Tips for Online Shopping During the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Even savvy shoppers might be struggling with shopping for essential items during the current Coronavirus situation. Supplies are running low. Some products are difficult or impossible to find, making it very frustrating for many of us. With social distancing and the recommendation to stay home when possible, online shopping is the first line of defense for reducing the hassle and risks of going to the store in search of groceries and important household items.

Since I usually do most of our shopping online and will continue as we head into hurricane season, I thought I’d share some helpful tips and tricks for online shopping during the coronavirus outbreak. Many of these tips are applicable all the time, not just during a pandemic!

These are my observations and recommendations based on my own experiences–your mileage may vary. Also, buying a few extra is okay, but please do not hoard or stockpile beyond a reasonable supply for your family. This could lead to even more shortages for everyone.

Why shopping online is better during Coronavirus

Although it may not always be possible to shop from home, it’s the safer option because it minimizes your exposure to people, air and surfaces that may be contagious or spread the virus. If you must shop in person, just be safe and follow all the recommendations from the experts as well as any local orders. #masksforall has some very helpful information about wearing masks for safety during the coronavirus outbreak. Keep in mind that many places we usually shop are closed or have limited hours and lines to get in, so sometimes online shopping is the only option.

Besides the safety factor, shopping online from home makes it easier to know what’s in stock and what sold out by searching many stores without the hassles and frustrations of wasting time and gas hunting for what you need. It’s also easier to compare prices and to buy large quantities without having to lug them home yourself. It also makes it easier to be organized and thoughtful about what you’re buying. Many friends have said that going into stores, seeing empty shelves and people with full carts, has led to panic buying things they didn’t originally intend to buy. Avoid all that when you can and just shop from home when practical.

If you do need stuff ASAP, you can often order online and use curbside picking so you don’t have to leave your car. and both have this feature on their websites, as do many major retailers.

Tips for safe online shopping during any disaster or emergency

Avoid fraud and scams by using reputable websites that you know and trust or that friends and family have used themselves. Look for the padlock on the left in the address bar of the browser window because that means that the website you’re shopping on is using secure encryption methods. Try to always use a credit card instead of a debit card or other payment methods for extra protection in case you have to dispute a charge later.

Be skeptical and cautious of emails that you receive or ads that you see on social media. Identity theft is always an increased concern during an uncertain time like this.  Even when shopping on big sites like Amazon or Walmart, it’s important to look and make sure you’re buying directly from the website itself because many allow 3rd party sellers who can charge whatever they want, and there’s no real way to know the quality or whether the products they are selling are even authentic. Price gouging and the selling of inferior and counterfeit products are on the rise during any crisis, so just be aware of who you are buying from and what you’re buying.

Tips for meeting minimum requirements for free shipping

Most sites offer free shipping if you spend a certain amount. It is always better to buy a few extra items than to pay for shipping. Before shopping online, make a list of all the items you want to stock up on or that your family uses on a regular basis. These items can be used to add to cart to meet the minimum required for free shipping even if you hadn’t originally intended to buy them this time. Certain popular products like hand sanitizer and toilet paper may have a limit on the quantity you can purchase ,making it harder to meet the free shipping minimum.

This is when it really comes in handy to have some ideas of everyday items that you’ll use written down ahead of time so that you can fill your cart with smart purchases and avoid paying shipping charges. Some examples of great filler items include aluminum foil, condiments like mayo, ketchup, mustard, pantry items like salt, sugar, flour, light bulbs, batteries, dog treats, laundry detergent, dish soap, dryer sheets, Q-tips, deodorant, contact lens solution, make up removing wipes. Basically anything that you use on a regular basis makes a great filler item to raise your cart’s total to qualify for free shipping, if you need to add something to get there. Some sites also offer promo codes for free shipping, so look for those on Google if you don’t want to spend the minimum.

Tips for finding popular and scarce items

Lots of products are hard to find or out of stock right now. Some stores have a ‘Notify Me’ button on their website and you can get an email or text when the item you want is back in stock. This is handy for popular items such as toilet paper, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer. paper towel and other items that are in short supply during the pandemic.

Try shopping at random times, for example after 11:00 p.m. or before 9:00 a.m. Many websites are replenishing their online stock at different times of day, so something that’s out of stock at 10:00 a.m. maybe in stock at 10:00 p.m. Use social media to follow what other people are saying about hard to find items. Also follow websites like Hip2Save  who often post their own alerts when items become available, recommended websites and particularly good deals. Don’t forget to also check office supply websites, wholesale club sites and hardware stores online when searching for elusive household goods.

