12 Tips for Online Holiday Shoppers

Category: Finance

Shopping online for Christmas, Hanukkah (or any time of year) is easy and convenient, but when you use the right tools, you can also save a lot of cash. Here are some money-saving tips for the smart online shopper...

Are You a Smart Online Shopper?

Wish list? Check. Credit card? Check. Okay, before you head off to your favorite online store, are you sure you’ve found the best possible price for the item you’re planning to buy? Have you researched other brands or similar items?

Have you searched for coupons or other discount offers? Are you getting free shipping whenever possible? And are you taking advantage of the power of group buying, and the wisdom of the crowd?

Use my ten simple shopping tips to make sure you’re getting the best deal when you shop online...

TIP #1: Look for rebates and rewards BEFORE you shop. Loyalty programs such as Ebates offer shoppers rebates and other incentives to purchase from stores where they already shop. Ebates offers up to 25% in cash rebates when you shop online at popular stores like Amazon, Best Buy, JCPenney, Kohls, Macy's, Old Navy, Target and 1000 more. Even better, Ebates will pay you $75 when you refer 3 friends via their Tell-A-Friend promotion.

Online Shopping

TIP #2: Use price-comparison sites to find the best deals. Google Shopping is a good place to start. Just type in what you’re seeking, such as "42 inch HDTV" or "cordless drills" and up pops an assortment of vendors. The initial results are displayed sorted by "relevancy" but I recommend that you re-sort them by price from low to high. Bizrate.com is another good tool. It can display prices including shipping to your Zip code, or even limit your search to items that ship for free.

Pricegrabber.com lets you save interesting items as you shop for comparison to others. Pricewatch.com was one of the first price comparison sites, specializing in computers and electronics since 1995. They now list non-tech items as well.

TIP #3: Before you buy, look for coupons that can reduce your final price. RetailMeNot has thousands of digital coupons and discount codes from many well-known and obscure online sellers. A little known trick is to use Google’s search function to find coupon codes buried on blog pages. Just use "coupon" and the name of the brand, merchant, or product that you are seeking as your search term.

TIP #4: An Amazon Prime membership may save you money. If you use Amazon.com frequently, that $99 flat fee gets you unlimited free, 2-day shipping on products delivered by Amazon. If you haven’t been to Amazon lately, it’s no longer just a bookstore. Amazon also offers music, movies, electronics, home & garden, health & beauty, toys, clothing shoes & jewelry, sporting and outdoor goods -- just to name a few categories. Also, take note of the prices offered by Amazon affiliates on both new and used items; they are sometimes lower than Amazon’s price. Amazon is also a great shopping research tool. After searching for the item (or type of item) you’re after, Amazon will help you compare brands, prices, and retailers. You can also see what items and accessories other customers bought.

TIP #5: Patience Pays Off. Speaking of Amazon, here's a cool tip to save money when shopping online: CamelCamelCamel is an Amazon price tracking, research, and alert service that helps users get the best deals on the e-commerce giant. If you don't need to buy right away, this tool can alert you to price drops for items you're watching.

TIP #6: Don’t forget eBay, especially if the item you seek is a staple rather than a fad of the moment. Because it's an auction site, the price you pay items (both new and used) tend to be very reasonable. And if you prefer to skip the drama of a bidding war, look for an item with a "Buy it Now" option. Oh, and here are two eBay Ninja trick that’ll save you money every time. First, start your search at the eBay home page. When you get the list of matching items, refine your search by checking the "Completed listings" box under the "Show Only" header This will tell you what the item has actually sold for in recent eBay sales or auctions. And second, use BidRobot to boost your chances of winning the auction.

TIP #7: Take advantage of group buying power. Group-buying services such as Groupon, LivingSocial are geared mainly towards local, face-to-face merchants. But Groupon has inspired a slew of "daily deal" offers from many online sellers, too. Subscribe to email lists to receive special limited time offers from your favorite stores.

TIP #8: Use social networking to your advantage. Many online sellers want you to follow, friend or "like" them on Twitter and Facebook. If you do, you’ll gain access to coupon codes and special offers. If you find you're getting too many messages from these merchants, you can unfollow or unfriend to stop the flow after you’ve made your purchase.

