Holiday online shopping: 6 practical tips

03 November 2018 by National Bank
Holiday online shopping: 6 practical tips

Will you be shopping online so you can avoid the crowds in store, all the while finding the perfect gifts for everyone on your list? More and more Canadians are doing just that, heading online to buy the presents going under the Christmas tree…it’s fast, practical and often it’s not that expensive!

However, here are 6 tips for buying your Christmas gifts online without any hitches.

1. Verify the online retailer’s reliability

When you visit a store, you can touch and look at products. Online, all you can do is read, read, and reread. Ideally, websites should feature comprehensive descriptions of products, including the materials used to make the item, the size, price and a photo or image. In short, the description should feature all of the practical information you need to avoid any surprises when you receive your package.

Philippe Viel, from Quebec’s Consumer Union, recommends checking that all of the vendor’s legal information is clearly displayed, which includes the company’s name, address, phone number and email address. Make sure that you’re dealing with a seller who can be easily reached.

As for clothing, choosing the right size is critical. It is not always easy to figure out, considering that clothing sizes vary from one store – or one item – to another. It’s impossible to blindly buy a “medium” or “size 8.” So in this case, it’s better to take the time to click on each article’s size chart, which should be provided by all reliable online retailers.

What do you do if you don’t know the giftee’s measurements? Focus on items with a forgiving cut, or try sneaking a peek at their clothes’ labels. Then look up the measurements for the recipient’s size on the brand’s website, and use those as a baseline for your purchase.

2. Compare prices on different sites

You’ve found a great gift idea, and you want it at a good price. Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix to finding a bargain; your best bet is to compare prices from different retailers. But this step is much easier to do online than in brick and mortar stores. Instead of trudging from store to store, just enter the article you’re looking for into a search engine and instantly find a list of prices. Some price comparison websites, like, can make your work even easier.

And don’t forget taxes and duty! According to a Canada Post study, these extra fees are the number one obstacle to online shopping. In the end, saving a few bucks on an item being shipped across the Atlantic isn’t such a good idea if you have to take out your credit card again when your package arrives.

What if you’re asked to pay an additional fee on delivery? Philippe Viel insists: “Do not accept the package, and ask for a refund from the vendor. There shouldn’t be any hidden surprises when you buy something at a store, so there shouldn’t be any online either. It’s the law: the principle of technological neutrality applies to purchases.”

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3. Check delivery times

Ordering the perfect gift, but showing up empty-handed on December 25… a catastrophe that we all want to avoid! But a simple way to save yourself from stress is to place your order early enough to leave time for shipping.

Before checking out, be sure to consult the website’s shipping policy: how many business days will you have to wait? It could be worth paying a little extra for express delivery, if you’re ever buying gifts late.

It could also be a good idea to keep the order confirmation emails with the delivery dates. You could use them as proof if you ever have to cancel the order if shipping is taking too long. Online tracking is standard now, so don’t be afraid to request it to avoid any glitches.

Lastly, if the package arrives and you’re not at home, you’ll have to pick it up at a post office where hours can be limited. This can be even more inconvenient than buying gifts at the store! To avoid this nuisance, you can get the package delivered to the office (if your workplace allows it), or to an address where you know that a friend or relative will be at home to accept it.

One good tip to avoid common gift-giving pitfalls and to delivery delays, is to begin your Christmas shopping early!

4. Take the necessary precautions for a gift

Some vendors give you the chance to specify whether the order is a gift or not. The perks? The item arrives pre-wrapped (generic wrapping paper that you might need to decorate, but it will still save you time!). Also, the gift will often contain a gift receipt to make it easier for the recipient to exchange it without knowing any of the details.

However, it’s not always recommended to deliver the gift directly to the giftee, unless you can’t see them in person during the holidays (in the case of someone living abroad, for example).

5. Anticipate returns

If you buy a gift 45 days in advance and the return period is only 30 days, what do you do? First off, look into the return period before finalizing your purchase. Some companies extend the grace period for returns in case of a gift: after all, do you really want to force the recipient to go to the store right away to exchange their gift? It is also worth looking into whether there is an option to exchange in store, and whether the giftee would be able to exchange the item online.

You’ll find all of these return policy details on reliable vendors’ websites. If you don’t see a return policy, buy from a different site. And at all costs, avoid putting your loved ones in the awkward position of having to justify returning or exchanging their gift. By giving them the return envelope and gift receipt, they can do as they wish, and you don’t have to get involved.

6. Beware of fraudulent promotions

These days, it’s rare to find a company with an automatic “opt-in” (the box checked by default that signs you up to a pile of unsolicited emails). But some vendors are behind the times, so it’s always best to make sure that you’re not unknowingly selling your information or subscribing to a spam list.

Of course, always choose legitimate websites for your purchases. For your online shopping, you want to use a secured service like Masterpass for your transactions, unless it so happens that you found the perfect gift on a site that seems, let’s say, “homemade.”

Finding the perfect gift is easier than ever: geography and logistics are a thing of the past. No more driving for hours looking for parking, traffic jams, line-ups, and cranky shoppers!

If you’re a traditionalist, put on a Christmas album and heat up a spiced cinnamon tea to get you in the mood.

Happy online shopping!

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