One site to check for pantry and household items is Thrive Market. I received my first order last week in 2 days and they had most of what I needed: hand soap, canned salmon, olive oil, almonds, rice noodles, and some spices. Use our link and they’ll give you 25% OFF your first order

Tips for saving money while shopping during Coronavirus

To be honest, now is not prime time for deals. Demand is high and websites don’t have to offer discounts in order to encourage people to shop online. My basic advice is to always Google for a coupon code when you’re shopping on any website. That’s good advice all the time, not just during a pandemic. Also look around the website you’re shopping on to see what promotions they’re offering.

Check the sale section and signup for their email newsletter. That way you’ll know about future promotions and possibly get coupons in your inbox. Yesterday I got an email that is giving a free $5 Target gift card when you spend $20 on beauty supplies. Beauty supplies can include a lot of necessities and personal care items. For example, I needed to buy deodorant for Woof Woof Papa and was only planning on buying to one, but when I saw the offer I bought enough to qualify and got the $5 free gift card for something that he will use up eventually anyway!

My other advice is don’t get caught in panic buying or over-shopping, and don’t make impulse purchases. Really think about what you need and what you’ll use, and when you can, compare prices on a few sites to make sure you’re getting the best deal. This won’t always be possible because a lot of what we all need is in short supply and we really can’t be too picky, but do the best you can. If you’re a member of a warehouse club like Costco, Sam’s Club or BJ’s, remember to check their websites, too. If you buy in bulk from a warehouse club website, you can either stock up and save items for later use, or share them with friends and neighbors who might not be able to get out and get shopping. Always using a credit card that offers cash back or points as another way to help save money in the long run. Before making online purchases, always be sure to check return policies and refund policies as many popular items are now non-refundable with most major retailers.

Tips for outsmarting porch pirates and package thieves

With everyone doing so much online shopping now, bad guys know that there’s a lot of loot out there for the taking. It’s a good idea to track your packages so that you know what day and approximate time they will be arriving. Fedex UPS and the US Postal Service offer services so that you can receive email and text notifications of when to expect your package. Many online merchants also have notification services.

Another recommendation is to install a doorbell camera like Ring. The automatic motion sensor will notify you when the delivery person is making a drop off at your door, or any time there’s motion at your driveway, sidewalk or porch. Because of social distancing, signatures are rarely required and delivery persons usually will not even knock on a door. They will just leave the packages, so you’ll want to make sure that as soon as they’re a safe distance away, you bring your delivery inside.

 Coronavirus tips for safely handling and unpacking your delivery

Reports vary on how long the coronavirus can stay on different surfaces so it’s a good idea to always be careful when handling objects that have been brought in from the outside and/or handled by other people. Deliveries will almost always be left at your front door, minimizing contact with the delivery person.  Here is a link to some advice about delivery safety, but what we like to do when receiving grocery or other deliveries is to open the boxes/packages in one location near the front door. If you have a garage, you might want to do this there, or even on your front porch. Before you bring your stuff in to put it away, take everything out of the boxes and set them down in one location. I put them all on the floor in the kitchen. Then use disinfecting wipes, alcohol wipes, spray or whatever you have to clean each item and then set them directly in a “clean area” such as on a dining room table or kitchen counter with a towel underneath. Leave the items until the disinfectant cleaner has dried usually about 10 minutes, and then put everything away. Don’t forget to clean the surfaces where you put the items before moving them to the clean area.

Remember to always wash your hands after touching items that have been brought into your home. This includes after breaking down the cardboard boxes which should go immediately to recycling or in your garage or somewhere out of the way. This tip goes for when you get the mail, too.

About buying disinfecting products online

Disinfecting wipes, sprays and cleaners have become more difficult to find. To help you expand your search,  here is a list on the EPA website of products approved for use against coronavirus. You can use it to discover brands and product variations that you might be unfamiliar with. For example, I wasn’t aware that there is a certain Seventh Generation Disinfecting Spray and Wipe that is effective against Covid-19 (look for the Clean Well Inside logo on the package). Also Windex makes one particular multisurface cleaner that makes the approved for coronavirus list. There is currently one formula of Clorox Pet Solutions Disinfecting Spray available that is approved for fighting COVID-19.

When in doubt, look for “Kills 99.9% OF GERMS, VIRUSES, AND BACTERIA ON HARD, NON-POROUS SURFACES” on the label as your first clue. Pretty much every Clorox and Lysol product meets the standard, but you can use the EPA database to check any product, ingredient and formula before purchasing.

Tips for buying pet supplies during the pandemic

Finally, don’t forget your pets! Pet food, kitty liter, pet medication and even some grooming items are considered necessities and you don’t want to be without them. Don’t wait till the last minute to replenish supplies that your dog or cat uses on a regular basis. It’s especially important with pet food since you should try to stick to the same brand and formula. Supply chains can be disrupted and items can go out of stock so it’s good to plan ahead and order your pet supplies before you need them. Many websites and online retailers we use are taking a little longer than usual to deliver items these days., and all seem to be the fastest right now with order processing and delivery on essential items like pet supplies.

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