Websites for Bargain Hunters
If you're stopping only at the major online retailers, you could be missing out on some money-saving opportunities
(MONEY Magazine) – The benefit of doing holiday shopping online used to be twofold: You'd avoid the throngs of frenzied consumers and you'd save a few bucks besides. Well, you can still buy your presents in relative peace, only the deals aren't always so generous these days. With Americans projected to spend more than $211 billion online this year--more than a third of that during the holidays--e-tailers no longer need to slash prices to compete with their mall counterparts. "So you've got to know how to hunt through the virtual aisles efficiently," says Bruce Weinberg, associate professor of e-commerce at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass. These sites can help.
Best Site for Comparison Shopping PriceGrabber.com
Comparison-shopping sites--which aggregate information from across the Web and allow consumers to contrast prices from an array of retailers--were among the early blessings of the Internet. These days the information that such sites compile is relatively standard. Where they really differ is in how clearly they organize the results.
• WHY THIS ONE CLICKS PriceGrabber.com is simple to navigate, with tabs to guide you through. And the price differentials are easy to see. Shipping charges are often figured into the price quoted, so there are no nasty surprises. Plus, you can sort the results in a number of ways--including by consumer ratings of the stores, so you can steer clear of shops with shoddy reputations. Exactly how much can the site save you? A 3.4-ounce bottle of Chanel No. 5 spray, for example, topped out at $105.26, but it could be purchased for $73.95 if you followed PriceGrabber's cheapest suggestion.
• SHOP SMART(ER) Check out the recently added cell-phone-plan channel. You can compare service plans in your zip code by price and other features--handy if you're thinking about changing carriers.
• RUNNER-UP Shopzilla.com. This site is vast, cataloguing 35 million products from 80,000 stores; unfortunately, navigating it can be tiresome since there's a lot of scrolling required.
Best Place to Hunt for Coupons eDealinfo.com
Sites that compile coupons are the cyberworld's version of the Sunday newspaper circular. Generally they show you what discounts manufacturers and retailers are offering and provide a link to each site. You get the deal when you check out, using a special code.
• WHY THIS ONE CLICKS The site isn't narrowly focused on bargains within any single product genre. Log on and you'll find links to purveyors of everything from musical instruments to maternity wear. (A sampling of recent alerts: $20 off a $100 purchase at Gap.com; stay two nights and get a third free when you book a room through Westin.com; and 15% off at REI.com.) And unlike many of the other sites in this category, eDealinfo.com doesn't infect your hard drive with spyware.
• SHOP SMART(ER) In addition to scanning the site periodically for deals, check in before making any online purchase to see if there is a coupon code that will give you an additional discount, free shipping or some other perk.
• RUNNER-UP WOW-Coupons.com, which offers printable coupons you can use at mall stores, supermarkets and restaurants. Worth a visit, considering that 95% of purchases are still made offline.
Best Way to Make Cybershopping Pay Off FatWallet.com
Want to get some cash back when you shop online? There are sites that will give you a rebate if you go through their portals on your way to shopping at brand-name retailers. Of course, they get a commission for referring you.
• WHY THIS ONE CLICKS FatWallet.com's rotund rebates, sent via check or PayPal, can amount to as much as 7% of an item's purchase price (3% from Dell Home Systems, 4% from Staples and 6% from Brookstone). And you get $5 back on your first order just for signing up.
• SHOP SMART(ER) Visit FatWallet's forums for valuable guidance ("How do I get a deal on a gym membership?") and upcoming sales alerts from a community of enthusiastic cheapskates.
• RUNNER-UP Ebates.com. This site can be less generous than FatWallet--Dell Home, for example, ships back only 2%, and Staples 3%. But there are some surprising merchants, including Expedia (1%) and Apple iTunes (3%). Shop on Tuesdays and you'll double your return.
Best Online Outlet Overstock.com
Like offline outlets, the ones on the Web offer discounts on excess inventory, such as closeouts and overstocked goods. Because the suppliers change, the offerings are unpredictable--but the deals can be formidable.
• WHY THIS ONE CLICKS Overstock.com has the broadest selection (from artisan-made furniture to video games), the easiest-to-navigate portal and the best deal on shipping ($2.95 flat fee). You won't want to miss the Steal o' the Day, an even deeper price cut on a popular item.
• SHOP SMART(ER) Act fast: Once the site sells out of those SpongeBob bedsheets, it doesn't get any more.
• RUNNER-UP SmartBargains.com. It's smaller, but it offers an appealing selection (recent steal: a flannel-wrapped AeroBed, normally $170, for $79.99). On the downside, you must pay a $9.99 annual membership fee to get the $2.95 flat-rate shipping.