Comparison Shopping

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Bargain Hunting

Most of us are happy to save a few bucks whenever we shop, but for others, bargain hunting is a sport requiring great skill and constant vigilance. Online shopping online has opened up a new world for the obsessive deal hunter and the ordinary shopper alike. There's a huge assortment of Web sites devoted to helping you find the lowest prices and best offers from online retailers. In this guide you'll find our favorites.

Comparison Shopping

In the past, comparing prices between different retailers would have entailed calling them up or traipsing from store to store. These days, Web sites abound to spare you that tedium. Known as "shopping bots," shopping-comparison Web sites rapidly compile lists of outlets that stock the item, and the respective prices they offer.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • Many shopping Web sites are partnered with online retailers. As a result, they compare prices among only a limited number of stores. To make sure you really are getting the best price, use more than one shopping bot.
  • When it comes to shipping expenses, some shopping bots will add this on to the cost for you, whereas others won't. Make sure you mentally add shipping costs to the price of purchase for a true price comparison.

Dulcinea's Picks

For a variety of merchandise ...
For a specific category of item ...
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Coupon codes and rebates

Many retailers offer coupon codes, which are similar to the paper coupons used at brick-and-mortar stores. To use these online coupons, you usually type the code (a combination of letters and/or numbers) into a designated "redeem coupon" box during the checkout phase of your purchase. Discounts vary, but common deals include 10 percent off, $10 off of purchases over $50, or free shipping.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • Many of these coupon code Web sites are run by an individual, so they're unlikely to have an all-inclusive list of available deals and bargains. It's always a good idea to check with more than one coupon code Web site to find the best deal.
  • A few online coupon codes are for one-time use only, designed to be used by a specific individual. Many, however, can be used multiple times, and these are the codes that are often shared on Web sites and message boards.
  • One-time-use coupons codes can often be found for sale on auction sites and classified sites for a little less than the coupon is worth.

Dulcinea's Picks

For coupon codes ...
For rebates ...
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Rewards Programs

You've probably been earning cash back, airline miles, or other rewards through your credit cards for years. Many Web sites offer similar rewards programs as long as you visit them on your way to making purchases. We've compiled some of the best (and most lucrative) here.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • Shopping "portals" offer rebates or rewards whenever you shop with their partner retailers. In general, you must first become a member of the shopping portal Web site (membership is usually free), and click through its link to get to the store at which you want to shop. As a result, you'll earn a reward for your purchase. Sometimes the reward is a percentage of your purchase amount, and other times it's points that can be redeemed for merchandise or services.
  • Many of the "partner retailers" are the same for each shopping portal, so choose which portal to use based on what type of rewards you want. You'll accumulate more rebates and rewards at a retailer if you choose just one or two portals to use regularly.

Dulcinea's Picks

For cash, gift cards, or merchandise ...
For travel rewards ...
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Online Discount Stores

Similar to closeout or outlet brick-and-mortar stores, there are online retailers that specialize in bargain items. Often they feature overstocks or last season's merchandise, and they run the gamut from discounted haute couture fashion to bargain box goods.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • Since these retailers sell overstocks or closeouts, their stock of merchandise changes quickly. Moreover, available sizes, colors, etc., are limited. Savvy bargain hunters should check their favorites on a regular basis because good deals get scooped up quickly.
  • Many of these online retailers also offer promotional deals, so don't forget to check with a coupon-code Web site before shopping, and to shop through portal that will give you rebates or rewards.

Dulcinea's Picks

For discounters and closeout stores ...
For major retailers with specialty outlets ...
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One-Day Deals and Limited Times Sales

Some deals are just so hot that they sell out before the end of the day. As a result, many retailers have capitalized on this selling boom by offering very limited-time sales-sometimes lasting fewer than 24 hours!

Dulcinea's Insight

  • Some "daily deal" retailers specialize in a particular type of merchandise. Check the archives or message forum on the retailer's Web site to find out which items were sold during previous daily deals to get a feel for what you can expect.
  • Each "daily deal" retailer has its own start time for posting new deals. The most common times, however, are midnight and noon. If you want to be sure to get in on the hottest bargains, check "daily deal" Web sites as soon as they're updated.

Dulcinea's Picks

For one-day-only retailers ...
For major retailers offering regular limited-time deals ...
For a compilation of daily and limited-time deals ...
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Free Samples

Similar to the free food samples at your local supermarket, many companies give away free samples and merchandise to promote their products and services. Although fledgling businesses often give away samples to develop a customer base, even major product manufacturers offer freebies to test the market. As a result, there's a wealth of free stuff available to consumers.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • You often have to provide an e-mail address when you request free samples. To avoid getting unwanted solicitations in your regular e-mail inbox, create a free online e-mail address from a site like GMail or Hotmail that you use only to sign up for promotions and memberships.
  • Watch out for companies that offer "free trials." If you don't cancel before the trial ends, you could end up paying for a service you no longer want.

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Sales and Coupons

Although many people enjoy browsing online stores, others prefer to actually feel and see the merchandise before buying it. However, even if you like shopping in traditional brick-and-mortar stores, the Web can still be a valuable bargain-hunting tool. Many Web sites offer coupons, deals, and price comparisons for traditional retailers, too.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • Some bargain hunters abuse print-at-home coupons by printing hundreds of copies and then using them to get cartloads of free or very cheap merchandise from supermarkets and department stores. Many retailers have fought back against this coupon abuse by refusing to accept computer-printed coupons.
  • You may get unwanted e-mail from many of these coupon services, so keep that in mind when deciding which e-mail to use when you sign up. As we mentioned in the "Free Samples" section of this guide, it can be a good idea to create a free online e-mail address from a site like GMail or Hotmail that you use only to sign up for promotions and memberships.
  • It's illegal to sell coupons. Many coupon service Web sites don't technically charge for the actual coupons. Instead, they charge a handling fee.

Dulcinea's Picks

For printable coupons ...
For grocery coupons ...
For local prices ...
Who knew?
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Discount Shopping Blogs

Internet technology means information changes in the blink of an eye, so it's not always easy to stay current on the best shopping deals. Fortunately, many bloggers devote their blogs to bargain shopping.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • Bloggers tend to specialize in one category, such as fashion or tech gadgets, so bookmark the ones that meet your shopping needs.

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