Sunday, August 28, 2005

Shopping online

Though internet retailing is now fairly mature, many people are still skittish about shopping the internet. In part this is because people are slow to change, and are uncertain of how to get the best deals on the 'net. However, it isn't difficult; unlike the old days, when comparison shopping meant driving all over town or poring over the advertising inserts in the Sunday newspaper, on the internet you can visit different stores as quickly as you can surf. Better yet, you can use one of the many sites that will do the comparison shopping for you.

For just about anything, the first place I check is For the inexperienced, probably sells a much larger variety of wares than you realize, and it is fairly rare for me to run across something they just do not sell. Look it up on, and use this as a baseline for your price comparisons. Amazon is also one of the better sources of customer reviews, so I always start with Amazon when researching exactly which item I want to purchase. Amazon's prices are generally quite low, so if you just want to go to one place and buy, they're the one. But you can often do much better with just a little work.

Once you know exactly which item you want, there are a variety of comparison-shopping sites that will point you to the retailers with the best prices on that item. I generally use (formerly Dealtime), Froogle, Pricescan, or MySimon. Sometimes I check more than one of these. These sites will show you each retailer's prices, their shipping charges, and will offer ratings of the reputability of each retailer.

Another resource of which few people take advantage is promotional coupons. Many sites offer promotions in the form of free shipping or dollars or percentages off of an item or an entire purchase. As with comparing prices, there are many sites that consolidate these promotional offers for one-stop service. The one I generally check is If I don't find anything there (or if I'm feeling exceptionally greedy), I do a web search for "retailer name coupon." These promotions are not as common, nor typically as lucrative, as they were in the earlier days when internet retailers were desperate to attract customers, but often they can still be found, especially at the less well-established sites that are hungrier for business. Generally these coupons take the form of a code (a string of letters and/or numbers) that you enter in a field on the order page.

A weakness of this strategy is that the best price produced by the comparison shopping sites may not be the best after whatever promotions you can find, so a little work is required to get the very best deal, if you're so inclined.

A case study: Recently I wanted to buy a piece of luggage, a Travelpro TPro 36 rolling duffel. The first place I checked was eBags, because I happen to know that luggage is one of the few areas where's prices and selection are weak. eBags's price was $139.95. I found a promotion that gave me free shipping, but for some reason eBags felt the need to charge me sales tax, bringing the total to $146.25. ('s price is the same, but no sales tax.)

Now, I check It tells me that the same bag is available at Luggage Online for $124.95. I visit their site, and see that they offer free shipping and no sales tax, so I'm already about $20 ahead. But I'm not done yet. doesn't show any coupons, so I do a Google search, and turn up a coupon for Luggage Online that gives 10% off my purchase. So I bought the bag for a total of $112.46, a savings of $33.79, or 23%, off of the first place I looked.

The extra time I spent searching for the best price was maybe 10 or 15 minutes. Investing that much time to save $34 makes sense no matter who you are.


  • Great post Joe. Using the comparison shopping sites can definitely save you alot of money, especially on expensive items.

    I had never used Pricescan. Thanks. ;-)

    By Anonymous Todd, at 10:47 PM  

  • If you are looking for a great comparison shopping site for CDs try for finding the cheapest price on new and used CDs.

    By Blogger Prowler, at 9:48 PM  

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