Two-thirds of Americans are buying online, and naturally, many shoppers are looking for the best deals possible. Below are the best tips to make sure you’re getting the absolute lowest price you can.
A bit of patience and research is required. We’re not talking extreme-couponing-level time spent, unless you’re into that. The Web’s favorite stomping grounds for getting the best price are often deal sites, which are basically communities of shoppers sharing the best deals they have found online.
1. Deal sites are a great place to start. Slickdeals has a very popular community, with a front page that features the most popular product sales around the Web, as well as a searchable database. It sways toward gadgets, so you’re unlikely to see a great sale on a dress, purse or cologne.
Woot is the original deal-a-day (or daily deal) website, now owned by Amazon.com. In addition to its main offerings, the site offers a deals tab, where users share products that are currently being offered at a low price. It's less popular than it once was, however, which means its users share fewer deals than those found on other sites.
Deal sites can be pretty addicting, and are generally only a good place to visit if you actually need something. FatWallet is also popular, and offers programs that allow users to earn rewards on their purchases. The programs are pretty nosy, and track users’ purchases and where they’re visiting -- a lot like your grocer does with its store card. DealNews is also excellent, and the site's staff share insights about how much of a deal you're really getting, and also point out which items in a sale are worth checking out.
2. If you don’t need it right away, track the price. If you can wait, price-tracking services can make sure you’re not overpaying on your purchase. CamelCamelCamel is one of the oldest and best price trackers. It keeps track of Amazon.com’s prices, as well as the third-party offerings in its marketplace.
A good example of why it’s great: Say you want to buy “Frozen” on Blu-ray. CamelCamelCamel shows the lowest price that the Disney phenomenon has ever been: As of this writing, it was $19.96. The current price is $26.71, which is close to its highest ever price of $27.99. Enter your desired price along with your email or Twitter handle, and the site alerts you when the price drops to that point. You have to pick a reasonable price if you ever want to get the notification, though -- perhaps $19.99 if you want “Frozen” pretty soon, or $17.99 if you can wait.
The same operation also runs CamelBuy, which attempts to do the same for Best Buy instead of Amazon, but it’s less reliable. For instance, currently no information exists for “Frozen” on Blu-ray. It used to track prices for NewEgg as well, but the site cut it off from the data necessary to do so, which is not cool for shoppers trying to get the best price. PricePinx is a similar service, but it works for much more online retailers.
3. Coupons and discount codes are key. There are a ton of sites out there where users can submit codes that seem to have become bastions of nonworking coupons or direct links to the retailers -- we're looking at you, RetailMeNot. Instead, we prefer sites such as BradsDeals and Rather-Be-Shopping. They are run by humans, who filter through some of the crap, but also have databases for specific stores. Both act as somewhat of a hybrid between the comparison sites and coupon-only sites.
“The best deal is very rarely at the store that has the lowest listed price,” Brad Wilson, CEO of BradsDeals, said. “The best deals tend to have multiple layers of discounts, or coupons.”
For instance, Wilson found KitchenAid mixers (a relatively expensive culinary accessory) for under $100 at Kohl’s. The low price, however, required a lengthy chain of coupon codes and incorporated the retailer’s rebate program. The key to coupons, he says, is having the very best one. “It’s hard to know if you have the best coupon,” he said. “And retailers are not going to always advertise the best price.”
The same store might offer a code for 10 percent off to its email customers, another for 15 percent to its Facebook page, but then 20 percent for users of its mobile app. Effective coupon sites will help you filter the good coupons from the bad.
Rather-Be-Shopping's Kyle James also claims that coupons are key to getting the best deal. He and his wife run a site that offers a list of discount codes as well as printable coupons. The couple also has a fantastic blog they frequently update with information about when to buy, and how to save the most cash. James also warns against being lazy and going with a retailer just because they offer free shipping.
“Nothing in life is free. They may offer free shipping, but don't assume that it’s going to be a good deal,” he said. “Competitors may charge for shipping, but offer a much better price if you have the right coupon.”
4. Use live chat. On huge sale days like Cyber Monday and Black Friday, coupons might be tough to find as retailers offer discounted list prices. But James said that it’s always worth a shot to sign into a retailer’s “live chat” customer support to ask an operator if they can help you make the purchase with a discount code.
One neat trick to getting a better coupon is filling up your shopping cart and then abandoning it. Retailers lose $2 trillion every year on sales that stop at the shopping cart, so they are keen on dealing with their abandonment issues, even if they have to cut their prices to do it.
“It works better with high-end retailers. Place them in the cart, take it all the way to the payment page, and then leave,” James said. “We found about 25 retailers then sent an email with a coupon to help you finish the sale.”
5. Avoid high-interest plastic. Retailers' reward programs and credit card companies often offer cashback on purchases. Be careful with credit card companies -- if you don’t pay the bill in time, they’re going to hit you with interest charges, which these days are well into double digits on most cards.
Comparison shopping is also an important step. Don’t assume you’re getting the best price from your favorite retailer -- check their competitors to make sure.
Have your own tips for getting the best price online? Kindly let us know in the comments below.