It’s a dog eat dog world in the retail market right now, and with the holiday season coming up, it’s going to get even crazier for bargain hunters, as stores try like mad to discount their way into your wallet and attention. To help you make the right kind of decision as we approach Black Friday and beyond, we’re presenting our Honest John guide on how to grab a real bargain at this time of year.
1. Set aside some time!
This is not always feasible for many people, but if you can do it, it really pays dividends! The general rule is, the more time you set aside to research, select and plan your purchase, the more chance you will have to grab a real bargain. Now this only works if you save more cash than your time’s worth of course, so you’ll have to do that math yourself, but if you can set aside a weekend or so – especially for large budget purchases – then you’ll give yourself a real chance of winning out.
2.Choose your product wisely!
This is the core part of your buying process. Most people think it’s enough to do a quick Google search and read some Amazon reviews, but that’s really just a bare minimum policy. Your product research should cover 3 main points:
1. Quality. It’s absolutely no good grabbing a ‘bargain‘ product if it’s so cheaply made that it falls apart in two weeks. So hunt around to find brands and products that have a good reputation for quality. They won’t necessarily be the big ‘marketed’ brands, so don’t be swayed by advertising, look for real owner reviews and comments. We’ll see where later.
2. Price. Obviously a good part of your research will cover price, and the same things apply. Don’t be fooled by a knock down price on a product which looks ‘similar’ to the one you’re hunting for. Sometimes that low price covers cheap materials and shoddy manufacture. Be steady and stick to the make/model you’re sure is a robust, well liked product.
3. Features. One of the best ways to ensure you get the features you’re looking for in a product is to set out your wish list first, the ideal product you would like. And then run through the listings of possible products to see which ones match and which are close. This stage is all about compromise, because unless you’re very lucky, no single product will ever have all the features you’d like at the price. So decide which are crucial features and which are nice to have, and select your product on that basis.
3. Research is not just for scientists!
You’ve already started your research by choosing the product and features you want, but there are a ton of places where you can pick up the information you need, and this can really help in the end.
a) Forums. Find out where people are talking about the product you want. Look in product support forums, manufacturer forums, hobby and enthusiast forums, any place where you can do a Google search and locate a conversation going on about your Acme 2000 gadget! Manufacturer support forums are great, because they tell you i), how robust the product is, and ii) how well the brand treats its customers. Gold dust in case you have problems later on.
b) Reviews. We all know by now that the review sections on most sites including Amazon, are stuffed with shills, promoting company products with lies and more lies. But don’t give up. Always start with the negative reviews and work backwards. But again don’t believe everything you read there, because rivals have their own army of shills too, instead try and gain a general feeling for the opinion of the honest buyers. You’re trying to get a feel for the product over various sources, not just reviews, so add the consensus to your list and move on to the next check. Independent review services such as Revoo.com are also worth checking. And of course you should also check out reviews on sites like the Red Ferret!
c) Social networks. These are powerful because they’re generally more personal. If you put a note out to your favorite network to ask, chances are you’ll get back some intelligent responses as well as the usual dunnos. The same goes for using places like specialist Reddit subs, don’t be afraid to ask. The LifeProTips sub at http://www.reddit.com/r/LifeProTips/ is a great place to ask for some help or advice (just remember to label it Request).
4. Be wary of specials!
It may seem counter-intuitive, but when it comes to ‘extra special’ pricing, especially around times like Black Friday, all may not be as simple as it seems. Very often the prices have been artificially inflated prior to the event to meet with sales regulations and make the product appear more of a bargain. Even worse, these events are prime opportunities for retailers and brands to off-load their slow selling gear, and often there’s a reason why the products aren’t selling that well. Double check before you do an impulse buy you may regret later. Is it a good product, is it reliable or did that particular model have problems? What feature is missing, which is in other models, that could explain a lower price?
5. Shopping directories?
Online directories and major online stores are the best place to start building a listing of the product you’re after. The directories don’t offer much in the way of context or user valuations, but they can give you an idea of how commonly available the model you want is. So for the main ones use:
and for retailers of course, start with:
But don’t forget the major online retailers like:
Frontgate and even the revamped
For those of you who are a little braver, and who are happy to shop with a little more risk, there are also Far Eastern suppliers which you can use, such as:
You will need to be confident that you know what you’re buying with these stores, and be aware that returns will cost you shipping money no matter what the reason, but you can pick up genuine bargains here if you know what you are doing. Definitely a great bargain route for the brave, but don’t forget to factor in duties and shipping costs.
6. Coupons are your friend!
The best way to track bargain offers via coupons is to use the automated browser tools that are everywhere now. For instance you can install Coupons At Checkout to show the best coupons when you are on the checkout page, or InvisibleHand which shows you all coupons related to the site when you land on it. Similar browser add-ons include Cuivo and PriceBlink which focus on deals and price offers. Use these while you are researching and you’ll find some solid bargain coupons and prices to add to your list of final results.
7. Search Tricks!
If you have more time to make your selection (i.e. you’re not in a mad rush to get your new toy NOW), then you should definitely think about setting up some automated search tools to help you track and decide on the right time to deliver the best bargain bang. The first thing you could try is to set up a Google Alert, which you can set up something like this – “site:thinkgeek.com batman”. This will give you an alert every time ThinkGeek adds a new Batman product to the store. You’ll also get alerts when the site mentions the word Batman, but that’s hopefully not too much.
You can also set up alerts on the excellent CamelCamelCamel service which will tell you when the price drops on your chosen product on Amazon. PricePinx offers the same kind of cool service but on a wide range of online stores, as does Nifti. These tools should ensure that you never miss a bargain opportunity again.
8. Crowd support!
One great way to pull in the best bargain price on your chosen product is to check in with one of the online deal buying services. The two most famous are Fatwallet and Slickdeals, both of which rely on a canny set of users to find and promote bargains from retailers and major brands. The key to these sites are the forums, where you can post questions and find answers about your particular product model and brand. Use the power of the crowd whenever you can!
9. Offline Price Match!
Many bricks and mortar stores now have price matching schemes which are designed to let you get your product immediately and without losing money. So if you find that online bargain you’ve been looking for, and don’t want the hassle of waiting by the postbox for it to arrive, then it’s always worthwhile taking a copy or printout of the online deal you’ve found to your local retailer to see if they will match it there and then. Local support and a friendly supplier can be a real bonus if you get any kind of trouble with the product later on.
10. Post Purchase refunds!
Finally, never overlook the possibility of getting a refund from that purchase you made, even after you handed over the cash. Many stores out there have a ‘best price’ warranty, which will refund you the price difference if you find the product cheaper during 15 to 30 days after you bought the item. So there’s no reason why you shouldn’t keep those price alerts live for another month, just to make sure you’ve sucked up every last penny of the bargain price there is.
Now that you read and implement all the above steps, you are a true Ninja Discount shopper! But before you go away and enjoy your next discount purchase, make sure you let us know your own tricks in the comments bellow! This way we all getter better and enjoy the best prices together!