Some people love shopping. Maybe it’s the thrill of the hunt for that perfect item, or the excitement of scoring a great deal – but some people are born to shop. I, on the other hand, am not one of those people. Sure, I enjoy going to the mall every now and then – mainly just for the ‘people watching’. But I would much rather do my shopping from the comfort of my own home and never question if I am choosing the right product, or getting the best deal. Online shopping is just one more way I make technology work for me, and I’m going to share a few tips with you. I’m sure you are familiar with some of these, and there are always new sites and tools becoming available – so please share your tips as well.
First of all, I have to come right out of the gate and say that if you are looking for a good place to compare thousands (if not millions) of products with competitive pricing - Amazon.com should be your first (and possibly only) stop. Some people think of Amazon as only a book store, but it has evolved into much more. Amazon is now the largest online retailer in the world, and provides access to everything from candy bars to furniture. Many of the products are supplied by and shipped directly from Amazon, but there are also many merchants who offer their products via the Amazon Marketplace which results in highly competitive pricing. Of course, Amazon holds these merchants responsible for conducting business honestly and professionally, which protects shoppers from being tricked into buying knock offs and replicas without recourse. Amazon also features more consumer reviews than just about any other site you might find, and although some of the reviews are worthless, because there are more reviews, you are usually able to get a pretty good feel for the average public opinion of the product. The merchants also get feedback which results in star ratings much like eBay. Overall, Amazon.com is pretty much a one stop shop.
Amazon.com is a great place to find products online, but if you are like me sometimes you just can’t wait a whole 3-5 business days for your new toy to be shipped across the world to you. This is where Google Shopping comes in handy. With Google Shopping, you still have access to pricing and reviews from thousands of merchants, but you can also use the ‘Show Only In Stock Nearby’ filter to find local pricing and availability so you can find the best price on the item you want, and go pick it up the same day. You can even view the results and prices on a Google map to find the closest location to you. Some merchants will even allow you to pay online to ensure your product is waiting for you and ready to be picked up. One downside to Google Shopping is that the merchants don’t answer to Google (unless they are a Google Trusted Store), so you have to be more careful about who you do business with. Google Shopping is actually search driven, the merchants don’t necessarily pay Google to advertise their products – the results that are displayed to you are all based on a standard web search, the results are just customized to make it a more user friendly experience for shopping. Now you can create ‘Shortlists‘ which allow you to shop online with friends, or view catalogs online, plus Google is always adding new features so be sure to check out Google Shopping.
Another great site that is very well known, but still worth mentioning is Craigslist.com which has been around since 1995, and continues to maintain is popularity – in part because of it’s simplicity. Craigslist is much like an interactive version of a classified ad section in a newspaper. It’s not a fancy site with a bunch of web 2.0 bling, it’s very basic which makes it very simple. You will be amazed at what you can find on Craigslist for cheap, or sometimes even FREE – but there are also plenty of things you probably don’t want at all. Be very careful of any electronics, especially cell phones and other devices that require activation – if these devices are stolen, you may not be able to activate them or you could potentially be held responsible for possessing stolen property. Always use extreme caution when interacting with others on Craigslist. Never give someone your address, always insist on meeting in public. Never take large amounts of cash with you to meet, ask if they will take a check or meet at a bank where you can get cash in a secure location after you have inspected the product. As long as you are careful, and use common sense, you can find great deals on hidden treasures all day every day on Craigslist.
Another oldie-but-goodie is eBay. Most people are familiar with eBay, and many have either bought and/or sold products at one time or another. Because it is so well known, I won’t get into it too much – but eBay offers many of the same features of the other online retailers, but the main differences are the ability to bid in product auctions, and the fact that you may be buying from a large corporation in California, or from an individual seller in China. Businesses use eBay to reach a larger market, and individuals use it because it is easy. eBay is always a good place to look for obscure or rare items that you might not be able to find in a retail store.
Most of the sites I’ve mentioned so far carry all types of products, but if you are after a specific type of product, a specialty store may be the best place to look. For example, if you are looking for electronics or computers and accessories, Newegg.com and Tigerdirect.com have some of the most competitive prices, as well as the most product reviews. If you are looking for musical equipment, MusiciansFriend.com is a great resource and they generally have the same products and prices as Guitar Center, so you might be able to pick up the items in a local store once you have decided what you want. Remember, you don’t necessarily have to buy from these online stores – but you can still use them to compare products, check out consumer reviews, and find the best prices.
