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Shopping on the Web

Sep 3, 2008
Why in the world would you shop online? -- actually, there are three good reasons. One, convenience. Two, selection (you can usually find exactly what you want). And three, and probably the most important, bargains. You can find incredible bargains online and over time save yourself a lot of money.

But of course there's a catch, a small one. To get the most our of online shopping, you need to do some preliminary research to find the online bargain shopping sites that offer the best quality, the best service, and the best bargains. I've done some of that research for you and I hope it will save you some time and aggravation. The results follow.

A Few Preliminaries

As you may be aware, online bargain shopping is relatively safe. Nothing, of course, is absolutely and completely safe anymore -- even eating out at your favorite restaurant entails a slight risk that somebody will steal your credit card number. But if you deal with a reputable Internet shopping site, you're about as safe as you would be using your credit card in a bricks-and-mortar retail store.

There are some important rules to keep in mind, however:

First, never enter your credit card number in a web site except to purchase something.

If you have any doubts about a website, move on. Trust your instincts. Of course you can also check with sites like the Better Business Bureau, Complaints.com., the National Fraud Information Center, ScamBusters, and BizRate.

It's always best to always pay by credit card, because then you're protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act and can get your money back. But make sure the shopping site's order form is secure. (Check for a little lock icon in the lower part of your web browser window.) Experts caution never to shop or place orders from pop-up windows or email spam.

Keep complete records of your online transactions. Print out the email confirmation and if possible also print out the final checkout page from the merchant's web site.

Research Your Purchases

You wouldn't (or shouldn't) buy a car without checking it out on Consumer Reports, right? The information is easily available, so why not use it?

The same holds true for virtually any other big ticket item you may think of purchasing. There are now many web sites which provide solid data and reviews on nearly anything you may want to buy. The best are: ConsumerREVIEW, ConsumerReports,, Epinions, and ConsumerSearch.

As you probably know, Amazon now sells just about everything, and just about all pages on the site now contain product or editorial reviews of the products for sale.

Another worry is getting a good price. For this try using one or more price-comparison sites. These sites enable you to enter a product's name and then scan many Web retailers to see who's charging what. The most comprehensive, in my opinion, are Yahoo (go to shopping.yahoo.com), BizRate, PriceGrabber, Shopping, and Froogle,

Unfortunately, there aren't any websites out there which compare the price comparison sites, but if you want to pick just one site, I suggest Froogle, which is owned of course by Google. The reason is simply that Froogle is known as one of the more objective of these sites -- it doesn't charge the manufacturers for listings like some do.

Online Bargains: How to Find Them

There are a number of ways to go about bargain hunting on the Internet. For example, you can search for rebates, coupons, discounted or clearance merchandise, used merchandise, or merchandise sold by wholesalers.

Rebates are one good strategy. The idea is simply that you buy a product, submit a claim, and get some money back. Rebates are available online for just about everything, but how do you find them? Start with rebatesHQ. Just enter the product (or manufacturer) and a list of available rebates will appear. Then click for more info on whatever interests you. Two additional good sources are MyRebates and RebateCatcher.

What about coupons? You don't usually get actual coupons online, instead you get coupon codes. Then you just enter the code when you fill out the online retailer's order form to receive your discount. To learn about coupon deals, go to MyCoupons or to any of the following sites:
Bargain-Central, RefundSweepers, eSmarts, and SpecialOffers.

A Couple Words About Internet Malls

Perhaps you already know about the online malls. A lot of people don't. The big advantage of online malls is that you can scan the merchandise offerings of many merchants at once for a particular item. Try doing that at your local bricks-and-mortar shopping mall!

There are two types, namely general interest malls and specialty malls. The former has the advantage that you can group purchases from several stores, entering your purchases on a single shopping-cart order form. To get acquainted with this efficient way of shopping online, visit WebSquare.. SkyMall, or InternetMall.

Specialty malls bring together merchants that offer similar products or that appeal to niche markets. Use Google to find specialty malls offering products you're most interested in. A few examples are CraftIreland ,WiredSeniors, and JewelryMall.

Wholesale and Overstock Shopping Sites

Wholesale and overstock shopping sites are where you can really save some money.

These sites offer new or refurbished products that for a variety of reasons manufacturers are trying to move fast. Often these are perfectly good products but the manufacturer has overstocked them or maybe decided to supplant them with newer designs or other types of merchandise. Whatever the reason, the seller wants them to get rid of them to make space for other products.

First, consider overstocked items. There are two ways to buy overstocked items, in bulk or as single items. Of course, you can save more if you buy in bulk but you may not need a hundred toasters or microwaves or watches. Then again, if you're an eBay entrepreneur, bulk overstocked items (also called bulk liquidation opportunities) may be a good source of merchandise for you.

For bulk liquidation opportunities, I suggest these sites as a basis for exploring this type of buying, though there are of course others: Liquidation (the largest), AmeriSurplus.,USA and Closeouts.

Incidentally, if you purchase from a bulk liquidator, be sure you know the terms and the brand you're getting -- bulk liquidators often sell off-brand merchandise. You should know exactly what you're getting and how much it will cost you, including shipping.

Most likely, though, you're interested in buying just one item at a time. There's definitely some online bargain shopping to be had. Try Overstock, SmartBargains, and Closeouts. For more upscale merchandise closeouts, go to LuxuryBrandsllc.

Finally, what about buying wholesale? This allows you to bypass the retailers and purchase directly from the wholesalers. Of course, most wholesalers won't sell to the public, only to retail outlets, because they sell in large lots, not individual items. A few do, however, and in these cases, prices are at rock bottom. To explore this option I suggest you visit a directory of wholesale distributors. This type of directory lists sites that offer specialized wholesalers like CKBProducts (luggage and sporting goods) and ShirtDistributor (which specializes in shirts of all kinds). The major wholesale directories are: Wholesale Central, WholesalersCatalog and Buylink,.
About the Author
Joseph Ryan is Director of Washington Research Associates, Inc., Washington DC. The firm's website, Web Search Guides provides helpful 10-minute tutorials on topics of current interest, such as people searching, asset-searching, online shopping, student financing, and many others.
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