7 ways to stay sane on Cyber Monday
It's easy to get swept up in Cyber Monday mania, because scoring an amazing deal is an adrenaline rush. But just because it's cheap doesn't mean you need it, and plenty of pitfalls are out there that make this super shopping day less than spectacular than it's cracked up to be.
However, if you're a smart and suspicious consumer, and you shop with a critical eye, you can score some steals. Really, these tips apply to all online shopping, but especially on Cyber Monday, when your phone will be blowing up with sales that sometimes seem too good to be true. Spoiler alert: they probably are.
1. Read the reviews with a critical eye
Reviews on Amazon and elsewhere are notoriously and unfortunately fake, seeded by "review farm" bots, people who "received the item for a discounted price but this is my honest opinion" and from other uninformed reviewers with an axe to grind. You can mitigate all the B.S. out there with a few methods. On Amazon, look for Vine reviewers; they get the product for free, but are vetted beforehand and provide long and detailed reviews.
Also, look for verified purchases only; these are people whose accounts actually bought the product. Be suspicious of both the five-star and one-star reviews. Read the community sourced question and answers. Look for reviews that include photos and especially videos. Ignore the reviews that say "I just received this and haven't tried it." Consider reviews that talk about how customer service sent them a replacement and now everything is great; those are frequently skewed, too.
Finally, use a free browser extension like "Fake Spot," which uses a variety of cross-checking tools to assign a grade on the veracity of a product's reviews.
2. Remember that a deal isn't always a deal
Just like no one ever pays full price at Kohl's, or how that MSRP on the tag at TJ Maxx is pure fiction, the sale price on Cyber Monday may not be much, if at all, lower than it usually is online. Rather than jumping at every notification on your phone and social media feed, it pays to do some planning ahead.
On Amazon, if you add an item to a wish list, it will tell you if the price has dropped when you visit again. Also, before you hit buy, Google the exact item and click on the "shopping" tab. Better prices might be out there in weirder places, but be suspicious of sites you've never heard of. Remember, just because a site tells you it's a deal doesn't make it a deal.
3. Consider the shipping times
When it comes to shipping, Amazon Prime remains the gold standard for speedy delivery, although not all Prime items are guaranteed to be at your house in two days. But on sites like Wish.com, which offer amazingly low prices for mostly very crappy (but sometimes fun and/or insane) items, expect to wait 1-2 months for your item; that is, if it even shows up at all. Same with eBay international sellers: the China Post tracking numbers are next to useless. Consider where they're coming from if you need your gifts in hand by Christmas, and remember that eBay will make you jump through a bunch of hoops if you want to get your money back.
4. Watch the deal aggregators
It's easy to get whipped into a deal frenzy on Cyber Monday, but sites like DealNews.com aggregate and curate the good ones by hand and will help you cut through the clutter. Their "Editors' Choice" section not only presents the best deals year round, but they compare the current price to previous sales to help you see if you're really getting the deal of the century.
5. Remember that not everything is better online
No matter the price, some products are better purchased in person. For example, I bought a set of dining room chairs on Amazon, and even though they came with mostly good reviews, 18 months later, they have all but fallen apart. Comfort and durability are hard to assess in furniture if you can't sit in them. Similarly, if you're buying your sweetie perfume, you may be tempted to go the eBay route, which is much cheaper than department stores, but fakes and knock-offs abound. Brick and mortar stores still exist for a reason.
6. Consider the return policy
Free returns are great, but if you're buying something large, it can be very difficult to pack it up perfectly and get it to the post office. I bought a chair once online, and it came with a broken leg. Problem is that it was packed in a huge shipping crate, and had to be delivered by a freight company. Fortunately, the vendor just sent me another one, because returning the chair would've been next to impossible.
Also, while Amazon stands behind the products it sells, tons of its products are sold by third-party vendors. Amazon will ultimately back you if there are problems, but the process can be a lot less smooth when you're working through external storefronts. Be particularly cautious of brand new vendors that are obviously selling via China, although with Wish, where almost half of the items I've received are defective, they have a great no-questions asked refund policy. It's like the expect that their products are junk, and the occasional refunds are just built into the cost of them doing business.
7. Don't forget the coupon codes and cash back
You may not save any money by scouring the coupon code sites before you hit "buy," but it's never a bad last step. There are a whole bunch of shady, clickbait coupon sites out there, but RetailMeNot may get you free shipping or an extra 10% off, if you're lucky.
And finally, don't forget about sites like Ebates. With only a few percent cash back, it may seem like more effort than it's worth, but the dollars slowly add up. It's a nice surprise when $20 shows up in your PayPal account every few months, just because you clicked on an Ebates link before hitting your favorite shopping site. Follow their rules, though: you don't get credit after the fact. You need to hit the link, then add the item to your shopping cart, and if you do it in the wrong order, you'll miss out.
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