Smartphones and tablets have evolved into remarkably useful devices, not only for making calls and sending text messages, but also for playing games, watching movies and even indulging in some online shopping. Browsing through catalogs and looking to score the best possible deal, however, can be different on a mobile device than it is on a traditional desktop or laptop computer. To make the most of your mobile shopping experience, heed these tips.
How to Stay Safe and Secure
To avoid becoming the victim of identity theft, fraud and other possibly nefarious activity, it is important to be mindful about how you go about shopping on your smartphone.
- Avoid using public Wi-Fi. Free access points, like those offered by some coffee shops, can be very insecure. The data that you are sending over the Internet through your phone could be intercepted and used for criminal activity. It is best to shop only when you are on a network you can trust.
- Use a VPN service if possible. One of the ways you better secure your mobile Internet connection is to use a virtual private network service. This encrypts the connection and can act as a safeguard against thieves attempting to intercept your data. A number of apps and services are available for a VPN connection.
- Screenshot your purchase. In order to protect against fraudulent charges, it is advisable to take a screenshot of your online shopping cart and your payment receipt when shopping on your smartphone or tablet. This provides proof of what you bought and the price, in case any disputes arise surrounding the transaction with either the online store or your financial institution.
- Secure your device. Your mobile device should be protected with a lock screen password. This way, should you lose your device, someone picking it up can't use your credentials to make additional purchases.
- Log out after shopping. Shopping sessions may stay active in your web browser, even after you put your phone on standby. If possible, make sure you log out of all sessions and secure your mobile shopping apps with an strong password.
- Never click on links in text messages. You may receive unsolicited messages through SMS, WhatsApp or another messaging service. These messages may contain links to 'special offers' or a 'great sale.' Do not open any of these as they may be phishing scams attempting to steal your information.
Apps Versus Websites
There are effectively two ways that you can shop from your mobile device: you can use a mobile app or you can visit the merchant's website through a web browser. There are advantages and disadvantages to either approach.
Shopping With a Mobile App
A native app will likely provide the best mobile experience and can be more convenient to access. However, the app will take up storage space and utilize additional resources on your device.
- Use only the shopping apps you trust. When shopping and buying through a mobile app, be sure to stick with trusted names and only the official apps, like those from Amazon, Staples and Walmart. Other apps may not be legitimate or may perform actions beyond your control.
- Take advantage of the full experience. Many mobile shopping apps not only allow you to browse for and buy products, but you may also use the app to maintain wish lists or to track your orders.
- Use the right geographic version. Some apps, like the one for Amazon, allow access to multiple online marketplaces based on geography. Amazon.com is separate from Amazon.ca or Amazon.co.uk, so make sure you are shopping from the right version of the online store for your location.
Shopping From a Mobile Site
Many stores and retailers will have websites, but not all will have dedicated apps. A mobile-optimized website can be bookmarked and doesn't take up any additional space on your device, but it is at the mercy of your browser's security and capabilities.
- Shop only on secure websites. A secure web address will start with 'https' instead of just 'http.' Ideally, the checkout process should also come with the protection of the credit card company, which would be indicated by the Verified by Visa or the MasterCard SecureCode logo, for instance. The added layer of security helps to protect your data against theft.
- Pinch to zoom for better navigation. Not all websites are going to be mobile optimized, making for a more challenging experience for mobile shopping. If you are having trouble tapping on the right buttons or links, utilize the zoom function in your mobile browser to enlarge these buttons for easier access. Some features may work better in some mobile browsers than others, so if you are having difficulty in one, try a different browser.
- Save items to buy later. If the online retailer does not have a mobile optimized site (or app), but you don't want to lose track of the items you wish to purchase, it is usually possible to create an account on the website to save your session or to keep the items in your 'shopping cart' for when you get to a computer to complete your transaction.
Getting the Best Deal
It may be tempting to buy at the first opportunity you get, since mobile shopping is so easy and convenient, but you may need to fight that urge if you want to get the best price possible.
- Take advantage of online coupons. The same online coupons you use while shopping from your computer can be just as easily applied when you are shopping from your cell phone or mobile device. Look for a coupon or special discount code before proceeding to the checkout.
- Compare prices at multiple stores. Even if you have the convenience of the app for one particular online retailer, it pays to look around for a better deal elsewhere, especially if you already have accounts with other stores. A number of mobile shopping apps, like PriceGrabber, function as price comparison tools.
- Time your purchase window. Certain product categories tend to be priced lower and higher at different times of the year. A mobile app like ShopAdvisor can help you predict when is the best time to buy the products on your watch list. Unless you need the item right this second, it can worth your while to wait.
- Leverage reward programs. Many online stores may have loyalty programs in place that provide preferred pricing or the ability to collect points. Take advantage of these opportunities. Third party apps like Shopkick can also be beneficial in earning free gift cards or other discounts.
The Shopping World at Your Fingertips
Whether you're commuting on the subway or waiting at the dentist's office, you can take out your smartphone or tablet and engage in some online shopping. As retailers provide better support for mobile devices, it is becoming easier than ever to buy a new pair of shoes, a great book, or even a complete living room set with just a few quick taps on the touchscreen.