TIP #9: Got gift cards? Gift cards are a great option when you don't know exactly what to get for someone on your Christmas list. My friend Aaron and his team have created GiftCard Zen, a site where you can buy gift cards at a discount. You can also sell your unwanted gift cards for cash, or check the balance of a gift card you have. GiftCard Zen handles gift cards from hundreds of popular stores. It's a win-win scenario!

TIP #10: Skip the Warranty Are you giving a mobile phone, tablet, computer or TV? Read SCAM ALERT: Mobile Device Insurance and Extended Warranties to find out why these are almost always a waste of money.

TIP #11: Avoid Penny Auctions Have you seen those commercials where people brag about how they bought a $1200 HDTV for $25? See my article Penny Auctions: Scam or Legit? to see why these sites are to be avoided.

TIP #12: The Wisdom of Others It's smart to take advantage of the experience of others, especially when it comes to considering big-ticket purchases. Sites like Amazon and Epinions offer actual consumer experiences and reviews of products. Consumer Reports and PC Magazine are good places to look for professional ratings and reviews.

BONUS TIP: Shop on Mobile (or fake it) Researchers at Northeastern University found that shopping online with your smartphone may yield a lower price than shopping from a desktop computer. I tried a few hotel searches myself, and found that prices were about 10% lower when I did the the exact same search on my phone. So I had an idea… I wondered if changing the UserAgent on my desktop browser would fool these sites into giving me the "mobile discount." And it seems to work. I checked the price for one night at a hotel in Orlando using Chrome on desktop: $145. After changing my UserAgent string to make my desktop browser identify as an iPad, the price showed as $131.

Okay, that was more than twelve tips. But just like the shopping experience, it's always good to under-promise and over-deliver. How do YOU save money when shopping online? Do you have any online shopping tips to share? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "12 Tips for Online Holiday Shoppers"

Posted by:

Dave S
02 Dec 2016

There are tons of tips and these are great.

If anyone has a Kroger near them, buy gift cards before you shop as you get fuel points. I bought a dishwasher a few weeks ago and I bought $600 worth of gift cards for Best Buy. That was worth $1.20 off per gallon at the Krogers that have gas pumps or at Shell stations.

Also, I don't believe epinions.com is good to give people as a site to check for reviews. I was an active reviewer on that site for many years. It was bought by shopping.com which I believe was later bought by eBay years ago; then eBay shut down epinions.com. The site is still there but it's not a reliable place to get reviews.

Perhaps someone can comment on Amazon reviews. I've depended on those reviews for a long time but now I'm hearing that there's tons of bogus reviews...and also I'm seeing an incredible number of reviews of products in which the reviewers were given free products with the understanding they would write a review. I've yet to see one of those reviewers dis a product that was given to them for free.

Posted by:

02 Dec 2016

I would just say don't get too caught up with free shipping - the cost is usually just wrapped up in the cost of the item anyway - compare the total cost, including shipping. And as for Amazon Prime: they got in trouble a couple of years ago for doing exactly this - charging Prime members more for the same items - in many cases, non-Prime members were getting a better deal by reaching the minimum order requirements for free shipping (https://www.consumeraffairs.com/news/lawsuit-alleges-amazon-charges-prime-members-for-free-shipping-031414.html). Granted, Prime has other benefits, but depending on how you shop, I wouldn't just assume that it's the best deal.

Dave S. - Because Amazon usually has SO MANY reviews, I feel that these include a lot of legit ones. Personally, I just look for the details - I sort the reviews by star-rating (I read the lowest reviews first) - I think that you can get a pretty good feel for which ones are legit - "This product is great/sucks!" means pretty much nothing, while a review that gives specific details has much more value. I look for trends in these specific reviews, to try to determine if a poor review is a fluke/user error, or representative of a wide-spread problem/flaw.

Also, if you're an Amazon (or other site) customer, help out your fellow shoppers by writing a review if you can!

Posted by:

02 Dec 2016

Another interesting article.

