC Make It. For example, if an item is marked with a flashy sign advertising a certain percentage off, it makes it seem more appealing, even though the discount may not result in such a drastic price difference. Make a list, and do a little research to investigate the actual price before you aim to buy, she suggests.
Ask yourself if you're excited about the product or just the discount. "Just be aware of what is driving your shopping behavior," she says. "If it makes you happy and you have the money, go for it."
Often we make impulse purchases simply because we don't want to miss out on an opportunity, Raghubir says. "Many times consumers may shop and buy things that they don't need only to minimize regret that they didn't buy when something was available at such a low price," she says.
If you're susceptible to shopping FOMO, Raghubir recommends making a list. "Once you make a list, you will be less likely to be tempted to go off that list, and make an impulse purchase of something that is offered at a great discount or appears to be a great discount," she says. Buying yourself a gift card to use on Cyber Monday is another strategy to limit the amount of money you spend.
At the start of the pandemic, when people were doing more of their shopping online, many retailers experienced shipping delays due to the influx of orders. For the most part, USPS, UPS and FedEx have said their shipping deadlines for the holidays track with other years. But "retailers have other challenges," McGrath says. For example, warehouse staffing issues due to Covid-19 could impact the time that it takes to prep and get orders out quickly, she says.
Read the fine print about shipping and processing, Skirboll says. "Don't forget that online companies need to process your request in your actual order, and that isn't immediate," she says. To that end, you should also know what the return policies are like, and how long they take.
To avoid paying for shipping, or potentially getting an item after the holidays, consider buying online and picking up products in the store or curbside, Skirboll says. If a popular item is sold out online, it may be available in-person, she adds. "In many instances, it allows you to avoid shipping but also get your items within two hours," she says. "It pays to do that."
Around early December, retailers are likely going to emphasize curbside and in-store pickup to prevent shipping and processing delays, so keep an eye out as you continue your holiday shopping, McGrath says.
Items that are in short supply or being offered as a "doorbuster deal" can sell out online just as quickly as they do in stores, McGrath says. "Instead of lining up at the door before they open the door, you've got to know when that retailer is going to send its Black Friday sales live and exactly what time," she says.
It's a good idea to be signed in to the retailer's website with your credit card info already inputted so you can act fast. And if you're hunting for a product that's anticipated to sell out, consider following the brand or retailer on social media for live updates on the stock or status. To save time, Skirboll suggests installing a web browser plug-in (like Deal Finder or Honey) that automatically scans the web for deals, discounts and promotions and applies them to your purchase.
Keep in mind that, from a psychological standpoint, sales seem better when there is an "inconvenience" associated with them, Raghubir says. For example, if you need to be online to buy a product at a certain time, or wait in a long line to get something, it makes a deal seem more attractive, she says.
Typically, travel-related items and experiences are discounted on Cyber Monday, Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert at RetailMeNot, tells CNBC Make It. "This year, fewer people are traveling, fewer people are buying experiences like tickets, cooking classes, concerts, Broadway shows and all-inclusive resorts," she says. As a result, you might see even more discounts on things like hotels, rental cars and flights.
Of course, travel is not recommended during the pandemic, because it can increase the risk of Covid-19 transmission. But for a post-pandemic trip, consumer travel expert for Hopper, Liana Corwin, told The Washington Post that given the uncertainty about when travel can safely resume, airlines and hotels will be more flexible about cancellations and rescheduling during Cyber Monday sales.
When you're online shopping on Cyber Monday, it's easy to get carried away in the excitement and potentially fall for a scam. Be prepared and monitor your account activity to ensure that all you're responsible for all transactions.
Also look out for things like links and attachments in emails or popups that could contain malware that steals your credit card information. For example, if you get an email that says it's from a retailer with a promotion or free offer that looks skeptical or too good to be true, instead of clicking on the link, visit the retailer's website directly by typing its name in your browser.
Another common way that scammers attempt to steal your personal information is through fake shipping notifications disguised as shipping companies like FedEx or UPS. If you receive an email or text message about a shipment that you don't recognize, stop before you click on any links. Contact the retailer or company through a phone number or website that you know is legitimate, the Federal Trade Commission recommends.