Personal Finance 

How to Be a Smarter Online Shopper

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Best BuyWhen you do something a lot you start to settle into a rhythm. When it comes to buying things online, I use the same process over and over again. I usually do a quick Google search to see what the lowest possible price is on the item, with a bias towards vendors I’ve heard of before. It doesn’t have to be Amazon or someone huge but they need to have a little name recognition. Then I start looking around for coupons or cash back programs, like Fatwallet’s Fat Cash or Ebates. For coupons, I usually do a Google search and land on a site like RetailMeNot or some other coupon list. They’re usually not going to have anything better than the standard coupons the vendor has ($5 off $50, free shipping, stuff like that) but it’s better than nothing.

If I think it’s a decent price, I’ll pull the trigger. If it’s not “good enough,” which is entirely subjective, I’ll just put it on the list of “things I need” and wait until I see some kind of deal that matches up. If I’m willing to wait 3-4 days to get something, chances are I can wait even longer. 🙂

With that process pretty much etched in stone, it was fun to read some stats about what other people do and I tried to build a list of tips on how to be a better online shopper. Here’s the list of shopping statistics (plus slick infographic), courtesy of Ziff Davis’ LogicBuy, from which I drew inspiration.

Buy from Auctions & Deal Sites

90% of consumers buy from retailer sites but only 50% buy from auction sites and daily deal sites. You can save a lot of money if you buy from auction sites like eBay or daily deal sites like Woot or Groupon, you just need to be patient. After moving, we have a list of things our new house needs but very few items are things we need right this second.

For those, we’ve just been patient and waiting for the right deal to come around. For example, we wanted to buy a fire pit for our new house because we really like the fun of sitting around the fire when it’s cool out. It’s 90 degrees out right now and there really isn’t much need for us to buy a fire pit immediately… until we saw one on sale at Lowes.

If it doesn’t have to be brand new, join the 50% of consumer who have purchased a refurb online. We’ve found a lot of luck buying things refurbished and they usually come with a warranty from the manufacturer. I like to think of it this way – a refurbished item means that something in that product is brand new. 🙂

Comparison Shop

Nearly 80% of shoppers comparison shopped on 2-4 sites before buying – I say that’s far too few sites. When I go buy something, I usually rely on Google’s search function to search through a bunch of sites for the best price. I used to use a site like Pricegrabber, since they can calculate shipping too, but I’ve increasingly gone to Google because the number of retailers they search is much higher.

Shipping and return policy can be a big differentiator between two different vendors. I’ve seen a great low price on an item only for the purchase to be derailed because shipping and handle was twice as much as the next vendor. It’s a little like how people used to save money on commissions off eBay by lowering the sale price and jacking up shipping. That said, comparison shopping is a must these days. There’s no guarantee that Amazon or some huge retailer has the best price and comparison shopping just means loading up a few more web browsers.

Skip Top Tier Retailers

63% of shoppers are willing to purchase from a non-top-tier retailer, which is where you find some of the best deals. It used to be that the top retailers would be willing to sell products at a low margin because they could make up for it with volume. While that’s true most of the time, it’s not true all of the time. There are plenty of second tier retailers who can offer better pricing because they need the business. We purchase our new grill from a second-tier retailer because it had the best price available, even after factoring in the shipping cost.


75% of consumers have showroomed – which is where you look at the item in the store and buy it online. I do it a lot with the help of iPhone apps that tell me online prices with the scan of the bar code. While I don’t go to a store specifically to see an item in person, there are times when I see an item I might want and scan the prices just to see. I may end up buying it at home. The only exceptions were when I need something immediately, as was often the case with some repair I was doing on the house. When the price is cheaper and you can skip out on sales tax, it doesn’t really make much sense to buy it in the store. 🙂

What’s your best tip for smarter shopping online?

(Credit: djcn0te)

{ 7 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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7 Responses to “How to Be a Smarter Online Shopper”

  1. I’ve used all of these tips in the past, I believe. Comparison shopping is a must if you’re shopping and looking to save money…though it usually results in buying the product on Amazon. 🙂

  2. Huskervball says:

    I don’t online shop very much. Recently bought a new to me house. I “needed” a grill. Shopped on line and at various local stores, all prices easily $100 or more.

    I ended up buying a great grill from a new neighbor at a garage sale. Scored it for $20 and it was already assembled. Happy shopper.

  3. Demi says:

    I got burned by Staples last week. I needed a new printer toner cartridge so I hoped online to their site and see they had it listed at a good price. I tried the “order online and pick up at store option”, but for some reason it would not let me use that option. So I drove over to the store and bought one off the shelf. Much to my surprise the off-the-shelf price was $30 more! I know I have seen many times a note that says “online and store prices may differ” and I can understand that too. But $30? I argued with the manager of the store to no avail. I also told him the online site says store stock was in “limited supply” which was crap because they have 30 on the shelf. I think it was a ploy to get you into the store to pay full price…not being able to order online, pay the online price, and pick up at the store. Either which way I learned a $30 lesson. If I wasn’t in the middle of something and ran out of toner I would have told the manager to stuff it. I came back and tried a number of other expensive items to order online and pick up at store…and they did not work either. So I had my answer. As a result…I am a smarter online shopper.

  4. Jason says:

    Comparison shopping in time! Websites like lets you look at historic trends of items on amazon and newegg to see whether the “sale” is really a sale.

  5. Dave says:

    I’ve been disappointed in Google Shopping lately, as the number of merchants has gone down drastically, probably due to their fees. It even does a poor job of searching eBay. So I do a regular Google search, search eBay manually, and search Amazon.

  6. Howie G says:

    I enjoyed the article because the author’s online buying process is about identical to mine, which I have also been doing for years. I will agree with the comment about Google’s Shopping function being more than a little disappointing lately.

  7. elloo says:

    I am leary of buying refurfished stuff online. There was a reason it was returned in the first place.

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