See My Tips For Online Shopping

Category: Shopping

Every online shopper loves a bargain, but how can you tell when you really have one? The games that sellers play with prices are as old as commerce itself. Bargain-hunting is particularly confusing online, where prices from all over the world are available. And do you know how to spot a fake review? Here are some tips for sorting bogus bargains from trustworthy transactions, and some tools to help you find the best prices online...

"Only Suckers Pay List Price"

My first shopping tip, whether it's online or in a store, is to ignore “list prices,” “retail prices,” “MSRP,” and anything else that purports to be the standard price that only suckers pay. Once upon a time, “list price” meant something; but now it's just a number that sellers pull out of thin air to make their actual, everyday selling prices look good.

Many shoppers compare online prices (plus shipping cost, if any) to what brick-and-mortar stores charge (plus sales tax). Too often, they ignore the cost of going to and from a store: gas, vehicle depreciation, and the value of one’s time. The main value of inspecting goods in person lies in subjective evaluations of quality. “Showrooming,” the practice of shopping in stores and then buying online at lower prices, is the bane of retailers’ existence. (Here's an interesting video which discusses the ethics of visiting a retail store to inquire about an item you know in advance you'll purchase elsewhere.)

Store prices may well be lower than online prices now and then, particularly when you are shopping for mass market items at a mass marketer. Walmart in-store prices are generally lower for the same products than the prices of Amazon Marketplace sellers, who are mostly small businesses with small purchasing power. I believe it's important to support local merchants and small businesses, as they provide jobs for many in the community. I don't mind paying a bit more for certain items, when I'm shopping on Main Street in my home town.

How to find the best prices online

Price comparison services like Google Shopping seem ideal for bargain hunters. But sellers pay a fee or percentage of each sale for referrals from such sites, and that cost is likely factored into the price you pay. Comparison sites may not show you the lowest price first, instead filling the first search results page with sellers who pay the highest referral fees.

Whenever you see a comparison site offering a freebie if you buy through it, you can be sure you’re paying for that gift in the form of higher prices for goods. That doesn't mean you shouldn't use price comparison sites -- just keep your eyes open and shop around. Bizrate and Pricegrabber can be helpful tools, epscially if you're shopping for a high-ticket item.

Smoke and Mirrors?

Did you know that about 50% of all online purchases are handled by Amazon? Of course, there are alternatives. My article Jet and Other Alternatives to Amazon Shopping provides links to some of them. I do shop at Amazon, but I have to admit I'm a litle concerned about the concentration of that much power in one company.

You may have heard that Amazon sometimes shows different prices for the same product to different shoppers, based on factors such as the shopper’s location, search history, and Prime membership. An item might be priced at $10 plus $4 shipping for non-Prime shoppers, and $14 plus “free” shipping for Prime members.

When I shop for the lowest price (which may not always be your top priority), I often start at eBay or another auction site. I want to know what bidders have actually paid for a product, so I look at “sold” completed listings. If I can find a price elsewhere that’s comparable to the lowest winning bid on eBay, I’m pretty sure I have a good deal.

Of course, there’s an old saying among auction losers: “The winner of an auction is the one who pays more than anyone else thinks something is worth, for something the seller didn’t think was worth keeping.” But that’s just sour grapes, right?

Bonus Tips for Online Shoppers

TIP #1: Various tools are available to help you find lower prices when shopping online. See my article on Money Savers For Online Shoppers. One that I use often is WikiBuy, which automatically activates when you're browsing, and shops around for the seller with the lowest price and best discount codes. Recently I was about to make a purchase on Amazon, and Wikibuy pointed me to an Ebay seller that had the same item at a much lower price.

TIP #2: Online reviews can be helpful, but sometimes they're bogus. See Can You Spot A Fake Product Review? For tips on how to read product reviews.

TIP #3: Have you seen the commercials where people brag about how they bought a 55-inch HDTV for $30? See my article Penny Auctions: Scam or Legit? to see why these "Penny Auction" sites are to be avoided.

What's your strategy when going shopping online? Do you always head for the same website, or do you employ online tools to compare prices? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "See My Tips For Online Shopping"

Posted by:

Karl Gregg
24 Jun 2019

can be helpful tools, epscially if you're shopping for a high-ticket item.


Posted by:

24 Jun 2019

I've decided it's hardly worth worrying about who has the lowest price. If I think the price is acceptable, I take it. Of course, there are also the sellers who don't ship to Canada which is something I don't understand. What's so difficult about going to the post office and putting a little sticker on the parcel?

Posted by:

24 Jun 2019

In the comparison of Brick-and-Mortar to online shopping, the lack of a full product description, especially a higher ticket product, will usually push me to buy from a brick-and-mortar. When a seller isn't willing to dedicate a few microseconds (or even seconds) to their online sales effort for the product, my experience is that they will never support the customer after the sale - should an issue arise.

And, the cost of time and gas to visit a brick-and-mortar should be weighed against the value of bringing the product home and enjoying it today - without paying shipping.

Posted by:

24 Jun 2019

Bob, am somewhat surprised that you didn't discuss the Honey program for finding the lowest price.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I mentioned Honey (and Wikibuy and Camelizer) in the page I linked at the end of this article.

