Before You Buy Gifts Online, Check These Sites


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Paying for shipping is one of the most annoying aspects of online shopping. Many ecommerce stores offer free shipping if you spend a minimum amount. There are even Amazon “filler item finders” that help shoppers find low-priced products to hit the $35 minimum. Not everyone wants to spend that much, though, and there are other ways to avoid shipping fees. Some online vendors have anointed Dec. 18 Free Shipping Day; this site lists all the participants. ShopRunner offers members free two-day shipping from select retailers. Membership costs $8.95 per month or $79 per year and is free for American Express cardholders.


Luxury flash-deal sites such as Gilt don’t generally show up on our radar, but there are similar opportunities for less expensive items. Groupon Goods and Living Social’s shop section are two places worth checking. Woot, another popular option, offers deals that last a few days or until the items sell out.


Adding photos or unique designs to products is the online version of a homemade gift, and one of the biggest players is CafePress. The site lets customers put a personalized print on everything from an apron or tablecloth to clothing, jewelry, phone cases, shower curtains, and stationery. If your creative juices are blocked, you can search through others’ designs.


Anyone who shops online should be using a cash-back site such as Ebates, Mr. Rebates, or Top Cashback. After creating an account you can shop at hundreds of stores, including the likes of Amazon and Target, via links on the cash-back site. The money returned varies depending on the cash-back site, the retailer, and the product category but often settles in the 2-to-6-percent range (in rare cases it reaches as high as 40 percent). These sites make money by earning a slightly higher percentage for “referring” shoppers to retail sites. You can usually stack these cash-back deals with coupons or other discount codes.


If you’re considering giving someone a gift card or making a large purchase, check Gift Card Granny first. There’s an active market for used gift cards online (many with their full value and others that have been used) and the site is an aggregator for the different marketplaces -- a bit like Kayak for travel. Save 5 percent off a Best Buy gift card and give it away, for example, or make a large purchase and stack the savings from the discounted gift card with promotions, discount codes, and cash-back deals to max out money saved.


If you’re looking for a sweet deal but not necessarily a specific product, Slickdeals hosts an active community filled with expert deal hunters. The best deals are floated to the front page based on members’ votes. Members usually give detailed instructions on how to claim a deal (sometimes several steps are required) and update threads when specific deals have ended. Below the deal, the comments section often is filled with reports from users about their experiences with the discounted product, the item’s durability or features, and whether the low price actually makes it a good buy. If you’re shopping for something specific, you can create an account and set an alert for whenever the item is mentioned.


Handmade jewelry, clothing, and other goods are always popular gifts. Etsy is one of the most well-known online marketplaces for artisanal items, but don’t stop searching there. Consider alternatives such as Bonanza, Storenvy, and Artfire.


Just about every site these days has an empty box asking for a coupon or promotion code at checkout. Where do you find the code to enter? Sometimes on the site itself, but often by searching online and seeing codes other shoppers have found. Head directly to Retail Me Not, where thousands of stores and hundreds of thousands of coupons are featured. Codes are often accompanied by a percentage success rate, as reported by users, and sometimes people leave comments on their experience with a specific code.


One advantage of the ecommerce world is the ease of comparison shopping. Saveful gives bargain hunters a leg up by comparing product prices from multiple retailers and taking account of sales, shipping costs, and available coupons to determine which store is charging the true lowest price. Greentoe takes a different tack: Here you name your price (a la Priceline) when scouting for items in five categories: photography, home theater, baby, musical instruments, and appliances.