Five online shopping mistakes costing you thousands

Sarah Coles

Shopping online can save you a small fortune - if you're doing it right. However, if we're not aware of the potential pitfalls, there are five daft mistakes we can make when we shop online that can cost us thousands of pounds a year.

See also: The five worst courier delivery fails

See also: Is living online good for our finances?

1. Social media envy
Paying too much heed to other people's fabulous holidays and expensive new purchases on social media can make us feel dissatisfied with our own lives: if we're not careful we can get carried away keeping up. Apparently 11% of people have bought something or booked a holiday as a direct result of something they have seen on social media.

Doing it right: Try not to focus on the luxury, but on the insider tips your friends could be giving you instead. If, for example, they rave about a cheap but fantastic restaurant, ask for the details. If they stay in a brilliant bargain Airbnb, find out the address. Social media can become your own personal catalogue of bargains rather than a wish list of outlandish luxury.

2. Storing your credit card information online
It might make it easy to breeze through purchases, but you don't want it to be too easy - or you'll end up spending more without giving it proper consideration. It also leaves you open to anyone who steals your devices or hacks into your account.

Doing it right: Don't enable autofill on your financial details. Use the extra time it takes to find your debit card to think whether you really need to make a purchase or not.

3. Browsing retail sites
Online shopping leaves cookies, which means when you go online after you have finished shopping, it will tailor the adverts to what you have just searched, and will tempt you to buy more.

Doing it right: The best answer depends on your level of self-control. If you have trouble with temptation, disable cookies before you shop. However, if you are always keen to track down the best bargains, cookies can be your friends. Once you have done an initial search, don't buy immediately: wait for better offers to come through on the adverts - or for the retailer you shopped with to offer you a discount.

4. Signing up for Amazon Prime
You tell yourself that you'll save on delivery charges, but if you're not careful it will just lead to you buying more - as you've convinced yourself it makes Prime a better deal. Apparently Prime members will spend hundreds of pounds a year more on the site than non-members.

Doing it right: If you are already buying enough to make Amazon Prime worthwhile, and you have the self-control not to spend even more after you join, then it makes perfect sense. If you are considering signing up on the grounds you'll spend more in order to make it pay, then take a breath. The cheaper alternative is to make sure that every time you buy, you wait until you have collected enough purchases together to qualify for free delivery. It requires a bit more organisation, but can bring substantial savings.

5. Joining loyalty programmes without a plan
Loyalty schemes are designed to make you spend more, buy things you wouldn't otherwise consider, and waste money.

Doing it right: Bear in mind that loyalty schemes don't offer something for nothing. By all means sign up and collect points on things you can honestly say you would have bought anyway. It's also a good idea to do your research to ensure you're spending your points in the most rewarding way possible - but don't let yourself get carried away with 'collecting points' for a particular goal.