From augmented reality shopping programs to Bitcon payments, technology is fueling shopping behavior like never before. These advancements are mostly useful -- finding products on Pinterest is fun and next day shipping is convenient -- but do we actively use the Internet and technology to our advantage when shopping? Most of us don't. Instead, we regularly approach online buying from a fairly submissive stance, and that which we are presented with, we gladly accept, even if we would never accept it in-store.
When did we start becoming such passive shoppers? When did the price, product or deal presented to us online become not only accepted as correct but something we seriously considered buying? Did we really just become that lazy? Regardless of the cause, and regardless of how we are used to shopping, if we don't start taking an assertive role as online shoppers, we're going to end up paying a high price -- literally.
When you shop online you're basically on your own as an online customer and you're treated the same as everyone else. Online there are no sales associates to greet you and ask if you have questions throughout your shopping experience; you must actively contact the retailer to ask a question. Nor are told about discounts by a cashier as you checkout that may save you money; you must actively look for discounts on your own.
Being a twenty-first century online shopper isn't about having a rapport with a retailer or being a thrift store connoisseur; it's about keeping up to date with online shopping advancements, and using all that the Internet has to offer to your advantage, in order to find the best prices. If you're tech-savvy enough to send an email on your own, you're tech-savvy enough to not pay full price online. Below are four methods to start paving your own path to getting the best possible online prices.
1. Cheat the System; Buy a Discounted Retail Store Card
Even with coupon code sites, daily deals, penny auction sites and the works of digital buying platforms the Internet has enabled, it has also, almost ironically, made good-old-fashioned gift cards more valuable to shoppers than ever before. An assortment of gift card buyback sites have emerged allowing you to sell unused and unwanted gift cards online for cash. Along with buying back gift cards, certain sites, such as Raise , Cardpool and Card Rescue flip the used gift cards they receive and allow you to buy these used cards back at a discount. The 'gift card' in this case can be an e-gift card to be used online, voucher to be printed and redeemed in store, or a physical delivered to you by mail.
The loophole is in the re-commerce; the re-selling of a 'used' item online. Because the gift cards are 'used' they are sold at a discount pricing the cards below the value they are actually worth. So yes, they're truly discounted gift cards.
Thus, on gift card re-commerce sites, a $300.00 used gift card will cost you less than $300.00. Or, for example, you could get a $100.00 Express gift card for $83.00 -- a $17.00 or 17 percent off savings. It may not seem worth the hassle, but when we're talking about, say, a $500.00 purchase, that 17 percent off -- or $85.00 off -- I could get from buying a used gift card first, it sure makes the juice look worth the squeeze.
2. Go Where The Curated Discounts Already Are
Everyone loves a coupon, but the endless supply of coupon code sites can be overwhelming and finding the right one can end up becoming more frustrating than productive. Fast-track your search by going directly to aggregated discount sites that are relevant to the product for which you are looking.
There's no harm in using Google to find all possible coupon codes, but if you want to narrow your search you can start with the sites that are already clearly focused on a genre. Genre-specific sites will not only have the largest amounts of coupon codes in the categories you are looking, but will more often than not feature complementary editorial, such as gift guides, to help you shop. Streamlined discount sites also give you a leg up in the online shopping space by doing the searching, and essentially much of the discovery shopping, for you.
If you're on the hunt for tech-related items, check out LogicBuy or Techbargains.com. Techbargains is a deal site and technology forum run by self-called 'Bargainmeisters' who, with a slew of tech backgrounds, curate top computer and electronic deals and coupons. LogicBuy takes a similar approach with 'Deal Experts' each with backgrounds in deal hunting, who act as curators populating the site with top electronic deals. LogicBuy will often feature deals with an additional coupon code pre-applied to the deal total, allowing you to see the best possible price on a product with all applicable discounts applied.
Alternatively, if you are looking for fashion, you can jump straight to The Budget Fashionista or Style For Free. The Budget Fashionista is a one-stop-shop for the latest coupons, promo codes and deals in fashion, run by Kathryn Finney, author of How to Be a Budget Fashionista -- The Ultimate Guide to Looking Fabulous for Less. Style For Free is an over-decade-old site featuring fashion promo codes, for retailers from PUMA to Henri Bendel, stores and lookbooks.
3. Gift Giving? Take Advantage of Free Shipping Day
Depending on the size of your items and capacity of the seller, shipping can be a substantial part of an online purchase. To combat the extra fees, there's now a 24-hour holiday that banishes them. The web-originated holiday, Free Shipping Day, is a prime example of the Internet put to good consumer use. First launched in 2008, Free Shipping Day is an annual one-day event held in mid-December when which hundreds of online retailers offer 100 percent free shipping and guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve at Freeshipping.com.
Since its launch, the shopping-prompting holiday and site have been featured across morning shows, CNN, and The New York Times, among others, consummating the day as a legitimate online event for consumers. Free Shipping Day was the third highest spending day of the 2010 shopping season and by 2012 had recruited over 1,000 participating online merchants. The holiday is US-originated and has branched out to Canada and the UK. This year, Free Shipping Day falls on December 18th 2013, but will land on a different day each year as it is positioned around Christmas.
Be Assertive, Just Ask
When we shop in stores, we expect to hear the discounts as we walk in or read them off a sign in the doorway and we expect store employees to assist with the buying process. Expect online stores to show you the same courtesy, and if you don't see a discount you want, simply ask. Don't be afraid to email the retailer directly and ask for a price match on a product you have found elsewhere for less. Email or chat with the retailer and include the URL to an alternative price if possible. In most cases, the retailer will value your consumer loyalty and offer you a similar price or other buying incentive.
Remember you are giving the retailer your business, therefore even without a lower price found elsewhere or what you think is a 'good reason' to deserve a discount, it doesn't hurt to ask the retailer for one anyways. Worst case scenario, you don't get a discount, and instead use another method to find one.
As a tip, it's especially useful to turn to social platforms to ask your inquiry. Write on the retailer's Facebook wall, send a tweet on Twitter or tag them in a picture. You'll usually receive a much more prompt and positive response on social platforms where the conversation is made visible to the public.
Follow Kara Kamenec on Twitter: www.twitter.com/karakamenec