A little research can save you a lot of money.
Even when you know what you want, it can be overwhelming to choose among dozens of products, brands, and websites. Use these tips to help get the best deal – and to avoid a bogus offer posted by a scam artist.
Think Before You Shop
Think about your goals before you shop.
Do you want the top-of-the-line product? A particular brand? Are there “must-have” features? What’s your budget? If you decide what’s important to you up-front, you’re less likely to make an impulse purchase that could lead to buyer’s remorse.
Get to know the products in the category.
Often, the key features of a basic product and the top-of-the-line version from the same manufacturer are the same, and “add-ons” account for the difference in price. For example, you might have to pay extra for a toaster with a clock and fancy chime even if it turns bread into toast just like a less expensive model. Manufacturer sites often have the most information about product features.
Use Search Engines
If you think you’ve found a good deal, but you aren’t familiar with the product or the company selling it, dig a little deeper. Type the company or product name into your favorite search engine with terms like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” If you find bad reviews, you’ll have to decide if the offer is worth the risk. After all, it’s only a good deal if you actually get a product that works.
Check Comparison Shopping Sites
These sites connect you to many retailers selling the same product, sometimes at significantly different prices. Compare your total purchase price, including shipping and handling, and taxes, rather than just the selling price. Different sites also have different return policies. Check the policy and find out whether you’ll be charged extra shipping or restocking fees for returns.
Some sites let you sign up to get alerts when prices change.
Some companies offer discounts to online shoppers via email; other sites collect and list codes for free shipping and other discounts. Keep in mind that a coupon price isn’t always the best deal.
To look for discounts, enter the web site or company name and “discount,” “coupon” or “free shipping” into a search engine. Stay away from sites that make you download software or enter financial information to access the codes.
Read Reviews and Be Skeptical
When considering a review, think about the source of the information: is it from an impartial expert organization, one consumer, many individual consumers, a columnist?
You can get a good idea about a product’s performance from reading user reviews on retail or shopping comparison sites. But they may not represent the experience of all purchasers: The FTC has sued companies that posted “fake” positive reviews. Some negative reviews may come from competitors.
You also can look for websites that specialize in reviewing products. These sites don’t sell products but offer expert reviews and comparisons.
Evaluate what you see on retail sites.
Some scammers set up “specialty” sites selling a particular type of product. Those can be full of glowing reviews from “shills” who are compensated for their posts, and may not include any mediocre or negative reviews because they’ve been deleted.
What do you know about the photo?
A product photo is meant to cast the item in the best possible light. Could it have been doctored? Will it look as appealing in your home or office?
What if There's a Problem?
Ask yourself a few questions: Does the brand have a reputation for good products and excellent customer service? What’s the promised delivery time? How will you contact the seller if there’s a problem? Will the company accept returns? If so, will you be charged restocking fees?