Posted by:

24 Jun 2019

My experience with big ticket electronics is that the manufacturer sets the price, so the price variance among reputable retailers is usually negligible.

With big ticket items, I do not feel the need to always go with the lowest price. While price is important, there are other considerations, including customer service related concerns such as delivery options, post-purchase support, return policies, and so forth. These all count for something and are worth a few extra dollars.

I live in a city and have plenty of brick and mortar stores so close by that it’s not an inconvenience to visit. In fact, I enjoy visiting some of these stores. I find that they are usually willing to price match. I have never had a price match request denied at my local Best Buy or Fry’s Electronics, for example. Best Buy has been good about price matching within the return period, as well. No questions asked.

All that said, I also shop Amazon frequency. I am a Prime member, and I won’t quibble over a few dollars for the convenience it offers. Most of my purchases arrive the next day. Returns (I’ve had two over the years) have been totally hassle-free, as well.

Posted by:

24 Jun 2019

I've come to realize that prices are pretty much fixed now - for example electronics, movie discs, appliances, et al. Since there are fewer manufacturers, due to consolidations, and 'legal' rights they have to set their prices - yes they have that - they have wiped out the true value of the product. For example, TV's one way the manufacturer set the price, by store, is the model number. For kitchen appliances, there are few manufacturers now. Even fewer for DVD/Blue Ray movie discs; [name brand] clothes.

So, my strategy for online shopping is to go to some stores that would sell what I'm looking for before using a 'shopping bot'. And guess what, at least half the time, I can find a slightly lower price than Amazon. If I don't need it in a day or two, which is 99% of the time, I use the other store.

Posted by:

Jonathan Skrine
24 Jun 2019

Just one bit of additional information that is opposite to what one would think.- If something goes wrong with an ebay purchase it is a LOT easier to get a refund from a China based seller than a UK based seller (I'm in the UK).

Another point is (having step-kids, grand-kids and numerous aunts, uncles etc. in the USA, all needing pressies) is why do Americans put up with such appalling delivery services? Days on Amazon Prime (UK 99% next day from UK warehouses), parcels left all over the garden ($100s purchase price) and little LAW to protect buyers. OK so everything over here costs more but we do actually get things next day, including Sundays.

Personally I have never bought anything through a 'price comparison' site as I've always found better prices and/or combination of price and service elsewhere.

Yes, we are on a fixed income and not ashamed of being 'frugal'. My Nan was North Wales Welsh and she made the Scots look like spendthrifts.

Posted by:

24 Jun 2019

With me, buying clothes online will always be "iffy". Shoes especially is something I need to actually try on. Yes, there are returns available (must admit Amazon does well in that department) but why go through the hassle. Just go to the store and try stuff on.

Do price comparison online as well. Although sometimes the more expensive store item is well worth the extra money in the end. Plus it supports your local merchant.

Posted by:

Bill C
24 Jun 2019

Am I the only one? I window shop on line and then go to the brick and mortar to actually buy ( if available where I live ).

I just like the experience of talking to a salesperson who, hopefully, knows about the product and can answer my questions.

Posted by:

Emily Booth
24 Jun 2019

I recently had a very negative experience with a phishing shopping website I found via google shopping. My credit card was cancelled and reissued with a new account number which took 10 days. It was time consuming gathering all of the documentation, writing a letter describing the chain of events and driving to the bank to have them fax the paperwork to their out of state office for the credit card dispute. BTW, I won.

For online shopping, I am sticking with Amazon, major department stores and eBay.

Ebay has its own problems with defective goods or goods not as described. eBay has changed their return policies which makes refunds easier.

I still shop for clothes in person. I try them on at the store. Fabrics, knits, colors and prints can look different on a computer. Sizes can vary, too.

Posted by:

24 Jun 2019

I chuckle when an eBay purchased item arrives in an Amazon packaging and most times cheaper by a few percentage points. Otherwise and like BillC, I try to shop locally, even if it means that I have to pay an extra few percentage points.
Despite all of the negative reviews, I have become addicted to as the wide variety of available (hardware) products is comprehensive. Especially, if you are a tinkerer. Sadly, most of the products are from Chinese slave labor, below cost, with no concern for the environment or a fair/healthy marketplace.

Posted by:

25 Jun 2019

I don't understand how Amazon can vary their prices on a particular item based on Prime membership or other customer data. The prices are shown while you are shopping, before you log-in to order, so how do they know that information about you until after you log-in and it is too late to change a price? Do they do this by having a list, gleaned from previous orders, of all the IP addresses that are Prime members? If that is the case, then it might be worthwhile to convert to a variable DNS, which I think Bob may have written about some time back.

Posted by:

Carol Y
25 Jun 2019

I shop a lot on Amazon and switched from Camelizer to Keepa. Also, Firefox has a Price Tracker that can be a button in the browser bar, which looks for price drops on Amazon, Best Buy, Home Depot, and Walmart.

Posted by:

25 Jun 2019

You did not factor in the costs for returning an item. The postage as well as the time and effort to go to the post-office or UPS store.

Posted by:

19 Jul 2019

Patience used to be one of the primary virtues we were taught.

But with "next day delivery", patience is just another silly idea tossed on the scrap heap of history.

Adults have regressed back into the children they used to be. "I want my ice cream NOW!!!!!!!"

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