Ever wonder what the real experts know that you don't when it
comes to online shopping?
Little tricks of the trade that make the buys better, the
discounts deeper and the whole experience of online shopping even
These days, when it comes to retail goods, shoppers are making
more than one out of every six purchases online, according to
statistics from the National Retail Federation. And that number is
Want to make your surfing, clicking and buying quicker, cheaper
and easier? Here are eight insider strategies:
1. Get the coupons, skip the spam.
What's the difference between getting a big discount and missing
With online shopping it can be a matter of timing.
Most online shops "release coupons on the second of the month or
on the 27th or 28th," says Hillary Mendelsohn, author of "the
purplebook" online shopping series and founder of
"So that's good to know, timing-wise," she says.
While coupon codes are great, stores don't always release them
to coupon code aggregating sites, Mendelsohn says.
Her strategy: She registered for a free email account and uses
that address to sign up for coupons at the stores she regularly
shops. When she's ready to buy, Mendelsohn logs into the email
account and does a quick search for that store. What she has
instantly: All its coupons.
"This is a great way of not having your [regular] email box
filled with spam and being able to access the deals you want all
the time," Mendelsohn says.
2. Consider automating regular buys.
Have something bulky or heavy that you buy regularly?
Instead of lugging it home yourself, consider setting up an
automated order, says Mendelsohn, who uses Amazon's "subscribe"
feature to get her kids' favorite tea by the case every other
"I don't have to place the order, and I get a discount," she
says. "And it's free shipping. It makes a huge difference, and I
don't have the schlep it."
What it's good for: "Big things you need constantly" from
diapers to dog food, she says. "You save money, you save time and
you save schlep energy."
Free shipping can also sub in for "free delivery" for large
one-time purchases, such as patio furniture and ping-pong tables,
With all the options for shopping and delivery, it pays to think
strategically and "be smart about what you order online and what
you go to the store for," Mendelsohn says.
3. Coupons + discount gift cards = more savings.
What's better than a coupon for something you need? Being able to
combine that coupon with a discounted gift card to amp up your
And while you often can't use two different coupons on one item,
use a coupon with a gift card purchased for less than face value,
says Michelle Madhok, founder of
, an online shopping site.
Madhok's tip: Use a gift card search site (her favorite:
) to find a reputable seller for whatever card you need. And stick
with well-known, legit companies, rather than individuals, she
You can often buy them for 6 percent to 15 percent off face
value and many are ecards, so you don't have to wait for delivery,
Then "stack the deal" with a coupon or promo code, Madhok
Recently, "I used a digital gift card and coupon code on a $300
purchase and ended up saving about $50," she says.
Want to ratchet that up even more? Use a credit card that gives
, says Madhok.
Some cards will even boost those rewards if you buy from certain
merchants or use the card's app or online site as a jumping off
point for your shopping.
4. Use alerts to save, not spend.
Be careful about subscribing to those "daily deals," says Kit
Yarrow, consumer psychologist and author of "Generation BuY: How
Tweens, Teens, and Twenty-Somethings Are Revolutionizing
Here's why: They present a sudden deadline, plus an element of
competition, she says. "People make hasty decisions when they feel
like they're competing with other shoppers."
"I've found that shoppers tend to end up buying more, and they
also buy less-satisfying things through this process," Yarrow
When alerts can save: After you buy.
Set up a price alert for the item and if the price drops, email
customer service about a refund of the discounted amount, says
Madhok, who used this recently to save $70 total on two separate
"Usually, they'll honor it within two weeks" of purchase she
5. Make the most of that shopping cart.
If you want to save a few bucks, that shopping cart is valuable
"Pre-load your shopping cart with items you're hoping to buy, in
order to snap them up quickly if they go on sale," says Yarrow.
"Most sites don't empty your shopping cart if you're a
registered user," she says. "So when they go on sale, you're ready
It gives you time to rethink your buying decision, too, she
says. "This process also helps shoppers make better decisions
because it forces a 'cooling off period.'"
Want an extra incentive not to spend? Consider the cost and
hassle of returning before you click "buy," says Yarrow. And find
out who pays return shipping.
6. Find out upfront: Available or back-order?
Shopping under a deadline? Check back-order before you pay, says
Leslie Linevsky, co-founder of
Ideally, sites should notify you that something is out of stock
when you place it in your shopping cart, she says. But not all of
them do. Some notify you after you've given your card information,
but before they bill you, Linevsky says. Others may not tell you at
So keep back-order in mind as you shop and look for indicators
that your merchandise is actually available.
If the site doesn't disclose if an item is in stock, call before
you place the order, says Linevsky. Or go to a site that makes it
plain, she says.
7. Practice safe shopping.
If you really want to save time and money, it pays to be as safety
conscious online as you would be at your neighborhood mall.
Some smart habits:
When you're supplying personal data (such as your name, address
or card number), make sure you're on a secure, encrypted page, says
Frank DeBlasi, co-founder of
, a cash-back shopping site.
If the URL has an "s" (for "secure") after the "http," that
means "any information you send is being transmitted securely," he
says. "You never want to shop anywhere that doesn't have that."
Likewise, you don't want to use public or office computers for
shopping. Information can linger, even if you think you've erased
it. (Not to mention that some employers actually monitor your
Skip the public WiFi, too, says DeBlasi. "You never know the
true level of security of the network you are connected to," he
says. "On your home network, you have control of the level of
And watch how you pay. "Always use a credit card when you
purchase online, not a debit card," DeBlasi says. With a debit
card, if something goes wrong, you're fighting to get back cash
that's already missing from your account, he says. "When you use a
credit card, you have a middle man in the transaction. And the
money isn't removed from your account."
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