How to Be a Savvy Shopper Amid Cyber Monday Hype

by Ann deBruyn

Last Cyber Monday, I rushed to put a very-much-on-sale grill into my virtual shopping cart. I texted my daughter to make sure my son-in-law really wanted it, because this limited-quantity deal would not be returnable. I entered my credit card number as soon as she responded. Moments later, I got an email: “Sorry, sold out.”

I had no grill, only someone counting on getting one. I bought the grill, but at more than twice the price of the deal I missed.

Welcome to FOMO. Fear of missing out has become one of the great marketing tactics of the holiday season. Scarcity — a limited quantity, a small time window — pressures consumers to act quickly for fear of missing their chance. To resist that impulse, it can help to decide ahead of time on spending limits, whether you’ll buy something nonreturnable and other guidelines before adrenaline and emotions get involved.

Besides recognizing FOMO, here are other ways to be a savvy shopper on Cyber Monday, which is the Monday after Thanksgiving (this year, Nov. 29), often the last hurrah for Black Friday deals.

Be realistic about possible delays

Jane Boyd Thomas, a marketing professor at Winthrop University in South Carolina, thinks gifts that don’t show up in time for the holidays could be the story of Cyber Monday 2021. She expects a lot of people to be disappointed when they get a receipt and even a shipping notification, only to be told, days later, that shipping has been delayed. Some retailers run deals both in store and online, and you may be able to avoid shipping altogether. If not, consider printing out a product photo and wrapping that as a gift.

On the other hand, if you already have a gift that has been in transit for longer than you had expected and you are worried it might not arrive in time for the holidays, Cyber Monday might come to the rescue. Before you buy a duplicate that promises a faster delivery, though, be sure you understand the return policy and whether you’ll have to pay a restocking or shipping fee.

Factor in inflation and supply snarls

Paula Rosenblum, managing partner and co-founder of Retail Systems Research in Miami, says between the unpredictability of shipments and increasing costs, waiting to see a better deal can be a mistake. An acceptable price, as opposed to a killer deal, can be good enough for an item you know is in stock.

Rosenblum says small electronics — think smartphones, tablets and laptops — may be more attainable because they are air-freighted and don’t wait in ports.

Check the price history

Know how much something normally costs (and what it cost on Black Friday) so you have context to evaluate Cyber Monday deals. Putting the word “sale” on an item doesn’t make it a bargain.

Cyber Monday can be a great time to shop if you know what you are looking for and what prices are worth getting excited about. Tools or apps such as ShopSavvy, Honey and CamelCamelCamel can show you price histories, compare prices at various retailers or find coupons to lower prices further.

Know what’s likely to be marked down

Clothes have not sold well during the pandemic, Christopher Newman, associate professor of marketing at the University of Mississippi, said in an email. You can expect those to be on sale.

Historically, Cyber Monday has featured big-ticket electronics, such as TVs, phones, gaming consoles and computers, Newman said.

Newman said travel can also be a good post-Thanksgiving deal, and that it can pay to skip Cyber Monday and wait for Tuesday.

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Be flexible but cautious

Shipments have been unpredictable, and some things are out of stock. If you can be flexible on the brand of TV or laptop, you may have more luck snagging a bargain. Check details of deals to make sure you are not being given an older model and charged for a newer one.

And read reviews, Thomas urges. She says she pays close attention to negative reviews, looking for common themes. Complaints might indicate counterfeit, used or subpar goods.

Practice good cyber hygiene

While you are chasing deals, scammers and identity thieves are looking for victims. Here are tips for getting the best prices without taking big risks:

  • Shop from home or use a virtual private network. If you’re not at home, be aware of your surroundings and who can see your device and/or credit card.

  • Enter your credit card number every time you buy rather than having the retailer save it. A good rule is, if it’s more convenient for you, it’s also easier for a criminal. As a side benefit, having to type additional keystrokes may save you from impulse purchases.

  • Type in website addresses yourself when you shop; clicking on a link can lead you to a lookalike site.

  • Do not open attachments from texts or emails.

Those cyber safety habits aren’t just for the holidays, but there’s no better time than now to start putting them into practice.