In Case You Missed Black Friday and Cyber Monday: A Payment Guide to Buying During the Holidays – by Jack Hojnar

Last weekend a record number of people spent a record amount of money celebrating the ability to fight each other in malls for Victoria Secret underwear (WISH I were making this up HERE).

Even woman and credit cardmore oniomaniacs (look it up; it’s a real word) floated in ether on my favorite made-up-marketing-holiday, Cyber Monday, to avoid actual work at the office only to do what they likely do every day anyway and shop online (HERE).

Shopping in general continually represents a state of conflict for me and Holiday Shopping only exacerbates the angst.

Unfortunately, my job involves understanding and supporting transaction payment mechanisms. Credit cards. Debit cards. Stored Value and Gift Cards. Alternative payment methods and providers. So I’m stuck.

To be fair, tools available for shoppers today make the experience far faster and easier than the archaic era of waiting in some store line for the cashier to fumble with the carbon paper card imprint readers.

Whether you shop electronically at your computer or via mobile device or whether you enjoy (really? do you?) the experience of rubbing elbows with complete strangers as you fawn over the great finds at the Nordstrom Rack, you have options and options are always good.

Therefore, while you will not likely see me out on the roads that feed the entrances for our precious mall rats, I can help provide some insight into making your shopping experience safer, faster and, in some instances, more informed.

And as the rest of the internet blogosphere gives you additional ideas to consider while shopping, I’ll also offer steps to take when the shopping is done and your 17-year-old daughter wants to return that Dora the Explorer Back Pack that Great Aunt Ellie bought her.

Read on …

Selecting the Right Payment Mechanism

You can pay by cash, but if that is your preferred way to pay, then no need to read this article. Thanks for hanging around.

Most people pay with credit cards or some similar variation. This time of year, using the right payment source can provide several positive experiences.

However, several payment types exist and while I’ll try not to turn this already long article into something uncomfortably academic, you should choose the right payment source with a bit of intellect.

Banks (financial institutions, credit unions etc.) offer credit cards and debit cards and checking accounts (though, this is not an article for those that pay by check or by cash). However, credit cards and debit cards differ in that many credit cards offer a ton of benefits specifically related to shopping (you’ll see below) whereas debit cards may likely not offer those same perks.

Many bank credit cards offer valuable and useful benefits such as:

– Cash Back on purchase amounts (some have set limits, other cards are more flexible)

– Rewards (some even offer increased rewards for using your card during the holidays)

– Bonus Miles (e.g., airline cards)

– Purchase Protection (buy something with your card, it’s protected from damage, loss or even theft)

– Extended Protection (buy something, increase the manufacturer’s warranty just from using your card)

– Price Protection (buy something and find a better price later, you’ll be refunded the difference)

– Return Protection (buy something you don’t like and the retailer wont accept the return, get reimbursed; product return to administrator likely required)

– BillMeLater (from PayPal HERE; offers the chance to purchase under the “same as cash” banner retailers offer all the time)

These benefits only work if you use your card for the purchase. You can’t load funds to a gift card or other similar card and expect to receive these or any benefits at all.

But stay with me and read the important paragraph below:

“Every card is different and every bank is different and even within banks that have several cards each card can have different benefits. Whether it’s Visa, American Express, MasterCard or even PayPal, be sure to call the bank to verify what benefits are available on your card (you wrote that down, right?). Do not blame me if you use your card and don’t have these benefits as there is no way in this blog I’d be able to list every card and every benefit available within every card.”

Security and Risk

A recent source posted that credit card fraud jumps nearly 20% during the holiday season. While I’ve been unable to secure any historical data to confirm the stat, experience tells me absolutely that fraud increases during the holidays.

You do have ways to keep yourself protected, however, and with a bit of diligence can reduce the potential that you’ll be a victim (see my previous blog):

–       Do not sign the back of your cards with your signature: Instead print, “Ask for ID.” With most purchases, cashiers will simply turn over the card to check that a signature exists. “Ask for ID” forces the cashier to compare the name on your card to the name on your id.

–       Use one card for online purchases: If you carry multiple credit cards, designate one for all online purchase (if you shop online). This way, you can more easily track potential fraud and eliminate the hassle, should you experience fraud, of having your multi-purpose card suspended as you wait for the replacement.

–       Explore online services such as PayPal and V.me by Visa: These great tools help ensure your purchases are secure. To be fair, V.me by Visa is relatively new and as a result, offers a limited set of online merchants (HERE).

–       Read your bank statements (online and paper): Yes, it’s as much fun as shoveling snow in the winter but checking your statements is important. Be sure to verify that purchases made appear, as they should on your bill. While most financial institutions catch fraud as it’s happening, such skills don’t guarantee 100% success. Do your work.

–       Shred receipts IF YOU DON’T NEED THEM, save them at home in one place if you need them for returns: Ok, two birds, one stone. Ready? If you KNOW you are not going to need a receipt, shred it. Criminals can extract enough information from some receipts to gain access to your card so do not make it easy. However, to take proper advantage of the benefits associated with many cards (e.g., Extended Protection, Price Protection) you NEED A RECEIPT. Some programs allow you to register the purchase via phone or online, if not, you will need to keep the receipts together in one place. Perhaps an envelope at home in your underwear drawer labeled HOLIDAY RECEIPTS would work. Why the underwear drawer? Most people wear underwear every day and if you forget where you put the envelope labeled, HOLIDAY RECEIPTS, chances are you will find it quickly in the one drawer that enjoys your company the most.

APPS THAT HELP

All work and no play makes me a very dull person. Mobile apps are my best friends, sad to admit. Oddly, I’ve grown closer with a few mobile apps that match the holiday season. Below is a list of recommended apps that might be beneficial to your shopping experience:

Organization:

–       The Christmas List

Rewards

–       Shopkick

Comparison Shopping

–       ShopSavvy

–       SnapTell

–       RedLaser

–       Smoopa

–       GoodGuide

–       Decide

–       Price Grabber: Good online source as well.

–       Milo

–       Any store cards (Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walgreens, Best Buy, etc.)

Benefits

–       Wallaby: http://www.walla.by/. This is interesting. Can tell you as you enter a store what card in your wallet (you load information into the app) would be best for that particular store based upon the benefits of a particular card)

Mobile Payments

–       Google Wallet (limited to certain phones; not available on iPhones)

–       Starbucks (uses bar code scanning)

–       Apple Passbook (I’ve used this and wanted to be sure to keep it in the “mobile payments” arena. You can use Passbook merchants to pay for things. The service isn’t quite as direct to credit card for some merchants as is Google Wallet).

–       Square (limited to certain phones)

–       MasterCard PayPass (limited to certain phones)

OTHER RESOURCES

So much time and so little to see (HERE). One last group of links that may be helpful

Citi Price Rewind:

https://www.citipricerewind.com/l____.htm

PayPal Shopping Promotions:

https://www.paypal-promo.com/holiday/

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/01/us-paypal-pricematch-idUSBRE8A01GF20121101

Now, I return to the comfort of my easy chair waiting to hear the bells jingle as UPS delivers the items I ordered. Here’s to you and your Holiday shopping!

By: Jack Hojnar

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