The rise of online shopping has largely been great for consumers. It’s forced stores to remain competitive on price and give more people than ever access to a larger selection — but there’s a tradeoff.
With so many options out there to choose from, it’s likely you’ve thought to yourself “Am I really getting the best deal?”
To help you out, we’ve created an easy guide filled with some tips and tricks on how to get the best bang for your buck, both online and in-store.
When is the right time to buy?
A common source of shopping panic, especially on expensive items, is the fear that whatever you’re going to buy is about to drop in price, which is why I recommend using my secret weapon, CamelCamelCamel.
Here’s how it works: You throw an Amazon.com link into the website’s search bar and it shows you a chart of the item’s price from the date it appeared on Amazon until the moment that you checked. This gives you two important pieces of information: The first is knowing how today’s price stacks up against the price two weeks or two months ago. If the price has just spiked, check back in a week or two, but if the price has recently dropped you know it’s probably a safe time to buy.
The second important piece of information from the chart CamelCamelCamel provides is how long the item has been on sale. If it’s looking a bit long in the tooth, that may mean it’s about to be replaced by something new. On higher-end items, like TVs and computers, a product’s lifecycle is typically one year. The TV above has been listed for almost a year, which means a new model is probably right around the corner.
Armed with this info you can decide whether to wait and buy the “next big thing,” or grab a good deal on last year’s model.
Browse globally, buy locally
There are an infinite number of retailers to buy from online, but I’ve singled out Amazon because it’s the most well known, which means that it’s on the radar screen of every major big box store.
Target, Best Buy, Sears, and Walmart don’t advertise the fact that they price match Amazon, but a quick check on their website reveals that they do. So if you want that smoking hot Amazon deal today, instead of waiting for it to ship, price matching comes in handy. But retailers are strict about price matching, so it’s important to have all your info ready before you head to the store.
First, the in-store item has to exactly match the item’s listing on Amazon. If your store only has a SodaStream in red, and Amazon’s is blue – no dice. The item also has to be sold and shipped new from Amazon, so if a third-party seller has a used version for a third of the retail price, stores won’t match it.
In my experience price matching has worked perfectly: I ask the cashier if they price match Amazon, they ask to see a listing which I already have loaded on my phone, and the price is matched right at the counter. This has saved me a ton of money over the past few years; in some cases, the amount of money I saved was more than the final price of the item.
Refurb and open-box deals are your friends
It’s always nice to buy something new, but that’s not always possible, which is why it’s important to check for open box deals or refurbished deals both online and in-store.
Some retailers make it easier than others to find these deals, but the best rule of thumb is to put “open box” into a store’s search box. Target doesn’t have open box deals, but Walmart, Best Buy, and Sears do. Of those three, only Best Buy puts any available open-box options on an item’s product page. Amazon also has a refurbished section, called “Amazon Warehouse Deals,” and although you have to pay tax on all items sold through it, some of the deals are solid.
If you’re looking for special deals from manufacturers instead of retail stores, Apple, Samsung, and Dell all have some form of clearance or refurbished sections, but how much you’ll save depends on the item. Warranties on open box deals can vary from store to store, but you’ll have better support through these official channels rather than a Craiglist or eBay auction from another civilian.
While it would be impossible for an online shopping guide to be truly definitive — there are too many options, some of which are region specific — taking the steps above should save you some money over the long term. The rise of online shopping has changed a number of the rules for how to buy what you’re after, but considering all your options and having a good plan of attack for finding good deals will make you a more satisfied customer.