I read your eBay sniping article you linked to and wondered what my liability would be if a snipe service was hacked.

Don't most, if not all sites require that you not share your password. Could eBay tell if you've used a snipe service and would you be liable for any mayhem done in your name on the site?

I do snipe manually ... it is quite a rush waiting for the 7 second mark!!!

Posted by:

02 Dec 2016

In Amazon Prime you have the option of using free standard delivery instead of free prime 2 day delivery for credit at Prime Pantry. I got a
$5.00 credit on a $12.00 purchase.

Posted by:

02 Dec 2016

Inasmuch as one has to use a credit card in order to make a purchase online, I find it best to use a virtual credit card. My Visa from BankAmerica calls their virtual card "ShopSafe" with a link by that name. Enter the CVC code from the back and the spending limit and you are provided with a one-time use credit card number with which to make your purchase. My MasterCard from AT&T Universal Card has a link to get a virtual card; same principle although there is no spending limit nor CVC number. Virtual cards expire in a month or two, and nobody else can use them. Totally safe. I would probably wager that lots of other cards also offer someone similar.

Posted by:

02 Dec 2016

As you said in tip #10, smart phone insurance is almost always a waste of money. But, some homeowners/renters insurance policies have a rider available that is cheap. I pay $18/year (not per phone, total) which gives me $5000 coverage on my computers and smart phones with a $50 deductible. This is all risk coverage (lost, stolen, falls in the toilet, etc.) although they can deny coverage if it is negligence (i.e., I throw it at someone).

Posted by:

02 Dec 2016

Re Tip #2, shopping by price comparison is fine for commodity items where brand or model is unimportant, but it's a recipe for disappointment on items like your two examples (TVs and power tools).

First, figure out what you need/want. Next, find the top two or three products that satisfy your needs/wants and have reviews you're happy with. Finally, start searching for the lowest price on the specific items that are acceptable.

Posted by:

P Pendergast
02 Dec 2016

I live in the UK so prices shown in dollars are of
no ues to me. Do you provide a UK edition?

Posted by:

Kenneth Heikkila
02 Dec 2016

I always comparison shop at several outlets and I often use Amazon Prime, because unlike what many say the total price with shipping is frequently lower or very little more for the free 2 day shipping and many of the places that might be a couple of bucks lower don't seem to care how long it takes them to fill your order and get it in the mail. Of course there are exceptions and if I can afford to wait I will take advantage of those deals. I have also been taking advantage of the Honey Chrome addon for Amazon that tells you if there is a lower price on the same item.

Posted by:

02 Dec 2016

Per John's reply on 'virtual credit cards'. Discover had the same type of system where you would get a number for one time use. I always used it because it made me feel safer but they discontinued it for some reason 2 or 3 years ago. Never did find out why.

Posted by:

Kenneth H
02 Dec 2016

I just found the User-Agent Switcher addon for Chrome. Haven't verified that it works, but it has good reviews and a ton or easily switchable user agents to select from.

Posted by:

02 Dec 2016

As well as finding the best price sometimes the online stores you use are affiliated with airlines to reward you with extra miles for purchasing through their site. For example I use Newegg.com and Backcountry.com which I access through the American Airlines shopping site (https://www.aadvantageeshopping.com/). You can earn bonus miles per dollar spent IN ADDITION to any miles earned by your credit card. I believe most of the major airlines have similar shopping sites.

Posted by:

02 Dec 2016

Also don't forget YouTube as a great source of product reviews

Posted by:

Lynn Brown
03 Dec 2016

Always ask if they give Military or Senior
discounts. If you do, you may get it. If you
don't ask,you will not get it.

Posted by:

04 Dec 2016

@ P Pendergast; .79 is the preset conversion factor. So if an item listed is $10usd, you would multiply that amount by .79 to get the GBP amount. Check www.kitco.com/market if you doubt me. Left column list currency EXCHANGE RATES.

Posted by:

04 Feb 2019

The advantage is that with this slight twist the deals are some what cheaper than other retailers. With the dawn of internet, shopping trends have seen a colossal evolution in recent times and more and more people are now turning towards online shopping for their daily needs.

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