Online shopping has become one of America's favorite pastimes. Buying online makes it convenient to compare prices and selections across multiple stores, stack-and-clip virtual coupons, and shop on your own schedule. With a range of tools and services that help consumers locate the best deals and shop in just a click - what is the best online shopping hack?
With your security and budget in mind, we put together a handful of useful online shopping tips and tricks to make your shopping experience what it should be—secure, fast, and easy. We cover:
- Best credit cards for online shopping
- Secure online payment methods
- 6 online shopping tips and tricks for saving time, money, and risk
What is the Best Online Shopping Hack?
Finding deals is exciting! But equally important is making sure your online shopping is safe. The best shopping hack is selecting a combination of secure payment methods and online tools that prioritize safety features. We detail a few options in this guide to help you choose what’s right for you and save you time, money, and risk when shopping online.
Best Credit Cards for Online Shopping
Credit cards are the most widely used and accepted form of payment. They’re convenient to carry and allow flexible spending. Essentially, credit cards allow users to borrow money from a bank, referred to as a line of credit, with the expectation that the balance will be paid in full at a later date. This freedom makes credit cards the go-to payment method for many online shoppers.
Many credit cards also offer rewards programs, allowing you to earn points for every dollar you spend in the form of cash back, airline miles, or points that can be redeemed for purchases at partnering retailers.
Online shoppers can benefit from credit cards that offer bonus category spending with retailers you frequently shop. For example, some credit cards offer 3x points per dollar at specific department stores or select retailers. Others offer higher points per dollar at grocery stores, or for spending on travel and restaurants. Choosing the credit card that best aligns with your organic shopping habits will help you maximize your rewards.
While credit cards offer a host of advantages, many credit cards have annual fees or account minimums. Additionally, if credit card payments aren’t paid off in full each month, you run into the risk of accruing interest payments. That is, if you don’t pay off your balance in full in the months after your initial balance was due, you’ll end up paying extra in interest. This is how credit card balances can rack up if they’re not closely monitored. Read the fine print and interest rates for each credit card to determine what options best meet your needs.
Secure Online Payment Methods
While credit cards offer convenience and flexibility for online shopping, credit card fraud is among the most prevalent forms of identity theft. To make online shopping as secure as possible, opt for one or more of the following payment methods as an added layer of protection.
Virtual cards offer a set of randomly generated card numbers, expiration dates, and security codes that can be used at online merchants. You can pay with virtual cards the same way that you use a physical debit or credit card online, but virtual cards provide an additional layer of protection that traditional payment methods don’t provide.
An example of a virtual card service is Privacy, which has enhanced security features for your safety and convenience. Privacy Cards allow users to transact online without ever having to expose their bank account or card information. By generating virtual numbers at checkout, users protect their private information from any fraudsters or data breaches.
The best part about Privacy Cards is that the service is completely free to use. Because Privacy makes money from the interchange paid by merchants, the service is accessible to everyone. If you’re looking for a simple and secure way to pay online, without any fees or minimums, Privacy Cards should be your default.
Alternative Payment Apps
Alternative payment apps such as PayPal or ShopPay are other popular forms of secure online payment methods. Payment apps offer the ability to avoid sharing card information directly with the merchant you transact with. When linked to virtual cards, they can become an even more secure option when shopping online.
You can easily add a Privacy Card to your PayPal wallet. Simply select your virtual card as a funding source within PayPal. Should any of the merchants where you’ve used PayPal at checkout experience a breach, you can instantly close the Privacy Card to prevent fraudulent activity without needing to close your entire bank account or physical card. By coupling payment apps with virtual cards, you instantly add another layer of protection to your online payments.
Because of strict network regulations that mobile devices must follow, mobile payments like digital wallets, mobile money transfers, in-app purchases, and tap-to-pay can be more secure than regular online payments. By default, mobile companies and devices adhere to a set of tokenization and encryption protocols that make card numbers difficult to decipher. They also have product safety guardrails in place that protect your data if they fall into the wrong hands. In situations where you’re deciding between swiping your physical card or using contactless payments, opt for the mobile option.
6 Online Shopping Tips and Tricks for Saving Time, Money, and Risk
Whether you're shopping for household goods, groceries, or clothing, you can implement one or all of these online shopping tips to upgrade your online shopping experience.
1. Download money and time-saving apps
How to save money:
Consumers shop online to save money and time. In recent years browser extensions have become one of the simplest ways to save money with a click. Coupon extensions, such as Honey, will scour the web for promo codes that you can instantly apply at checkout. Similarly, coupon-saving apps like Rakuten and Ibotta offer cash back from top retailers, where you can earn money and loyalty points each time you spend.
How to buy something fast online:
Other apps focus on speed and ensuring your online shopping process is as fast and seamless as possible. If you’re looking to buy something fast online without sacrificing security, Privacy offers a secure solution. With Privacy’s browser extension, a shopper can instantly generate a virtual card and auto-fill a secure card number into the checkout fields. Instead of having to get up, fish for your credit or debit card, and manually type in the card number, the Privacy web extension allows consumers to transact much more quickly and with much greater peace of mind.
