Are you stressed because Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone and you haven’t even begun to shop? Don’t worry! There is still plenty of time to shop online for the holidays and you don’t need gimmicky sales to snag some great deals while you’re at it. I have increasingly turned to online shopping to find the best price on quality products that I can’t get in nearby stores. It takes a lot of stress out of the shopping experience when I can sit at the computer in my pajamas with a cup of tea, make my purchases any time day or night, and then just wait for them to arrive on the doorstep.
Santa drives a delivery truck!
My online savings formula can be summed up as follows:
sales + coupon codes + rebates = big savings
I’m going to walk you through the steps I use each and every time I shop online to find what I want for less. Use these tips to save big year round, whether you’re shopping for gifts or just the things you need.
1. Know exactly what you’re shopping for
If you take to a search engine or shopping website with vague queries such as “winter jacket” or “dolls”, expect to be overwhelmed very quickly. Before I begin to shop, I make a list of the specific items I am looking for, right down to the brand and product name whenever possible. My initial ideas come from store shelves, catalogs, websites and word of mouth. I familiarize myself with the regular retail prices so I will know a good deal if I see it. I search online for product reviews to help make a final decision and ensure that my purchases will be worth the money. It pays to plan gift lists well in advance so you have plenty of time to research the items and monitor prices before you take the plunge.
2. Pay attention to sales
I save my coupons to combine with sales when I shop in brick-and-mortar stores, and the same holds true when I shop online. Whenever possible, I hold off on making purchases until there is a good sale. I follow a few of my favorite stores through email or Facebook, and others send me flyers in the mail that let me know when prices are going to drop. If I need something like clothing and don’t have specific preferences, I log on to the websites of my favorite stores and head straight to their clearance or sale sections. I buy almost all of my son’s clothing that way, including a wonderful Land’s End parka that has lasted him two winters and cost me just $18.00.
3. Check prices on comparison websites
Don’t assume that popular websites such as Amazon.com or eBay will automatically net you the greatest discounts. Sometimes they will, sometimes they won’t. Don’t assume that the great sale you heard about is the deepest discount available. Keep an open mind and look everywhere. I’ve seen some amazing bargains where I wouldn’t expect them, like on higher-end websites such as Bloomingdales and Serena & Lily. How do you sift through the thousands of retailers that carry the item you’re looking for? Price comparison websites allow you to type in a product name and see a list of prices for the same item. They often include tax and shipping charges so you can see the full cost, and many offer vendor reviews to help you make sure you’re purchasing from a reputable website. Some of the best price comparison websites that I use frequently are Google Products and BizRate.
An example of price comparison with a Google Product search
4. Find coupon codes or promo codes
Once you’ve found a few websites offering great prices on the item you’re shopping for, search for coupon or promo codes to lower the price even more. Retailers release codes that will give you a percent or dollar amount discount, or free or discounted shipping. If there’s a spot for a coupon code on the checkout page, I don’t complete my transaction until I’ve looked for a coupon code to use. Where do you find the codes? If it’s a favorite retailer that you already follow, you may receive them in your email inbox or see them posted on Facebook. There are also a variety of websites that aggregate promo codes into a searchable database; RetailMeNot and Coupon Cabin are two of my favorites. Simply enter the website name into the search box on such websites and available coupon codes or special discount links will be listed. Some websites, like Kohls.com, allow you to stack more than one coupon code, so you can enjoy a discount and perhaps free shipping.
An example of a coupon code search on RetailMeNot.com
5. Get cash back from a rebate website
I’m not a big fan of mail in rebates because they require extra time and organizational skills that elude me. However, online rebate programs are almost completely automated and simple to use. My favorite rebate website is Ebates.com. I’ve been using it since 2010 and have enjoyed a little bit of cash back on purchases that I needed to make anyway. It’s completely free to use and very easy. You need to start by registering on their site and logging in. Once I have found the best price on an item, I head back to the Ebates website to search for the website I want to purchase from. Ebates is affiliated with thousands of companies, so chances are good that you can get some cash back. The percentage varies depending on the vendor, and there are often promotions such as double cash back. As an added bonus, Ebates also lists coupon codes for most vendors, so you can complete two steps on one site. In order to ensure that you receive your cashback on your purchase, you must click the “shop now” link for the store of your choice on the Ebates website. You will see a redirection webpage confirming that Ebates is taking you to the vendor website and that you will receive cashback for your purchase. If you had already added items to your shopping cart on the site you have clicked to, they will still be there and you will get your cash back after you complete the purchase. Please note that I do not factor my rebates into the purchase price, but rather view them as “icing on the cake”. Since I won’t get my rebate money immediately, I always look for the lowest out-of-pocket price to determine where I shop–I don’t like to rely on future funds.
You should see a transition page like this one when you shop through Ebates.com
Before you make your final purchase decision, make sure you factor in the total cost. Proceed through the checkout process until you see a grand total including any sales tax and shipping costs. Shipping that isn’t free can be a deal breaker if it’s too pricey, but sometimes the cost is low enough that you’re still paying less than retail. Once you’ve found a great price that you’re happy with, complete the transaction before it goes out of stock (I’ve missed out on many a deal by hemming and hawing about it), then sit back and wait for the delivery truck to bring it to your door.
Many shoppers are under the misconception that shopping online is automatically cheaper. That’s not always the case, but with a little bit of extra effort and know-how you can beat regular retail prices most of the time. Enjoy your savings!
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