It's the Holidays: Ready, Set, Shop!

The following post comes from the Military Saves blog. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter!

By Luanne Kadlub, Communications Specialist, Better Business Bureau Serving Northern Colorado and Wyoming

Holiday shopping begins earlier and earlier every year, especially now that many use smartphones and tablets to get the job done. According to the National Retail Federation, the average consumer completed 44 percent of his or her holiday shopping online in 2014. That number is expected to be even higher in 2015.

As you set out to help Santa by shopping online, keep these tips in mind:

What are the fees? - Prices can vary substantially for the same item from one website to another, especially when you factor in shipping and handling fees – and increasingly restocking fees if the item is returned.

Choose online sellers carefully - Classified ads sometimes offer low prices for some goods, however, there is no protection for transactions between two individuals. Ideally, you will want to complete the transaction in person – and at a safe location – to ensure the item is as advertised.

Research online retailers at bbb.org - BBB has more than 4 million reviews of BBB Accredited and non-accredited businesses in its database. Checking out a business (and reading customer reviews) can help avoid many product and delivery problems. If you’re buying from an online auction site, verify the seller's ratings to gauge other consumers' satisfaction.

Use a safe payment method - Scammers set up phony websites all year around, and even more so during the holidays. Avoid sellers who only accept payment by wire transfer or preloaded cards; instead use either a credit card or established online payment systems.

Go right to the source - Don't click through to links on sites from emails or social media posts. These can lead to lookalike sites that phish for personal information or download malicious software. It’s best to navigate to a trusted retailer by entering the Web address yourself into your browser.

Watch out for knockoffs - The Internet is replete with people selling high-end brands – and high-end knockoffs. If a seller posts a stock image of the item, ask for photos of the item itself, and visit the manufacturer's website to determine if the merchandise is genuine. Counterfeit goods tend to have different stitching, labels and materials than authentic goods.

Look for the "S" - Before entering your credit card number, make sure your browser address window says "HTTPS" and displays a padlock icon, which ensures the site has the necessary precautions to protect your private information. Also, some website address bars are now green in the left-hand corner to indicate an even greater level of security granted through what is called an Extended Validation Certificate.

Terms and conditions – Nobody likes reading fine print but you should do just that to learn information you provide will be used and if it will be shared with a third party. The website should give you the opportunity to opt out of information sharing.