Would you believe me if I told you that I know someone who can navigate a crowded mall seamlessly, darting in and out of stores with panache in a bargain-hunting frenzy, yet be reduced to tears over the most basic of mouse clicks in a dot-com shopping spree?
You're so vain. You probably think this article's about you.
The benefits of shopping online should be fairly obvious. It can be three in the morning and you're decked out in bunny slippers and spooning the last of the Haagen-Dazs, while every single online storefront is open for your convenience. Your claustrophobic car lets out a sigh of relief as you fill up your virtual shopping cart with all holiday gifts and wipe some vanilla bean from your nose. (In cyberspace, no one can hear you eat ice cream.)
But even if you know what you want and know just where to find it, you're cheating yourself of the true power of the Internet to make you a smarter shopper if you leave it at just that. Let's go over four ways to enhance your online shopping experience.
1. Check your checklist
If you're making a list and checking it twice, why not find out if that ideal present is naughty or nice? Thanks to popular sites such as Consumer Reports and CNET, you're just a free click away from thorough professional reviews.
But you know what's better than a seasoned tire-kicker? How about a mob of amateur tire-kickers? Thanks to sites like Epinions and Amazon's
I can't even begin to tell you the countless times I was dead set on buying a toy for my children when something as simple as a fellow consumer warning about the lack of an off switch, a complicated assembly process or just questionable quality of the plaything, period, sent me in a different direction.
Granted, you can't please everybody. We all have different tastes, and I'm sure some of you felt like giving up on me a few paragraphs back when I had you wolfing down Haagen-Dazs over Ben & Jerry's. Yes, you still think this article is about you, don't you? But if you come across a decent-sized sample of reviews either panning or praising a gift in your crosshairs, are you sure you want to ignore the popular vote?
2. Make sure the price is right
OK. So your gift idea is mother-tested and mob-approved. As long as what you're looking to buy isn't exclusive to a single store, you will find that no two shops can agree on the appropriate selling price. Shipping costs will vary, and good luck in trying to find any kind of common ground when it comes to return policies. But do you really want to spend all day clicking from store to store?
Fortunately, you don't have to. Comparison sites such as mySimon and DealTime will scour various online stores selling a particular item and come back with selling prices that can even be sorted to include shipping costs. While the listings do not cover every retailer, and some of the suggested storefronts may have affiliate relationships with the search site, it's an eye-opening alternative to going from shop to shop like a mallrat.
3. Make cheap cheaper
If you think you've hit rock bottom in terms of buying price after trolling the comparison sites, the truth is that you've barely skimmed the surface. Online coupons and discount codes are plentiful, and leave it to the Internet to create places where thrifty consumers can share their bargain ideas. Through cost-shaving destinations such as CoolSavings, DealCatcher, and Bargainflix, shoppers will find hundreds of active deals and coupon codes available at popular online stores.
Do retailers like the fact that their carefully targeted promotions are being usurped by the masses? Probably not. But who stands to reason with a mob of penny-pinching, tire-kicking insomniac ice cream eaters? We can be a savage lot, and, besides, the coupon-sharing sites are still standing. Score a percentage or dollar discount off a low-priced retailer suggested from a comparison site and -- ka-ching! -- those days of relishing the chance encounters at the clearance rack at your suburban strip mall are toast.
4. Flexibility pays
Having walked you through grassroots quality inspections, price checks, and discounts, it's time to throw you the cruelest of curves. Is this really the gift you want to give? I realize that you may have been attached to it at first, and after knocking a few bucks off you're absolutely smitten, but what are the chances of you toppling your cyber shopping cart and starting over? If you're flexible, there are always huge deals to be had online.
Traditional retailers have turned to the Web to clear out their closeouts, clearance items, and fashion mistakes, and aren't you just dying to scoop up what nobody else wanted to buy retail? But, seriously, there are often some tempting bargains to be had in the clearance and outlet categories at popular online storefronts.
You also have places such as Overstock.com
Put it all together and what have you got? You can go online and save time, money, and your sanity. Armed with the tools to find gifts cheaper, isn't the Internet empowering? Don't you feel special? Unless I'm mistaken, your bunny slippers are looking up to you right now.
Rick Aristotle Munarriz remembers the days when he used to do the bulk of his holiday shopping offline. Then again, he also remembers Beanie Babies, Wacky Packages, and vinyl records. Rick's stock holdings can be viewed online, as can the Fool's disclosure policy.