Get a Deal Every Time You Shop with These Tools

By Paul Michael on 16 December 2010 (Updated 9 December 2011) 3 comments
Photo: Silverfox09

I have a few handy skills. Certainly not a plethora, but a handful that serve me well. And one of them is the ability to track down a bargain. Over the years I have become something of a go-to person amongst my friends and relatives. When they’re looking to buy a product or service, they often call me first to see if I know of any deals or special offers. If they can’t find an item, they ask me if I can. Even if something is sold out in 99% of the stores, I can usually track down that 1% that have it.

Do I have secrets? Am I super-lucky? Not really. I have just amassed a set of tools, almost all of them online, that help me find the deals quickly and easily. And now, I’m sharing them with you. They can be a real help when you’re shopping for a last minute item, have a very tight budget, or just hate paying sticker price for anything. (See also: Deep Discounts on Schedule: The Best Days to Shop)

1. Search every Craigslist at the same time

Craigslist revolutionized the way we all shop classified ads (as the newspaper industry quickly found out to its detriment). You post ads for free, search ads for free, contact the seller or buyer directly and do the deal without any hassle. But most people search their local Craigslist, which limits the bargains you can find and the net you can cast when trying to track something very particular down.

A site called allofcraigs.com does away with the local search and puts your query out there across every Craigslist site. I recently purchased something from someone in Los Angeles. No one in my state had what I was looking for. He shipped it quickly to me and was happy to do business out of state. Not everyone is, but most just want to make the sale. Check it out, bookmark it, and use it often.

2. Search every eBay site at the same time

Although eBay has a much broader reach than your local Craigslist site, it still confines searches to the eBay in your country. But why? I have bought many, many items from the UK eBay, especially music and movies, and who knows what else is lurking out there on other eBay sites. So, why not search them all? You may find a better deal, better prices or faster shipping options.

To search every eBay, you first need to have an eBay account. When you are logged in, go to the Advanced Search page. Enter the usual search keywords and other requirements as you normally would in a regular eBay search. But, when you scroll down to the Location field, select "Items available to", then choose "All Countries/Regions" from the drop-down list. When you do your search, you can see items matching your search from every eBay site out there. Nice.

3. Find products locally that are in stock

During peak shopping seasons, like Christmas or Halloween, stores will quickly sell out of the items you want to buy. This happens every year with the “must have toys” and gadgets that people have on their wish lists. I spent months tracking down a Wii for my wife a few years ago, and this tool would have come in handy. It’s a site called Milo.com. You may have heard of it in the news recently because eBay just purchased it for a cool $75 million. Hopefully, the service remains just as good under the new management. All you do is type in the name of the item you’re looking for and you’ll get a list of results showing stores in your area that have it in stock! Saves a lot of calling around and emailing.

4. Use an auction sniper service

There are quite a few of these around, including Bidnip.com, Auctionsniper.com, EZsniper.com and Bidnapper.com. They all work in basically the same way, and it can save you a ton of time and money. Simply input the item number of the auction you’d like to win, the maximum amount you’d like to pay and, the cool part, when you’d like your bid to post. I usually go for 3 seconds. Instead of seeing a bidding war ensue, you can sit back and get on with your life, while the service puts in a last-minute bid for you.

Of course, this is not a guaranteed win. Sometimes, there can be communication issues and the service cannot place the bid in time. Sometimes someone else is using an auction sniper as well. And it you absolutely have to have the item, no questions asked, then relying on an auction sniper is not your best bet. But if you want to grab an item without seeing the price skyrocket over the days (or weeks) then this is for you. It also helps to avoid fake bidding, when people will actually try and inflate the price of the product they’re selling by bidding against you as someone else.

5. Always do an online price comparison

These were all the rage a few years ago, but with the popularity of the Google Shopping tab, and some of the sites mentioned above, people don’t often use the price comparison shoppers any more. That’s a big mistake in my book. Sites like bizrate.com, mysimon.com, nextag.com, and pricegrabber.com have taken a lot of the hard work out of finding great deals. Just put the item in that you want and you’ll see who’s selling it for less. Remember though, always do a total price comparison, quite often shipping and handling can turn a good deal into a bad one, or an average deal into a great one.

6. If you have the technology, compare prices in store

How so? Well, if you have a smart phone you can use it to your advantage. Apps like Redlaser and Shop Savvy allow you to scan the barcodes of products using the built-in camera. They then search the web for that product and return the results, so that you can find the best deal. If that’s not for you, you can always use the internet on your cell phone to do a quick product search on the sites mentioned in part 5. Several stores have computers inside the store that will enable you to search the web and compare prices. And if all else fails and you’re still not sure, call someone who does have access to the web and won’t mind helping you out. Remember, if in doubt, walk out.

7. If there’s a coupon code box, there’s usually a code out there

The coupon box is a double-edged sword to be honest. On the one hand, its presence means that the site accepts coupons. But that also means you an burn a lot of hours trying to find them, when there may not be any valid coupons available at the time. I usually try retailmenot.com whenever I see a coupon box. There is usually a discount code on there for the site I’m buying from. If not, I’ll do a quick hunt online. But if I haven’t found one after five minutes, I drop it and buy without using a coupon. I have learned the hard way, after obsessively searching for hours to find a coupon that gets me a 2% discount, that it’s just not worth the effort if you don’t find a coupon quite quickly. Also, remember to look for printable coupons to use when you shop in store.

8. Always check the daily deals sites

There are way too many to list here, but some of my personal favorites are slickdeals, buxr, dealhack, dealnews, freestufftimes, and our very own Wise Bread deals section. Some of the deals are awesome, but stay focused. Sometimes the deals are so tempting that you buy stuff you really weren’t looking for, and that can get expensive. Keep your eyes on the prize.

Those are my favorites, and they work wonders for me. Do you have any tips to add to the list? Let us know.

Additional photo credit: Allofcraigs
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Dana

My favorite on-line price comparison tool is PriceBlink. It's a browser extension that shows me if I've found the lowest price or where to find it while I'm shopping in a bar at the top of my browser. It also included coupons right there on the bar which is handy. Has definitely saved me money!

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Guest

Invisible Hand works well with Chrome browser

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Kari

I have basically done the same as you, when I see a coupon code box online, I immediately go to retailmenot, it has worked every time I have used it. Most of the ones I have used are for 20% off.