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Many of you might be fairly new to the whole “online shopping thing.” As someone who has been involved in the Internet industry for several years, and who spends a lot of time online, I have been shopping online for quite a while now. Since I first started shopping online several years ago, I have learned quite a few lessons about the do’s and don’ts of shopping online.

One of those lessons I’ve learned is 5 questions I should be asking myself before finalizing any online purchase. Had I started asking myself these questions at the beginning of my online shopping “career,” I could have saved myself a lot of money, time, and frustration.

So, let me share these 5 things with you. 5 Questions to Ask Every Time Before You Hit the Checkout Button

1. Can I find it cheaper somewhere else?

This one is definitely a loaded question. On one hand, many times you can find the specific product you are purchasing at a lower price somewhere else. But if that lower price is only to be found at a site that you don’t know as well, it might be a better idea to stick with the site that you already know and trust. You can’t put a price tag on safety.

That said, it’s never a bad idea to look around and see if you can find that particular product cheaper somewhere else. Once you’ve found the product you like, do a quick Google search for that product and see if you can find it cheaper somewhere else. If you can, take a minute and check out their site and see if it’s trustworthy, and then buy from them instead. And if you can’t find it cheaper, at least you know you are getting a good deal.

2. Can I find a coupon/discount code?

If you can’t find your product at a lower price, or you don’t want to leave the safety of the site you are shopping with, you can always look for a coupon or discount code online. Quickly sign up for their newsletter. Most online companies will send you a discount code when you sign up for your newsletter. You can use that code for that purchase.

Again, utilizing the search engines is a great idea here. Do a search for that company’s name, along with “coupon” or “discount code.” (Example: “target discount code”). There are several sites online that gather numerous sites’ discount codes and share them with their visitors. I’ve used this tactic numerous times while shopping online. Sometimes the codes work, sometimes they don’t. But it’s definitely worth taking a few minutes to seek these codes out, because when they do work, they can mean some decent savings.

3. Do they offer free shipping?

For me, free shipping is a must anytime I’m shopping online. I think a lot of companies charge way too much for shipping, many of them even profiting off of these shipping charges. So for me, I choose to reward (with my continued business) the sites that offer free shipping.

If you’re not as demanding as I am in that area, it could still be beneficial for you to see if they offer free shipping on a minimum order amount. You may find that you are only a few dollars away from the free shipping amount, and you can add another item to your order and essentially get it for free.

Example: many sites offer free shipping on orders over $50. For orders under $50, they charge $15 in shipping. If my order is currently at $45, I am only $5 away from the free shipping. Instead of leaving my order as-is and paying the $15 extra dollars in shipping costs (making my total cost $60), I could add a $5, $10, or $15 item to my order. That would put my total at $50-$60, because I now qualify for free shipping. That is less, or the same amount that I would have paid had I had to pay for shipping! Even if it’s the same amount, at least I got an extra $15 item out of the deal instead of letting the company pocket my money in shipping fees.

So, always see where you are in regards to receiving free shipping.

4. Can they be trusted?

This one is the most important question you can ask before checking out. You must spend a minute to do research and make sure that the company you are shopping with is a trustworthy company. If not, you could really end up regretting it. Best case scenario, they take your money and never send you your item (this has happened to several friends of mine). Worst case scenario, they steal your entire identity. Sadly, this is also something that happens sometimes.

Luckily, it doesn’t take too much effort to determine whether or not you can trust a site. The first thing to look for is a security certificate or badge.There are several different companies out there that offer security certificates. The companies that offer these will first check out the online companies that are applying for the certificate before they will issue them. When you see these secure certificates, you can know that this is should be a safe environment to shop. On top of that, you can see if they offer a PayPal checkout option (that way you are giving your credit card info to PayPal instead of to the site directly). You can also head over to the Better Business Bureau’s site and see if you can find anything on them there.

5. What is their return policy?

The last thing you want to look into before checking out is that company’s return policy for online purchases. Some companies are smart enough to make returning online purchases extremely easy. If they have brick and mortar locations, they will usually return online purchases in the store. If not, the smart companies send you free return labels with your purchase, and are willing to pay the cost on the return charges. Some companies even give you up to a year to return unwanted merchandise. Those are the type of companies that you want to be shopping with.

On the other hand, there are some companies that still just don’t get it. They make you pay the return shipping costs (which isn’t completely ludicrous, I just think it’s poor customer service). On top of that, they make it extremely difficult for you to return items. You have to seek out and search for return labels (I’ve even come across a company that makes you call in and talk to a representative in order to have a return label sent to you). Or, even worse, all or most of their online products are final sales. For me, these aren’t the types of companies that I want to give my money to. I usually prefer to find the same (or similar) item from a company that is willing to work with me.

I Hope That Helps!

Those are the 5 questions I ask myself any time I am making an online purchase. Do yourself a favor and always ask yourself these same questions before hitting the checkout button on any online purchase. If you can get in the habit of asking yourself these 5 questions every time you make an online purchase, you can save yourself quite a bit of money and heartache.

Nicole is an main editor for the blog where she writes about online shopping tips and tricks.