Shopping online is a double-edged sword. Naturally, it's super convenient to be able to browse virtually any store in the world, even if you live in the middle of nowhere. There's no giant parking lot, no crowds, and pants are optional. Products are delivered right to your home. Did I mention pants are optional?
But if you're obsessed with always getting the best deal, buying everything online can be nerve-wracking too. You could spend hours clicking around site after site making sure you have the best deal, trying to find a promo code for free shipping, even obsessing over the price of something you've already purchased, wondering if you can get a refund of the price difference should it suddenly go on sale. Before you add anything else to your favorite retailer's online shopping cart, check out these tips for stress-free, automatic savings no matter where you shop.
Getting the best deal requires shopping around, right? No. No one has time for that. Install InivisbleHand in your browser of choice--it's a free extension for Firefox, Chrome, and Safari. Once it's installed, just head to your favorite online retailer and shop like normally. As you view products, you'll see a yellow bar drop down to notify you if that product can be found cheaper elsewhere. That's it.
Well, it also lets you share that deal on Facebook or Twitter, or add it to a wish list that's stored on Facebook, but the price alerts are the real attraction. The list of supported sites is simply huge, and it even works when you're searching for plane tickets.
If you're still in research mode, PriceBlink works similarly to InvisibleHand. It's an extension for Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, and Firefox. Like InvisibleHand, PriceBlink compares prices for items you're viewing across multiple sites, but it also has reviews from multiple sites, so you can quickly figure out if that thing is worth buying in the first place. PriceBlink also has a chart showing price trends over time, coupon codes for the site you're on, and a wish list, all right in the friendly yellow pop-up bar.
Coupons at Checkout
Speaking of coupon codes, you could visit RetailMeNot before every purchase to search for discount codes manually, or automate that with a browser extension. Coupons at Checkout is an add-on for Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Internet Explorer, and it stays totally out of your way--until you're buying something online and there's a prompt for a promo code. You'll notice that box is glowing red. Click it, and boom! In your face! Are several coupon codes you can try. And you didn't even have to leave the page to look for them. Tons of sites are supported, including nerd favorites like Newegg, ThinkGeek, and Monoprice, and coupon-crazy pizza chains Pizza Hut, Papa John's, and Dominos.
Honey only works with Chrome, but it's even easier to use than Coupons at Checkout. You just click the orange Find Savings button that pops up next to the promo-code box on a supported site.
Honey goes ahead and tries all the coupon codes it can possibly find, and applies however many of them are applicable and don't cancel each other out, so you get the best deal. Of course it wants you to share the news of your massive savings on social media (and deal-bragging is fun, so why not), but that's entirely optional.
Grocery store apps
Whatever grocery store you regularly use, check to see if they have an app. If you're willing to spend a few minutes tapping around it before you shop, the savings could be significant.
Before my weekly trip to Safeway, for example, I fire up the free iPhone app (it's on Android too), and I can check out what's on sale that week (all the better for planning menus) plus peruse dozens of "Just for You" deals and coupons that give additional discounts over the sale prices I'd find if I just walked into the store.
If you buy a lot of stuff on Amazon, Best Buy, and Newegg--and let's face it, you're the techy type, so you probably do--then CamelCamelCamel is a godsend. You can track products you think are just a tad too expensive, and get alerts when they drop in price below a certain threshold.
Even better, install The Camelizer browser extension in Firefox, Safari, or Chrome, and you can add items to your watch lists right from their product pages.
Don't forget about price adjustments--if the price of something you buy goes down after you purchase it, some retailers are happy to refund the difference, as long as you remember to ask within a certain grace period and can produce your receipt. The trick is knowing about this policy, knowing the grace period, and finding out about the price drop.
Slice makes that simple. Download the iPhone or Android app, or just use the Web version. It'll watch your email account for merchant receipts (promising to ignore the rest of your personal messages!), and then track your incoming packages and watch for and alert you of price drops. It keeps track of your receipts too. You don't have to do anything but keep stimulating the economy!
Work the retailers
Every site that sells things wants to add you to their mailing list. They all promise exclusive sales and discounts just for list members. Sometimes they even deliver on those promises. Thankfully, if you use the new tabbed inbox feature in Gmail, it's easy to send those to the Promotions tab so they don't clutter up your inbox. And even if you don't use that feature, you can set up filters so those emails skip your inbox--instead, Gmail can marked them as read, archive them, and apply a label like "shopping" so you can find them later.
Abandon your cart
Here's another trick to try if you're on the fence about buying something--say, a splurge purchase or some stress-shopping you did while procrastinating on a deadline. (Not that I'd know anything about that!) Log in to your account on the shopping site, add some stuff your virtual shopping cart, and leave without completing the purchase. Some sites (not all, and not always) will follow up with an email helpfully reminding you to come back and buy it, and sometimes they'll include a discount code or free shipping to entice you to pull the trigger.
Get cash back or airlines miles
Check a site like Ebates or your favorite airline's frequent flier "online mall" before you buy something online. If the store is included, you could get a little money back, or get some airline miles for your purchase. In the latter case, the real value isn't the 2 airline miles you'll get for your $1 purchase in the iTunes Store--it's that the transaction counts as activity, which resets the clock on when your miles will expire, usually 18 months after your last activity.
What about privacy?
Sign up for spam newsletters? Install extensions that track your browsing activity? If these sound like privacy nightmares that aren't worth a few dollars in savings, just take some steps to isolate the potential fallout. You could sign up for a separate Gmail account just for store newsletters, for starters.
The benefit of that is that you can set up Chrome to use more than one Google account. In Chrome's settings, look for Users, and click Add New User, then add your spam-grabbing Gmail account as the second user. Then you can switch user accounts in the top-right corner of your Chrome browser window--just be sure to pop over to your spammy account before you install the Chrome extensions mentioned above. Then you can just use that account for shopping-related browser activities, and keep your main Google account for all the other browsing you do, and the extensions you have installed for your spammy account won't track your primary account's activities.
Another side benefit of having a separate Gmail address for spam is that you don't have to check it to mine the good stuff--you can use Gmail's filters to forward emails to your main account if they contain keywords like "promo code" or "free shipping" or the name of a product you're interested in.