The Art of the Online Deal: Ballad of the Lazy Shopper

If you are like me, you shop online because it’s more convenient than actually getting dressed and going outside to a brick-and-mortar store. With a few keystrokes on your germ incubator of a computer keyboard or oily fingerprinted cell phone, you can find anything that anyone sells anywhere in the world (well, almost… Canned fish assholes, anyone? Sad news if you got your hopes up: Stick with sushi ). But the part that really makes you feel like it’s all worth it to let American malls go the way of the mastodon (“I’m getting cold. So cold. Is that you, mother?” — The American Mall circa 2017) is that you save all kinds of time in your hectic day-to-day life and mad money to spend on even more online shopping! Maybe you just get everything from Amazon because they always have the best price anyway.

And if you are like me, you are wrong. So, so wrong. More often than not, quick, convenient shopping and maximizing savings are the arch nemeses of online shopping, the central dramatic conflict of your personal shopping story. The fact is, online retailers are the architect of this conflict. They are the vultures waiting patiently for you to give in so they can fight over the scraps. It’s in their interest to make you invest time and effort into feeling like you got the best deal—even if you didn’t get the best deal (and you probably didn’t).

Answer this:

Did your last online purchase go quickly and smoothly?

  1. Yes!
  2. No!

Answer key:

If you answered “a”:

Well, then you probably paid more than if you’d put some elbow grease into it. You might have saved a few hard-earned ducats by shopping around for better deals and finding actual working coupons on deals sites or through “cash back” sites.

If you answered “b”:

It’s possible that you worked a great deal. It’s also possible that you are indecisive, got lost in a labyrinth of Google searches, and couldn’t find your credit card when you finally found what you were looking for. A few hours after your excursion into the overwhelming online marketplace, and voila! You saved $4 on your $88 order of adult diapers. Well done. But was it worth it?

What if you want the best of both worlds? You want a great deal but don’t want to spend the livelong day getting it? Try these steps:

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Frequent Deals Sites

There are hundreds if not thousands of sites devoted to finding deals. These sites can be shells for retailers, inaccurate or not updated, or a treasure trove of bargains. Some deals sites are specific to certain types of purchases, and some are general deals sites, like Slickdeals.net and Fatwallet.com. Depending on the site, you might be able to set up deal alerts, get actual working coupons (rather than wasting time with coupons that do not work), or, if you want to be the Extreme Coupon Shopper of the internet, even get advice on how to combine different forms of savings to maximum effect. But be careful not to buy all kinds of stuff you don’t need and to not waste too much time looking through user posts.

Use Cash Back

Get savvy to the fact that a portion of your online purchases are being siphoned off to search engines and advertising affiliates, costing retailers more than if you went directly to their site. Many credit cards offer cash back too, and there are websites devoted to giving you a piece of what you spend back. It can be a little tricky to actually get cash back, and you always have to wait for it and often accumulate a certain amount in spending to cash out, but often it’s worth it in the long run. Check out Cashback Monitor for a comprehensive list of online stores and associated cash back. Just make sure you read the fine print, as sometimes the listed percentage doesn’t apply to everything the retailer sells. Plus, often coupons negate cashback unless the coupon is listed on the cash back site. If you don’t want to revisit middle school math computations or use actuary tables, keep it simple and go with the coupon or cash back that is worth the most.

Track Prices

There are plenty of sites nowadays that can quickly show you the best prices: Pricewatch.com, Pricegrabber.com, and more. Some of these sites allow you to set price alerts for any retailers, which triggers an email to you, and others specifically track Amazon prices (see CamelCamelCamel–a good site with a nonsensical name). There is value in this approach particularly when budgeting or looking to make a “big” purchase. Some credit cards also have price protection features that, with little work on your part, can reimburse you up to $500 should the price of something you bought with their credit card if the price goes down.

For years, the future of online shopping has seemed to move toward sites that track and handle a variety of price match and price drop issues so you don’t have to. Paribus is one such start-up that sets out to keep track of your orders with a selection of big retailers, aiming to catch price drops of things you’ve ordered and get you the difference back–though they take of hefty percentage (20-25%) for this convenience. If you aren’t in the habit of tracking the price of things you’ve purchased, then any money Paribus gets back for you is money you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Of course, big retailers lose a lot of profit because of sites like this, so these sites often don’t last.

Sign-up for Store Rewards

Many retailers have some sort of club or rewards program. I don’t put much value on these programs, but most are free to sign-up and sometimes get you the best price or give you additional cash back or credit. Online retailers love to find ways to make you sign up to get the best prices, tool around on their site, and get you to come back to spend otherwise worthless store bucks or credits (often requiring you to spend even more).

Know Your Shopping Philosophy

Maybe the most important aspect to being a lazy online shopper is finding a balance between your approach and your expectations. It’s important to know what you value. If you want the best deal above all else, prepare to spend a lot of time researching, finagling with smaller, less reputable online retailers, and following up with cash back sites and credit card rewards. If convenience is a priority, stick with a handful of trusted sites that you can count on. You’re likely to get better service, less hassle, and spend far less time wheeling and dealing. If you don’t mind a few extra clicks, using cash back sites is relatively easy and quick. Plus, you are stealing ad revenue from the big search engines and Facebooks of the cyber world. Ethical shoppers might also consider how their shopping behavior affects issues like customer service, return policy, the environment (packaging and shipping boxes), and any neighborhood retail stores, which studies show we still prefer.

Remember, however you decide to shop, it says something about you. Yoda-Control-Quotes-300x225

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