Cyber Monday, the kickoff of the online holiday shopping season, is just around the corner. Online-only and brick and mortar retailers will soon flood their websites and mailers with many online-only discounts.
To find the best deals and save the most money, you need to be prepared. The following tips will be a refresher for veteran online shoppers or a great introduction for beginners.
1. Narrow your search by virtual window shopping.
Google Images is a great way to window shop online. Depending on your search terms, you can see hundreds of pictures of the products you might want. However, if you already have a general idea of what you want, but aren’t sold on just one brand, websites like Polyvore or Shopstyle can narrow your search results. I regularly use Shopstyle to search through thousands of store websites in an instant. For example, if you want to find a burgundy handbag under $150, you can narrow your results to only look for those items. Then you can scroll through and find bags that match what you are looking for. The more specific you are in your search criteria, the fewer results you will need to search through.
Once you find the specific item you want, do a more specific search that includes the product brand name and item name, so you can find where it is cheapest. For example, larger brands may sell their products at many different stores, so you might find it cheaper at one department store vs. another. If the item is available at three different department stores, make sure to search for online coupons and figure out shipping costs (see steps 4 and 5) before you make your final purchase.
2. Call your local store after you find it online.
Once you find the item you want, call your local store to check availability. Buying it directly at the store helps you avoid shipping fees and get the item immediately. If the local store doesn’t have the item in stock, they may be able to order the item for you and have it shipped directly to your house or have it available for pick-up in the store. Many stores will waive shipping fees if you order the item directly through the store.
3. Check Amazon and Ebay for lower prices.
Before I buy anything, I always check Amazon and Ebay to make sure they aren’t selling the items for cheaper. Amazon regularly offers free shipping if you spend over a certain dollar amount and use certain sellers. Some Ebay sellers offer free shipping as well, and if you find the item with a “Buy it Now” option, you can purchase the item immediately. If you find the item in an Ebay auction, that may require extra time and patience to see if you can get the item at a better deal, in which case, you may opt not to wait to bid on it.
4. Find online coupon codes for additional savings.
Save even more money by searching online coupon sites like: Ebates, Fatwallet, Slickdeals, or Couponcabin for coupon codes. Retailmenot is my go-to online coupon destination. I never buy anything online without first checking for coupons. Many websites have their own online coupons, but Retailmenot usually has regularly updated coupons for everything from retail clothing stores to restaurants to printing services. You can find online codes that will save you percentages off your total purchase price, dollar amounts off a total purchase, or sometimes other offers like free shipping or free products with specific purchases.
5. Beware of Shipping and Return Fees.
Even if you find an item slightly cheaper at one store, make sure you check shipping fees before you buy. Some stores have very reasonable or free shipping over a certain price point, and others offer free returns. Some stores make you pay for shipping both ways, in which case, you may save more money by shopping at another store. Also, be sure to investigate whether the retailer will allow you to return items directly to the store or if you have to pay to ship items back to the retailer.
Some retailers and online coupon sites have free or discounted shipping tied to your total purchase amount. If the store has an easy (and free) return policy, I sometimes over-spend just to get the free shipping and then return the unwanted items. For example, if I’m buying $80 shoes, but need to spend $100 for free shipping, I’ll add on another item to get me over the $100 mark. Then, I will return the extra item to the store, or ship it back to the retailer if their return shipping is free.
I hope these shopping tips help you to save money and find great deals this holiday season. If you have some tips I didn’t include, I’d love to hear them. I’m always on the hunt for a great deal.