2. Compare prices around the web using secure browsers
Checking competitive prices can help you not only find the best deals but also prevent online shopping fraud. Doing your due diligence around prices and merchant credibility will help you discover whether or not a deal is too good to be true, and avoid potential online shopping scams.
When doing research around the products at varying merchants, use private search browsers like DuckDuckGo to ensure that your searches are not being tracked and merchants can’t get ahold of your browsing history or purchase data. This will prevent merchants from following and targeting you with ads or setting unfair prices.
In general, secure web browsers are a proactive way to stay safer on the internet when shopping online. They are built to prevent third-party tools from collecting your private information, such as websites you’ve visited, login usernames and passwords, and autofill information like your address, email, and phone number. A common myth is that shopping in incognito mode, such as with Chrome, will prevent merchants from seeing your data; however, every website you visit will still be able to see your IP address. Opt for secure browsers, like Tor, that encrypt your web traffic and make your search queries appear to come from various IP addresses.
3. Use a store’s price match guarantee policy (PMG)
Some of the most popular retailers such as Walmart, Target, and Best Buy have a price match guarantee policy (PMG). PMG is a promise by the retailers to refund the difference if the customer, post-purchase, finds a lower price for the same product elsewhere. There are conditions that apply such as sales application, inventory, and timing, but don’t feel completely discouraged if you buy something online and then see the same item priced for considerably less at another merchant a week later. Always check if there’s a PMG policy in place that you can leverage.
4. Read customer reviews, but be cautious of fake accounts
Customer reviews have long been the driver for online purchase decisions. While reviews give customers insight into what real people think about a product or service, fake review accounts have been an increasing problem for both consumers and merchants. Below are a few ways to identify fake reviews:
- Check the dates of the reviews. Businesses that tend to invest in fake reviews will stack them around the product release, either the day before or the day of. While this is not a dead giveaway, closely monitor if there is a stack of reviews clustered around the same time frame.
- Dissect the language and check for patterns. A Cornell University study indicates that fake reviews tend to overuse the words “Me” or “I”. They also tend to include more verbs while genuine reviews are heavier on nouns. Fake reviewers will also repeat the same phrases over and over again, not for the sake of simplicity but because they’ve been asked to incorporate certain phrases. If you notice any of these trends, be wary of the review.
- Inspect the profiles. Fake review companies tend to use generic names from mass-generated accounts, like “John Smith” or “Jane Smith.” In some cases, the display name could also be nothing more than just a string of letters and numbers - a tell-tale sign of a fake review.
5. Strategize which day of the year you shop
Knowing what items are likely to be on sale each season can help you save money on planned purchases. First, create a list of all the big purchases you need to make this year - are you looking to buy a TV? Home appliances? New clothes? Second, map out your spending strategy based on when merchants tend to have sales around the categories of your big purchases. Below are general guidelines around what time of the year has the best deals for certain products:
Spring: bed linens, fitness deals, TVs, grills, cleaning appliances
Summer: clothing, gym memberships, personal electronics
Fall: back-to-school supplies, tax-free shopping season, mattresses, iPhones
Winter: electronics, home appliances, and home improvement tools
6. Use Privacy Virtual Cards
On top of being one of the most secure payment options, Privacy Cards also come with several features that make online shopping easy and convenient:
- Set spend limits to regulate your spending. Privacy Cards give you control over your spending with daily and monthly limits. Never want to go over $200 on your online grocery order? If a transaction goes over this limit, it will automatically be declined.
- Lock a card to a specific merchant to prevent that card from being used anywhere else. One of the core security features that makes Privacy Cards unique is the ability to generate Merchant-Locked Cards. Once a Privacy Card is authorized, the card is then locked to that merchant; any attempted transaction at another merchant is automatically declined.
- Pause and close cards anytime. Not only does this feature prevent any unwanted transactions from being authorized, but it also allows you to control your subscriptions and select who can charge you, and when.
- Monitor your spending in real-time. With Privacy’s account notifications, you are alerted immediately when a transaction goes through or has been declined. This is a great way to confirm successful transactions and to instantly identify when an incorrect or fraudulent charge was attempted.
With a host of spend control and security features, Privacy’s Virtual Cards are a smart payment method to add to your list of online shopping tools.
Protect Yourself Online
Online shopping has never been faster and easier. With the ability to make purchases in just a click, it’s easy to become lax about online security practices. But we’re here to remind you that when it comes to protecting yourself online, take no shortcuts.
The best online shopping hack is to prioritize secure payment methods and tools that save you time, money, and risk. Look into services like virtual cards and secure web browsers that prioritize security and convenience, and continue to remain alert for fake accounts or anything that may seem questionable. Armed with these online shopping tips and tricks, feel confident in making secure purchases.