The beauty of the Web means you can shop for that perfect pair of boots from the comfort of your den. And you can order books, gifts and hard-to-find items without stepping foot in a mall. In fact, according to the National Retail Federation, more than 106 million Americans shopped online during Cyber Monday, online retailers’ answer to Black Friday (one of the biggest shopping days of the year). A recent report found that online retail is growing by one third each year.
Here are 10 tips to finding the best items at the best prices, without breaking a sweat:
1. Join members-only sale sites
Members-only flash-sale sites like Zulily and Gilt Groupe offer some of the best deals on designer items. “Our sales start every day at 12 p.m. EST and last about 36 hours, so you have to purchase quickly on our site,” says Gilt founder Alexandra Wilkis Wilson. On weekends, nearly a quarter of purchases happen on a mobile device, she says. (Gilt Groupe is offering MNN readers an exclusive invite.)
2. Search from the bottom of the page
Especially on sample sale sites, most people intuitively start at the top — making those items the first to sell out. But site designers place some of the best items near the bottom, too. “I sometimes suggest starting at the bottom of the page,” says Gilt Group’s Wilson.
3. Read reviews
When you buy something sight-unseen, listen to what others say first. That dress might run small, or the faux leather pocketbook may look, well … faux. “This will help ensure that the deal of a lifetime doesn’t turn into a nightmare,” says PriceGrabber’s Sharon Banfield.
4. Compare prices
Instead of running from store to store, compare prices online first. Some sites, like PriceGrabber.com, send alerts when the item you’ve been coveting goes on sale.
Always search for promo codes before hitting “buy,” says online shopping expert Michelle Madhok, publisher of SHEfinds.com, BRIDEfinds.com and MOMfinds.com. You may even be able to buy a discounted gift card for the stores you plan to shop on sites like plasticjungle.com, she says.
5. Sign up for sale alerts via email, Twitter and Facebook
More and more stores are tweeting and emailing when they have new merchandise or big sales. “These alerts are helpful for big-ticket items like laptops, printers and electronics,” says PriceGrabber’s Banfield. If you move quickly, you can buy up before the store sells out.
6. Deal sites
Websites like Woot.com offer limited one-day deals. Other sites offer sales on items from past seasons, store closeouts or refurbished electronics. Smartbargains.com and Overstock.com “are great places to nab a deal on brand-name items,” says Madhok.
7. When shopping for clothes, know your size
Many sites allow returns, but you can get it right the first time if you know your size. Wilson suggests sorting by size, too. That way, “You don’t run the risk of falling in love with something that won’t work for you if they don’t have your size,” she says.
8. Ask about the return policy
The downfall of online shopping is you don’t really know what you’re getting until it arrives. Know the store’s return policy, as some items may be final sale, says Madhok.
9. Watch out for taxes and shipping charges
Before getting too excited about that amazing sale price, factor in extra costs that will get the item to your doorstep. “Sometimes the deal loses its allure if the shipping charges are the same as the product, so make sure you know how much it’s going to be before you complete the checkout,” says Madhok.
10. Shop safe
Be wary of ordering from a merchant you’ve never heard of, says Madhok. Shop with U.S. companies so that you are protected by state and federal consumer laws. And never use a debit or check card, which could expose your bank account to theft.
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