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Shopping in a Pandemic: Merry Christmas and Happy HTTPS

By Martha Michael

Holiday Shopping

As Yuletide draws near, our thoughts go to familiar scenes of “busy sidewalks dressed in holiday style.” But the reality is -- especially in a year with a pandemic -- the atmosphere on most American streets will not live up to the carols we sing about them.

Even before the coronavirus hit the country, shopping malls were less crowded and brick-and-mortar stores were shrinking in number because more people were purchasing online than ever before. If shopping from your laptop, phone, or desktop computer is a new holiday tradition for you, some tips to make it a safer prospect could be the gift that keeps on giving.

Rise in Online Shopping

Most of us are amazed at the stress-reducing effects of avoiding the hassle of bundling up, driving across town, then ducking in and out of stores -- all just to cross a name off our gift list. When you contrast the experience of shopping in stores with a practice of sitting on the couch, conducting a Google search, and typing in your credit card number, you see it is dramatically easier. As a result, Americans are motivated to keep it up. And if you’ve always been one to relish a trip to the mall, there’s a very good health-related reason this season why online Christmas shopping might be something that’s in your future.

Looking at online spending from 2019, internet database Statista displays a breakdown of various types of e-commerce shopping and compares their use. The biggest share comes from online marketplace sites with 47 percent of the total. Retailer websites are responsible for 26 percent of all e-commerce. Brand websites, including apps, take 18 percent, and emerging digital purchase points get 9 percent of total e-commerce transactions.

Looking back to 2014 when retail e-commerce sales totaled $1.3 billion -- which tripled by 2020 -- experts estimate the total to rise to more than $6.5 billion by the year 2023.

It’s easy to see the advantages to online shopping with the incredible convenience of Apple Pay, PayPal, and numerous mobile payment apps. And while physical store owners are suffering, their best way is not to beat ‘em, but to join ‘em through omni-channel marketing.

According to online journal Public Square, online shopping has had a negative impact on stores, mostly small retail subcategories such as:

  • Sporting goods
  • Books
  • Appliances
  • Electronics

Research shows, however, that when shop owners add e-commerce to their revenue streams, they gain other byproducts, from building brand loyalty to attracting customers. A halo effect results when retail stores experience a symbiosis with their online presence. While it’s expensive for chain stores to build internet services, they have remained competitive against the power of Amazon by becoming more established online.

E-commerce Tips

If the last thing you got by mail-order was a bride, you will definitely need some help navigating the world of internet shopping. But even a seasoned eBay buyer/seller can benefit from a streamlined campaign to complete their Christmas shopping online without incident.

There are many good reasons to turn to the internet to order gifts:

  • Huge selection
  • Unique products
  • Fast service
  • Ease
  • Shipping and returns
  • Written record of transactions

It can be scary at first to get into the game, especially when it means you’re inputting financial information. An article posted by PC Magazine offers suggestions for boosting your security while shopping online.

Familiar Websites

Be cautious when opening unfamiliar websites that pop up. You raise the risk of downloading viruses when you click hot links on impulse. Sometimes the design of a website resembles one of your favorite e-commerce sites, so be alert. Look for signs such as misspelled words and URL addresses that do not match the name of the site you’re searching.

SSL Locks

Before you input your credit card numbers to make a purchase, be sure the company has an SSL encryption. When an SSL, or secure sockets layer encryption, is installed, the URL will start with “HTTPS” instead of the usual “HTTP.” For most shopping sites it is a standard feature.

Stronger Passwords

If you’ve made a habit of creating all your settings using the same password, you make it easy for bad actors to hack your account. People with a rich and varied list of passwords have more protection from identity theft.

Limit Information

One of the risks to gaining a presence online is the lifespan of the content you post. When you connect with others on social media sites and shop on various platforms, remember the relative permanence of internet content. Be aware of the information you are forwarding and be sure that the recipient is credible.

Shop at Home

When you log onto Wi-Fi in public places you open yourself up to outside users. Hotels, coffee shops, and other locations may offer you free service, but the bad guys have greater access to your information when you use them.

No holiday plays out with the perfection of a Hallmark Channel movie. You probably won’t win a cookie decorating contest, organize a parade, and meet the love of your life all in the same day. But while your holiday spending can’t save an entire town from closure, you can complete your own shopping safely online and avoid the seasonal sparring over parking spots.

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