Last-minute deals and free shipping are leading many people to shop online this holiday season -- even if those gifts won't be arriving in time for Christmas.
Of course shopping online isn't without its hazards. Shoppers rarely read click-through agreements which are legally binding, and may fail to read the fine print about shipping or availability. But in general you can get everything on your list without having to set foot in a store.
Still, there are some gifts you should only buy in person, if at all possible. Because of the potential risks to consumers, here are a few items you generally shouldn't purchase online:
Clothing. Size and style are personal, so buying clothes for someone is always tricky. If you do it, make sure you see the items before you buy them. An online photo won't show you how the fabric feels, what kind of care it needs, or the quality of construction.
Living creatures. Pets and other living things can be bought online, but you may want to think twice. The item will have to be shipped, and shipping methods can be dangerous and potentially cruel. If you buy a pet as a gift, buy it at a store. And only do it if you know the person wants a pet and can care for it.
Unbelievable deals on brand-name goods. Coming across an amazing deal on high-end goods seems awesome, but if the price is too good to be true then there's probably a reason. Online sellers that offer dirt-cheap brand-name items generally got them through questionable sources, or are selling knock-offs.
Exact color items. Your computer monitor often isn't a true reflection of the color of an item. If you're trying to match a specific color or find a particular shade, then you're better off judging the match with your own eyes in person. Even if the seller isn't trying to mislead you, the color on the screen may be off.
Non-returnable goods. When buying a gift, it's good to make sure the recipient can return it in case he or she don't love it as much as you do. This is especially important for online purchases, for which you can't verify that the item is what you expect to buy. You could contact a lawyer and bring a case for false advertising, but it will be much easier if you can send it back and get a refund.