The growth of online shopping has been exponential. And even though it has a lot of advantages over shopping at brick-and-mortar stores, online shopping also comes with a number of risks. Therefore, as you search the Internet for the best deals, it is important that you make a Virtual Private Network your online companion to ensure that you’re protected against online threats including theft and fraud.
In this article, we look into the most effective ways of using a VPN to ensure you get the best deals and maintain your privacy and security while shopping online.
Why shop using a VPN?
A VPN serves as a secure tunnel between the online stores and your device. Websites profile visitors using their physical IP address, which is typically assigned to Internet users by their Internet Service Providers (ISPs). A VPN disguises your actual IP address (and, therefore, your real physical location) by assigning you the IP address of the VPN server with which you connect to the Internet.
For example, if you’re shopping online from the UK and connect to the Internet using a VPN server that is located in the US, you’ll be able to access the versions of shopping websites that are unavailable to users outside the US.
In addition to that, a VPN encrypts all your online data. As a result, in case you’re accessing the Internet through a Wi-Fi hotspot at a coffee shop, airport, etc., your connection will be secure enough for you to carry out transactions with online vendors without having to worry about bad actors stealing your sensitive financial information, such as your credit card numbers and login details for your accounts from websites such as banks that offer online financial services.
Discriminatory pricing structures online
Many online businesses offer their products or services at varying prices depending on the location of an online shopper visiting the website. In fact, other information about how you can affect the price at which an online business offers a product or service to you.
Location, however, plays the biggest role in online prices, with online shoppers from affluent regions or countries often being charged higher for the same product or service. This method of determining prices is referred to as “dynamic pricing”, and it has become increasingly popular among online retailers. In addition to location, another factor that is known to affect the dynamic price is the device used by an online shopper to access the website.
With a VPN, you can disguise your location and check the prices offered in different regions then choose the best price to get the best deal. This is in addition to ensuring that the connection you’re using to shop is secure and private. Admittedly, using a VPN adds one step to the process and is, therefore, less convenient. However, the savings you can make as a result are worth the additional effort.
Using a VPN to save money at online stores
Next, open a new “private browsing” or “incognito” browser window and open the website of the online retailer at which you want to shop and make note of the prices, to find out what prices are offered at a different location. Close the window, clear cookies, connect to a VPN server in the new location, and open the retailer’s website again.
There are no hard and fast rules for identifying the best prices. Nonetheless, there will probably be noticeable changes depending on the location from which you’re accessing the retailer’s website. Before committing to any particular deal, be sure to peruse the terms and conditions on the website to learn its policy on making purchases from a virtual location.
Using a VPN to save money on flights and hotel stays
Using a VPN is extremely useful when it comes to purchasing time-sensitive services such as flights and hotel stays. Airline websites are especially notorious for charging users higher prices for flights that they book most often. Therefore, to get the best deal on your flights, it’s important to be very thorough in your initial search.
The first step is finding out the prices offered from different locations using your VPN. Compare the airfares and identify the location from which you can get the best deal. As noted in the previous section, the rules for determining airfares are not clear cut so there will be an element of luck in your search for the best prices.
Nonetheless, the airfares at more affluent regions and larger cities tend to be higher, so it’s a good idea to select some smaller countries in your initial searches. To determine whether the prices are actually cheaper in those locations, use Google’s built-in exchange rate calculator. Take into account the fact that taxes aren’t always included so confirm that the entire amount is displayed before settling on a deal.
The same process works when looking for deals at hotels, since most hotel websites use a visitor’s IP address to determine the rates for accommodation. A VPN can help you trick the hotel sites into offering you great rates that are otherwise unavailable for users in your area. In most cases, the rates will be cheaper for server locations near the hotel because hotels typically offer cheaper rates to locals than they do for tourists.
Additionally, by avoiding to book your reservation too far in advance, you can get better rates for accommodation. One study revealed that you get the best rates when you book room reservations 21-28 days in before the day you plan to travel.
Additional tips for using a VPN to save money when shopping online
Previously, it was generally believed that the best day to book a flight in order to get the cheapest airfare was Tuesday. It has since changed after a new study revealed Sunday to be the best day. The most expensive day is Friday. Being flexible with your travel days helps because you can change the day if you find that the flight is cheaper on the weekday, for instance.
Another great trick for saving money on your online shopping is by adding items to your shopping cart and leaving them there for a day or two. It has been reported that many large online retailers will typically send online customers coupons to encourage them to buy the product in their shopping cart.
Again, it is important to note that there are no guarantees that these tricks will work. They are, however, worth trying because they work often enough, and you have nothing to lose.
Confirming that your VPN is working
Even though using a VPN service is a straightforward process, it’s only useful as long as there are no problems with the VPN connection. A surefire way of confirming that your VPN is working is by checking your IP address to see whether it displays the location you selected on the VPN client.
It is also important that you use a VPN service from a well-established provider that offers high-quality services and neat features—such as DNS leak protection and a kill switch—which ensure that your identity and real location don’t leak in case the VPN connection drops.
Keep your personal information secure and private with a VPN
The benefits of online shopping are undeniable: one-click checkout, an easy comparison of different retailers, browsing multiple products, etc. It comes with some risks though, among which is the risk of identity theft. The risk of your credit card number being stolen online is real.
Thankfully, there are measures you can take to keep your accounts safe without sacrificing your freedom and convenience too much. These precautions include only browsing encrypted websites (that use the HTTPS protocol), setting up two-factor authentication (2FA) for supported accounts, and using a unique, strong password for every account.
These measures will reduce the likelihood of you becoming a victim of cybercrime. Of course, none of them is as effective as using a VPN to secure your connection as you shop online.