Holidays or not, online shopping is fast becoming the main shopping choice for many people. People prefer online stores for their shopping needs over the brick-and-mortar stores for a variety of reasons - discounted prices, quick price comparisons, unavailability of desired items in the retail stores, 24 hours shopping convenience, etc. Whatever the reason is, before you jump into the online shopping bandwagon, you must consider a few things to avoid frustration and monetary loss.

Before you pull out your credit card to buy an item at an unbelievably reduced price, think about the reasons why the merchant is throwing out his profits. Maybe it is a total scam and they want your credit card number to rip you off. Or maybe they want your personal data. If you find a shopping site, usually advertised in a spam e-mail, that sells for example $100 software for $10, look out! You can bet that this is a scammer's site. For this reason it is safe to stay with the big online shopping sites. Sites that are publicly traded or reputable private companies do not spam your email inbox with unsolicited advertisements. And these big online shopping sites have a state of the art secure checkout systems.

Before you select sites that are worthy of your hard earned money, ask your friends about their experiences with online shopping sites. Another approach is to use a search engine like Yahoo to search for items you plan to purchase. When you use Yahoo to search for an item, you will get advertised and non-advertised sites offering your searched items at different prices. Don't simply jump to the first website that offers your searched item at the lowest price. Check out a few sites before you decide where to make the purchase.

Many sites like bizrate.com or nexttag.com offer price comparisons, reviews, and shopping site ratings. Use these sites to read reviews and to do a price comparison. Sites like techbargains.com publish information on latest bargains, coupons, and discounts offered by various online shopping sites. Websites like deals2buy.com offer everyday hot deals and coupons. Monitoring this type of sites provides opportunities to get great bargains. One comparison shopping site, buysafeshopping.com, provides information on qualified shopping sites that have gone through a screening process for merchant's identity, online sales experience, and the ability to deliver purchased items.

If you have to shop with an unknown online merchant, check for their telephone number at their website. Contact someone at the merchant's physical location and talk to them. Ask them about their privacy and refund policy. If you cannot find a phone number or the phone number goes to a voice mail instead to a live person, go shopping somewhere else. There are dozens, if not hundreds, good online merchants for any items you want to buy.

At the online checkout counter, you have to use a credit card to pay. When you use your credit card, make sure that your credit card and personal information are sent using encryption to avoid someone intercepting your information for unauthorized use. To check for encryption, look for https in the URL. It is perfectly safe if the site has http in its URL for all pages except the order page - the page where you enter your credit card and other personal information like address, etc. Also, look for a closed lock icon in the bottom right corner that indicates the webpage is secure. Avoid public computers at cafes, airports, etc. for your purchases. The danger is that hackers can install key-loggers to log your key strokes before they are encrypted.