Holiday Guide: Online shopping offers cozy alternatives

Avoid the cold, stay on the couch, break out the credit card and enter the world of online shopping.

Most brand-name stores this season have a Web site that caters to a busy holiday shopper. Some cyber-shops have free shipping or special offers, which makes shopping at home worth it.

Bluefly.com advertises free shipping until Christmas. The online, outlet store has its own holiday chique section, which can provide ideas for a trendy person who has everything. The site also has sections for birthday gifts, anniversary gifts, gifts for romantics and gifts by designer.

Though some of its selection may be limited, the site says its designer items – from Gucci to Betsy Johnson to Quiksilver – are up to 50 percent off. Cyber-shoppers can also create their own catalog by choosing their favorite designers and indicating their sizes.

To find a gift for a teenage or 20-something girl, try Girlfriendsla.com. The site has lots of platforms, glitter and cozy sweaters – even though the pictures are hard to see. Delias.com has plenty of gift options that aren’t clothes. The site sells comforters, pillows, lamps, rugs and lots of other items which don’t require knowing what size the person takes.

Gap.com and Bananarepublic.com offer free shipping for orders that are more than $100. Gap.com offers many warm and fuzzy items that will keep anyone protected from the cold.

Bananarepublic.com even offers a pair of cashmere socks for less than $50 – though not many gifts are in this price range. This site loads fast and allows the cyber-shopper to shop by indicating what type of look they want. For a dressier holiday look, just click the arrow, and the computer does the mixing and matching.

Jcrew.com has merchandise that is easy to see. By clicking on a pair of shoes, the site enlarges them enough to see every stitch.

When shopping for the kiddies, Toysrus.com has some special deals. If you don’t need the gift by Christmas, the site will ship for free and knock $10 off an order of $50 or more – but deliver it in January.

Internet shopping is easy and convenient, but consumer groups warn cyber-shoppers to be aware of scams. The National Consumers League Web site (www.fraud.org) offers the following tips for the holiday-season Internet shoppers:

– Do business with familiar and trustworthy companies. Check with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) to see if the company has complaints filed against them.

– Find out where the company’s offices are located. If the company is outside the United States, it may be more difficult to resolve problems.

– Print out information about shipping time. Online purchases are covered by the federal and mail-order rule, which requires goods to be delivered by the promised time. If no delivery time is promised, it must be delivered within 30 days.

– Find out whether the Web site offers a cancellation or return policy and see if the site has a warranty or service plan.

Pay by credit card, because if the merchandise is misrepresented or never arrives the charges can be disputed. Be wary of phony credit card or loan offers – these usually involve paying a fee up-front.

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