For those times when you are out shopping and come across what seems like a great deal on a product that you haven’t done much research on, there are tons of apps for your smartphone that can help you gather all the details you need to know if the deal is as good as it looks, or too good to be true. For example, the Amazon Price Check app is available for iOS and Android devices, and allows you to quickly pull up details, reviews, and pricing on specific products by simply scanning their bar code. This is also great for quickly comparing multiple products when you are at the store with only your mobile device.
Amazon Price Check
Recently, a new type of shopping has been gaining popularity. It’s generally referred to as ‘Daily Deals‘, and it is basically when online retailers offer a ‘product of the day’ at a ridiculously low price in an attempt to sell a large quantity all at once. Sometimes you can find great deals, but other times you might find yourself pulling out your credit card to pay for something you have no use for just because it is a great deal. Some of the more popular daily deal sites are Woot.com, Moolala.com, and DailyDeals.com, but this trend is starting to pop up everywhere including many of the previously mentioned shopping sites like Amazon, eBay, and Google. You will also notice that many of these sites have ‘local’ deals that are only available in specific markets.
Another shopping trend that is as popular online as it is in retail stores is coupons. Coupons have been around for ages, and are basically a way for manufacturers and retailers to get you to spend money by saving money. In other words, they are counting on the fact that you will buy something you might not normally buy just because you can get 10% off or similar. In most cases this works out for everyone because the consumer feels like they got a good deal, and the seller is able to make a sale with only a minor reduction in profit margin which is often reimbursed by the manufacturers. Obvious facts aside, coupons are extremely popular and are very easy to find online. However, as always, you must be cautious of any coupons, especially those found online. Sometimes the coupons are counterfeit, or require registration to some type of mailing list that you want nothing to do with or similar. Be careful of these types of coupons, and as a general rule of thumb you should never enter your email address or any other personal details on any site you are not familiar with and comfortable receiving dozens of emails from each month. Groupon.com is a decent site where you can subscribe to emails about coupons for products or services in your area. RetailMeNot.com is a great site for finding coupon and promotional codes for many online stores – I recommend checking this site before you complete your checkout on any online store, you might find a coupon code for FREE shipping or other discounts. You can also simply search on Google.com for ‘coupon code’ or ‘promo code’ along with the name of the site you are on and you might find some good ones. For example, try searching for ‘Best Buy Coupon Code‘ and see what you find.
One thing I’ve mentioned several times already is online reviews. Some people have mixed feelings about online reviews, and for good reason – the simple fact is that many (if not most) of them are fake. Time Magazine published an article about this very subject. Although it is true that many online reviews are fake, not all of them are – and the ratio of fake to real reviews varies greatly depending on the site you are using. For example, a large portion of the reviews on Amazon.com are fake, as discussed in this article in Forbes magazine. However, because there is such a large number of reviews, it tends to balance out the fake ones. If a product only has a handful of reviews, the best you can do is read them carefully and use your best judgement to try and determine if they are legitimate. However, if there are thousands of reviews, it is fairly safe to assume that at-least half of them are real – so if the product has a ‘score’ of 50% or higher (3+ stars), you should be safe. Always read as many of the reviews as you can, and learn to spot the fakes.
Don’t forget that many retail stores like Walmart offer price match guarantees which means if you bring them an ad for a product at a lower price than they currently offer, they will match the price right there at the register. Sometimes they will even let you show them the price on your mobile device so you can use some of the sites listed above to find the best price and request that they match it. Also utilize the ‘site to store‘ feature from Walmart and other retailers where you can order products online, and then pick up in a store – often on the same day. This often eliminates the shipping costs, and allows you to get your products faster.
Bonus Tip: Anyone who travels often, or has ever vacationed on a budget knows about all of the travel sites that allow you to compare and consolidate pricing for hotels, airfare, and rental cars from numerous websites at once. Some of the more popular ones are Kayak.com, Expedia.com, Hotwire.com, and there are even sites where you can ‘Name Your Own Price‘ like Priceline.com. But hidden deep within the sub-menus of Microsoft’s Bing search engine is a very handy tool called the ‘Price Predictor’. Bing Travel lets you compare multiple travel sites at once just like the rest, but their secret weapon is their Price Predictor which also helps you determine when the best time to travel will be, and when the best time to book will be based on current trends. This is a great way to save money on your flight, so you have more to spend on your trip.
Obviously online shopping is the future, and it won’t be long before online mega stores put all of the small local establishments out of business. This is a sad reality, but luckily many small businesses are beginning to realize that there is no future for them without an online presence, and this creates even more options for online shoppers across the globe. As always, be sure to protect yourself online, and if you would like to learn about more ways you can save money online, contact me for a consultation.