Smart Shopping: Guide to Researching a Purchase

Photo: meiburgin

So you're in the market for a new purchase and you want to make sure you buy the "right one"? You've come to the right place — whether you're looking for a new pair of shoes, a fancy laptop, or a new cell phone carrier, this guide will help you make the right decision. (See also: Bargain Shopping 101)

It all boils down to a simple, two-step process: find the right fit, and get a killer deal.

Find the Right Fit

Finding the right fit means finding the right purchase for you. You can always search for "top X products" or "best products for X," but none of it matters because what's good for everyone else isn't necessarily good for you.

If we’re talking about a camera, then what kind of camera are you looking for? Something to take pictures of cheetahs? Of panoramas? Of bats in the night? You need to do a little digging beyond just saying “I want a camera because...because I want a camera.”

In order to figure out the reasons, you need to know what each product brings to the table. In the case of a tablet, are you an iOS person? Are you gonna watch movies? Will you use it only where you already have Wi-Fi? These answers will help you determine which model, brand, and version of a product you should watch out for. If it helps, break out your Excel skills to create an easy-to-read comparison.

So how do you find the right fit? Start by asking the pros.

Find the Experts

Thanks to the Internet, this is fairly easy. If you have friends who know more about tablets, shoes, or whatever it is, then ask them first — a trusted opinion is worth its weight in gold. I see people using Facebook and Twitter very effectively to get this kind of feedback.

Consumer Reports is another great place to start, but I like getting a little more specific. For example, if I’m looking into a tech product, I know that CNET and Engadget are the best places to get an in-depth review of a product's benefits and shortcomings. If I want to find the perfect book, then Amazon and Goodreads are the places to find it. Movies? Rotten Tomatoes and...Amazon again.

A Word About Amazon

Two of the reasons Amazon is so helpful are its scale and its technology. Because so many people use the site, you can get a good idea about how the rest of the world feels about a product.

As for Amazon's technology, it’s always intersting to see what other items people bought, viewed, or bought along with that product. The amount of data is fascinating but also valid enough to give you just the right amount of insight you need — finding what's right for you becomes infinitely easier.

Get the Killer Deal

Now that you know what you want to buy, it's time to talk money. And that means finding the right price. There are a few strategies you can use to get the best deal.

Patience Is a Virtue

Visit sites like Fatwallet and Slickdeals to benefit from professional dealseekers who are passionate about finding a deal. These people are deal savants, and if there’s a way for you to buy something for $1.53 less, this is where to find it.

If you're willing to hold out and wait until what you want goes on sale, this method will pay off...eventually.

Read the Cards

Check to see what kind of benefits your credit card offers. If you get cash back or points or some kind of bonus, make sure you factor that into the equation. One of my cards, for example, gives me 6% cash back at the grocery store. How does that help? Well, my local grocery store sells gift cards for just about anything — from Apple to Southwest Airlines.

How does 6% off a flight to Vegas sound?

Another card I own has certain cash back deals at specific merchants. So during specified times, I can get a certain percent off at those stores, too. If my timing is right, I can get a price no one else can.

Know the Code

If you aren't using Retailmenot, then get with the program. Before you check out, make sure you check them for any coupons or promotional codes. If nothing comes up, put Google to work for you and run a search for "your product deal" or "online merchant promo code" to exhaust all the possiblities.

Most of the time, there's a way to knock a few dollars of the price.

Go Forth and Shop

If you have any great tools to either find the right product for you or get a discount on price, please share them in comments to make sure this guide remains as ultimate as it can be!

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Meg Favreau's picture

I think the point about finding the right fit for YOU is so important...and, even though it might be obvious, I think that's really helpful to think about when giving gifts too. It's not what the best product is, or what you like...what's best for the giftee?