5 Money-Saving Tips Online Retailers Hope You Don't Know


I've been writing about personal finance topics — or what I refer to as "how to live your best life on a budget" — for about three years now. As a direct result of my weekly posts on how to save money in nearly every aspect of life, I'm asked lots of questions from friends and family on a menagerie of money-minded issues. One of the main questions is how to score better deals online. (See also: 12 Essential Daily Deal Sites)

I'm happy to share my tips or hints on this subject, but there's more to shopping online than simply scoring a good buy — because the fact is, while you might have saved a bundle, you also might have bought a clunker of a product. Since this happens all too often, I thought I'd share you with you my five top five tips on how to shop online effectively and efficiently every time. Take a look.

1. Check the Sale Section First

If I'm browsing a store I like for new clothes — without any real purpose — I immediately head to the sale section. I rarely look at retail prices, because I know that the sale section has items that are just as good at half the cost. This tactic comes in handy when I spot something I want but didn't intend to buy when I started surfing the Web. Even when I have something specific in mind, however — like bedding, for instance — I still shop the sale section of an online store first. There's no point in paying full price for anything (EVER!) if you fancy something similar at a deep discount. It's a philosophy that I institute in person when I walk into a store, so it only makes sense that I do the same when shopping online.

2. Read the Reviews

You know when you see something and you just have to have it? It happens, and it's happened to me more than once. But just because something looks awesome doesn't mean it is awesome — and thanks to reviews, you can save yourself time and money by figuring that out ahead of time.

Whenever there are reviews for a product — especially many varied reviews — dig in and see what people are saying. I try to use my better judgment to weed out those who will complain about every little thing and those who make valid points. As an example, I recently bought blender that had a slew of comments, both good and bad, which meant that I had to do my research and decide whether the purchase was worth it. Some of the poor reviews mentioned how noisy it was, but the positive reviews praised the blender's power. Based on those reviews, I took a chance on the blender (because complaining about a noisy blender is silly; it's a blender!). I'm glad I did because it's the best blender I've ever purchased. (P.S. It's a Ninja — and I highly recommend it.)

On the flip side, I was recently in the market for a floating cooler to take on a river-tubing trip. The cooler looked really cool — like a bobber — and I was excited about it. Unfortunately, most of the reviews were poor and mentioned how the cooler constantly took on water, causing it to submerge too far into the water, making it a hassle to float along. Detailed reviews saved me from that purchase, and it'll save you from a poor purchase too if you read them.

3. Compare Prices Between Sites

Whenever I'm buying a product that many stores carry — let's use a new fridge, for example — I always compare the items between sites. I often get sucked into an hour-long game of website ping-pong trying to snag the best deal, but in the end that research was worth it if it means a couple hundred dollars in savings.

When comparing prices, don't limit yourself to just the base prices, however. Look into other discounts each store offers — like military or senior discounts — and search for coupons that you may be able to apply at checkout to help reduce the prices even further. For instance, my husband and I compared the prices of our new appliances and decided that Home Depot was the best place from which to buy them because they offered a 10% military discount (we were even asked to have it applied by using the live-chat feature on the site), which ultimately saved us more than $300 on our new appliances. It takes a bit of time, for sure — but time is money, as they say. (See also: Big List of Military Discounts)

4. Search for a Discount Code

I never ever EVER buy anything online without first searching for a coupon code. And when I've found a coupon code, I search a little more to find a better coupon code. And if I can't find a coupon code, I update my status on Facebook asking my friends if perhaps they have a particular online code I can use.

This almost always works out in my favor. Everybody — no exceptions — should be searching for a promo or coupon code to apply at checkout before they finish their purchase. Those savings are literally right at your fingertips. What do you have to lose — besides more money? (See also: Empty Coupon Code Box? You're Paying Too Much)

5. Score a Post-Buy Discount

My husband and I recently purchased a second home for which we needed furniture. We had to outfit a living room, three bedrooms, and an outdoor space, and money flew out of our accounts quickly. Of course I employed all of the tactics I mentioned above, but another tactic that many people overlook saved us even more cash.

Specifically, after placing a large order from West Elm, I noticed a week later that the retailer was offering 25% off sitewide. Since the order was recently placed and the furniture hadn't yet been delivered, I called customer service to ask if we qualified for the new discount. To my delight, we did qualify for the retroactive discount — and it was a big win for us. My diligence returned nearly $1,500 back to our credit card thanks to that 25% discount. This tip may not work at every retailer, but it's worth a try. Thus, keep an eye on sales immediately after a purchase for a chance to save even more.

Do you have tips to share when buying online? Let me know in the comments below.

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Guest's picture

I always check ebates to see if the store offers cash back, and how much.

Guest's picture

This may sound like stating the obvious, but before purchasing anything from any site make sure it has a secure "https://" in the URL. HTTP isn't good enough for someplace you are entering your credit card info!