Gift giving may be limited to holidays, birthdays and other special events, but shopping is a year-round activity––and one of the best places to do it is online thanks to websites and browser tools dedicated to saving you both money and time.
Check the Manufacturer's Suggested Price
Before buying at any store, online or bricks-and-mortar, it is always best to know the genuine manufacturer's suggested retail price for an item you want. Sellers may claim a higher base value for a product so that a sale price looks more generous, as we’ve found when shopping on Amazon and other marketplaces.
Once you know the brand and model name or number of a product, visit the manufacturer's website to find its list price there, along with any other specifications you wish to verify or understand better. Manufacturer websites usually also contain links to the websites of authorized retailers and e-tailers (online stores), where you can double-check common pricing, as well.
Use a browser app to uncover offers
Whether you’re just thinking about making a purchase or in full-out research mode, be sure to install a “browser app” so deals and offers will automatically appear in your Google, Bing or Yahoo! search results.
Billeo is an add-on for Firefox (Mac and Windows) and Internet Explorer (Windows) that displays available online offers from more than 1,500 retailers merchants and six credit card companies on Google, Bing and Yahoo! search results pages.
It tags search results with the logos of companies offering related deals. Hovering your mouse cursor over a logo reveals its deal.
At checkout, a pop-up box reminds you of the deal, and clicking on a “Get Offer” button in this box inserts the needed coupon code in the correct place. The app also can auto-fill your name, ship-to address, billing address and credit card information, if you’ve enabled this feature.
American Express inSite is a browser app exclusively for AmEx Membership Rewards members. It is an add-on that works similarly to Billeo's browser app, but is specifically tailored to show Membership Rewards bonus points promotions in addition to discounts and other specials such as free shipping offers. inSite covers more than 250 brands including Banana Republic, Crate and Barrel and Barnes & Noble. Also, besides the search results functionality, the add-on will alert users to discounts when they directly visit participating websites. It is compatible with Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer on PCs, and with Firefox, Chrome and Safari on Macs.
A website that has already done much of this labor for you is BradsDeals.com. Its staff of bargain hunters scours the Web and printed advertisements and circulars for what they consider the best values in 58 product categories, including electronics, jewelry and kids toys––listing handpicked deals along with printable coupons and online discount codes to be used at e-tailers. When possible, BradsDeals also guides users on how to combine offers, and shows competing sellers' prices for an item. Moreover, updates throughout the day warn about reduced inventory or inform the visitor when the item has sold out—and items that have sold out are pulled from the website's lists at the end of each day.
Similarly, Dealnews.com has staffers who research and publish deals and online codes from e-tailers as well as links to in-store coupons. Its coverage is vast, too, encompassing more than 2,000 e-tailers and more than 100 deals each day on consumer electronics, office supplies, home appliances, apparel and more.
Find coupon codes
RetailMeNot offers online coupon codes for 130,000 merchants ranging from Aeropostale to Sears and Vistaprint, as well as printable coupons. But your success using any of these could vary widely. While most of the online coupon codes were uploaded to the site by its users––and therefore may or may not be valid––they are tagged by RetailMeNot with a "success rate" label that indicates whether they've worked for others who've tried them. We've seen these success rate labels range from as low as six percent (essentially invalid) to a perfect 100 percent score.
Alternatively, visit FreeShipping.org to find free shipping codes and offers from 3,976 stores online. You can search the site by store name or product category, and a listing of the "top codes" is conspicuously displayed on the home page.
Decide when to buy
Of course, not every deal is a bargain. Sometimes retailers and e-tailers put obsolete or soon-to-be-replaced items on sale at low prices just before new and improved products become available.
At Retrevo.com, you'll find informed analysis and commentary by experts who scour the web for deals on consumer electronics products and advice on which products are worth buying or best avoided. Each deal located by Retrevo is evaluated based on the product’s sale price relative to competitive prices, its price history, its “fair price” (determined by Retrevo), its features and specifications, and where it is in its lifecycle. When the sale price drops significantly and is below the fair price for the product, Retrevo flags the offer as a good deal. There's also a Best Values page that visually depicts the best and worst products to buy on a "value map".
Similarly, Decide.com also helps you determine whether a particular product is worth buying now, later or not at all. Or you can sort by features and price to uncover the best deals. It covers laptops, TVs and cameras from all of the major manufacturers and many smaller ones. There's also a great mobile shopping app.