Monday, May 11, 2009

Buying Smart Online

The internet has completely changed the way I shop. I make most of my major purchases online. I researched and bought all of the appliances for our new house that way. Our new HDTV came from And countless past purchases, including the computer I writing this post with, came from smart Ebay purchases. I think Home Depot is the only major retail chain that I still buy large items from at the brick and mortar store, and that's only because home repair usually requires instant gratification. Researching and buying online enables anyone to be a smart consumer.

If you're willing to forgo having your new purchase in hand immediately, you'll almost always get your best price online. But even the impatient among us can benefit from online research, which is the first step in smart shopping. I like to start by going to product review sites. For example, I'm researching Blu Ray players right now, so I spend time at reading product reviews from both experts and other consumers, comparing features and general price ranges. I think it's important to find a site that features expert reviews for the product you're searching for. Consumer reviews are useful as a general barometer of product quality, but someone writing, "Dude, I freakin' love this TV!" is hardly authoritative. Use Google to find review sites.

Once you've narrowed down which model or manufacturer you like, use price comparison sites like,, Google shopping, or to find your best deal. These sites maintain a constantly updated database of online retailer prices for (probably) millions of items. They give you one spot to compare dozens of online prices. Plus they give you shipping costs, for a true comparison. Each retailer is rated as well, and often reviewed by consumers, to help avoid trading price for poor service.

All of this research is free, and worth doing even if you ultimately buy offline. And on the flipside, offline brick and mortar stores are still great places to research prior to an online purchase. I went to Sears and Best Buy a number of times to compare TVs in person before I ultimately purchased from Amazon. You can't truly rate a television's image quality for yourself from pictures on a website. And had either of those retailers been able to compete price-wise with online-only retailers I would have purchased from them, but of course they couldn't. The overhead B&M stores impose on retailers always results in higher prices, another reason to avoid the major retailers online.

There are also services that track price changes for you. is one I've used before. You enter the item you're tracking and the sites you want Pricepinx to watch. Then, whenever the price goes down at any of your chosen retailers, Pricepinx sends you an email. It's a great way to automate a normally tedious task.

Finally, if you're willing to do some extra legwork, using Ebay is a great way to nab a good deal on used and often new products. Use the seller ratings to make sure you buy from a safe source.

Lastly, and this doesn't apply to Ebay, once you've chosen your vendor and you're ready to make a purchase, check out coupon code sites. Just search for "coupon code" with Google. If you've bought anything online before you know that often retailers run special offers, represented by a short code you enter at the purchase screen. The retailers usually email these offers to previous customers in an effort to spur further sales. Coupon code sites track them and let new customers in on offers they otherwise wouldn't be aware of. It doesn't work all the time, but sometimes you'll find a current code for the retailer you've chosen and save even further on your purchase.

The best part is that all of this is free. I do pay for a yearly subsciption to, which is very helpful, but not necessary. You can find most of the information you need from free sites across the net.

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