The biggest shopping season of the year is also the best time to save. Black Friday, the all-American celebration of consumption, is famous for its doorbuster deals, and Cyber Monday has cropped up over the years to become a worthy workday counterpart. Shopping online has become more popular every year, and the share of retail sales happening online always spike during the holiday season as many Americans have found that the e-commerce channel is often the best place to save.
Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), the pioneer of online retail, is offering "Countdown to Black Friday" specials, including steep discounts on trademark items like the Kindle, Fire, and Fire TV Stick, indicating this will likely be another holiday season full of big promotions. For shoppers looking to save, here are three easy ways to do so.
1. Use comparison shopping tools
While comparison shopping in the real world might not be easy, as consumers need to hustle from one store to the next, online it's a breeze. Not only can shoppers easily click from one site to the next, but comparison apps can also save time by searching a wide range of retailers for you. PriceBlink, for example, is a browser add-on that automatically compares products from 11,000 different stores and will tell you what the cheapest option is. In addition, it can notify you about coupons and give price alerts if you're willing to wait to get your hands on the items you want. It also has a tool for searching price history so you'll know how today's prices compare to recent ones.
The average savings from PriceBlink and its sister app InvisibleHand is 17%, making it well worth the effort and especially useful during this most competitive time of year for retailers.
2. Know your target
While Amazon may be the most obvious place to look for deals this holiday season, online shopping expert Karl Quist says Amazon is only the cheapest option about a third of the time. Amazon also changes prices more than 2.5 million times a day as major retailers use algorithms to track competing prices on the web and adjust accordingly. High-demand products are also likely to change prices more often, and he recommends using coupons, which are typically readily available, to buy newer, high-demand products.
Consumers are best off searching at stores that specialize in the category of product they're interested in. For instance, shoppers looking for tools or home improvement items would be best off starting at Home Depot or Lowe's, or using Best Buy for appliances. Quist notes that Amazon is particularly weak for categories like branded apparel and appliances, and said that EBay is often a forgotten option in online shopping. The online shopping hub has grown past its roots as an auction site, with many retailers now selling directly through EBay. The "Buy it Now" option also tends to be a good value on EBay.
3. Use the Internet for physical shopping too
As the online channel has grown, brick-and-mortar retailers have been forced to match prices from competitors like Amazon. Many chains, like Wal-Mart Stores, are now willing to match their own online prices on in-store goods. If you're planning on buying a big-ticket item inside the stores, checking the retailer's website first can be an easy way to save a few bucks.
Reviews are another online tool that can be just as useful when shopping inside the store. Reading reviews on Amazon and other such sites can help shoppers determine if higher-priced products are worth the premium, and to see if other users have been happy with the product, as price should not be the only consideration. As Quist says, "A great price for a bad product is not a good deal."
Jeremy Bowman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon.com and eBay. The Motley Fool recommends Home Depot. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.