Holiday Shopping: Get Off My Highway

It’s begun. Come this Monday, I’ll be standing in massive lines shopping for Christmas presents…without ever stepping foot outside the house.

I’m always sure I’ll be able to get through my Christmas list in my usual way – sitting in front of a nice fire with my laptop, my toes warm and toasty in my fuzzy slippers, coffee in hand, laughing at all those Black Friday fashionista fanatics who think seven cents off a sweater is worth peeing in a coffee can for whilst camped outside TJMaxx.

Unfortunately, all those well-meaning companies broadcasting free shipping and enormous deals on Cyber Monday always forget just one thing – server overload.

Last year, I believe I actually saw the little shopping cart icon in the top corner twitching. And the little green thing-a-ma-jig bar down at the bottom of the screen inched along at a snail’s pace.  I stared at it as if waiting for a kettle to boil, mumbling into my hot cocoa, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”

And just when I thought I had scored an elusive item I’d been searching for on Ebay, I received an alert from The Ebay Mafia telling me they pulled the item the person was selling because it was “unauthentic.”  Hmmm…how did they know that? Is there an old geezer from the Antique Road Show doing side work for Ebay, scouring the site for bogus competitors and snitching? Hell, I don’t care if it’s not authentic!  Neither is the color of my hair, but only my hairdresser knows for sure. And to tell you the truth, how do I know the alert from Ebay was authentic?!

Which brings me to my whole reason for this post – and that is to provide you with my semi-vast knowledge and Street-Smart Online Shopping Tips for this holiday season (and any time you are shopping online for more useless stuff).

I’ve been Christmas shopping online for years. But those were the good old days. And if it wasn’t for those damn media gurus marketing the day as Cyber Monday, I wouldn’t have every Tom, Dick and Harry & David shopping on the same day. So I hope you’re the paranoid type who refuses to provide a credit card number over the internet. All the better for me. Stick to the mall, and let me shop online in peace.

But since you’re all clogging the traffic on the holiday shopping superhighway along with me now, here are a few rules for navigating those ominous, self-help cyber lanes:

Step away from the link.

E-mails that you receive – even from friends and family – should raise a red flag if there is simply a link (the little blue words with the little blue line under them) in the body of the email. Unless you are provided with a lengthy dissertation from Aunt Betty about her recent hemorrhoid surgery, DO NOT click on an email from her that just has Betty’s Best Apple Betty recipe in the body of the email. You tried to click on that, didn’t you? Stop that!) You will end up with a virus – one that even Aunt Betty’s chicken soup won’t help.

Shop here, not there.

Although you’re a tight wad (okay, frugal, whatev…) remember:  If it sounds too good to be true, it’s too good to be true.  That Mac being sold by Apple & Eve Computer Company for $29.95 is not a good gift for your college student.  Practice what you preach. Just Say No.

Listen to your mother.

Mom used to always tell you, “Be sure to wear clean underwear,”  as you headed out the door rolling your eyes. Not only was she worried about that nice policeman discovering not one, but two sets of skid marks during his investigation should you become involved in an accident, but she was trying to tell you that change is a good thing. So change your underwear – and your password – often. Do you know there are Little Men under each key on your keyboard memorizing your keystrokes, and they’re none too happy to be the subject of your wrath on their little heads, so they send everything you type to the Big Guy in a coffee shop in India, who turns around and hacks into your computer. And your little dog, Toto? Yeah, he might be cute, but quit using his name as your password.

Pick a card, any card.

Choose a credit card – and one credit card only – for your transactions. Your brain will thank you when you are trying to distinguish your Christmas purchases from the Brazilian hot wax you got prior to that office Christmas party.

Be a good little file clerk.

For each transaction, you should receive a confirmation email regarding your purchase and delivery information. If you don’t, call the company to confirm. And if someone answers, “Yo, dis is Johnny,” consider yourself screwed. (Another reason I think you should get off the internet highway right now and head on over to Wal-Mart with the rest of the sheep.)

Compose a folder in your email inbox and name it “Xmas 2014” or some such name. Refrain from using long names like, “Things I bought online on Monday instead of going to the mall.” Brevity is your friend. Move all your  purchase confirmation emails to that folder. Then check it often to keep track of deliveries from that cute guy in brown.

There are sites teeming with hints for keeping your online shopping from turning into the Shopping Experience from Hell. I’m hoping, though – just a little bit – that I might have scared you away from shopping online, and you’ll pull off the road.

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