Smart Online Shopping Tips
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16 Insider Tips and Secrets for Frugal Online Shopping

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Smart Online Shopping Tips
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Save While Spending

Stay-at-home orders have made most shopping trips to bricks-and-mortar stores a fond memory for now. But our favorite retailers are still doing business online, and many are depending on our orders to stay afloat. Still, that doesn’t mean you should spend more than you have to. There’s no shortage of sites that claim to help you shrink your online shopping bills, but if you’re looking for some more general wisdom to help you save before clicking “buy,” we’ve got you covered with the following tips.

Related: 21 Free Offers and Special Deals to Help You Through the Coronavirus Crisis

Comparison Shop 'Til You Drop
Google Shopping

Comparison Shop 'Til You Drop

Online shopping makes comparing prices easy, but pulling up one or two competing websites just doesn’t cut it — there are just too many places a lower price could be lurking. One of the most user-friendly ways to compare prices is to use Google Shopping. Simply type in what you’re looking for, and the Google wizards will show you not just the price of the item at a long list of stores, but how tax and shipping factor into the final cost. If you can’t remember to open a separate browser window while you’re shopping, a good option is a browser extension like Invisible Hand, which will pop up and alert you when it finds a lower price.

Always See If There’s a Coupon Code
Honey

Always See If There’s a Coupon Code

Coupon codes rank right up there with comparison shopping as the most important online savings tactic. Sometimes retailers will apply any valid codes automatically as soon as you visit their website, while others may tell you about offers via a pop-up box. Still others will accept codes they don’t advertise, or advertise only to a select few. Whatever the case, put on your detective hat and search sites like RetailMeNot to suss out any valid offers. Better yet, get an app like Honey that will scour the web for coupon codes and automatically apply the best one.

Use a Cash-Back App
Ibotta

Use a Cash-Back App

All those coupon codes save you money before you fork over your credit card, but cash-back apps reward you after the purchase is complete if you shop through their portals. You may have heard of Ebates, which last year was swallowed up by Rakuten. When you shop through Rakuten, you’ll earn cash back that’s paid out via check or PayPal every quarter. Another popular option is Ibotta, which also allows shoppers to find offers when they shop in store, then scan their receipt. These apps generally don’t mean instant cash (you may have to reach a certain amount, for instance, or wait until the end of a pay period to get your cash back) but users find that a little patience can help them reap some sweet rewards.

Track Amazon Prices Over Time
Camelcamelcamel

Track Amazon Prices Over Time

Many items on Amazon are perpetually on sale — or so Amazon wants you to think, with its crossed-out list prices. Before being suckered in by what seems like a fat discount, check out an item's price history using an Amazon-optimized tracker such as Camelcamelcamel. Because prices on Amazon often fluctuate, sometimes by significant amounts, what appears to be a good sale may not be anything approaching a real deal.

Related: 22 Insider Hacks and Secrets for Shopping on Amazon

Consider a Rewards Credit Card
Discover

Consider a Rewards Credit Card

It’s smart to use a credit card for online purchases, since you get more built-in protection from data theft than you do with a debit card. As long as you’re diligent about paying off your balance every month, consider using a card that will reward you for all that online shopping. For instance, the Discover It Cash Back credit card will offer 5% cash back for online purchases through Amazon, Target, and Walmart from October through December this year. For Amazon aficionados, the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa offers 5% back on Amazon purchases all year for Prime members, and 3% for non-Prime members.

Abandon Your Virtual Cart
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Abandon Your Virtual Cart

As long as you’re not shopping for an item having stock issues, try filling your cart with what you want, then leaving it without buying. As long as you’re signed into your account with that retailer, you might find emails or even Facebook ads enticing you to come back and complete your purchase, often with a discount to try to seal the deal.

Create an Email Account Just for Shopping
Google Play

Create an Email Account Just for Shopping

Retailers often save their best deals for the loyal customers who’ve agreed to fork over their email addresses, but what if you don’t want to clutter your inbox with dozens of promotions? The solution is easy: Sign up for a new email account solely for shopping — that way you won’t miss an offer, all while keeping your more important emails separate. Another idea: Use Unroll.me to “roll up” all your retailer e-mails into one daily digest, and easily unsubscribe from others you don’t want.

Follow Retailers on Social Media
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Follow Retailers on Social Media

Email isn’t the only way stores try to woo potential customers. If you’re a frequent shopper at a particular retailer, like or follow them on your favorite social media channels. You may find that they reserve some special offers or coupon codes solely for their biggest fans. And smaller retailers are likely to keep the deals coming as they work to establish their social media presence.

Use a Private Browser Window
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Use a Private Browser Window

One of the dirty secrets of online shopping is something called “dynamic pricing” — essentially, a fancy term for retailers that alter the price of an item based on your location, browsing history, or other factors. How do you fight back? The easiest way is to use your web browser’s private or “incognito” mode while you shop. This blocks those pesky “cookies” that retailers use to track your activity. This also has the added benefit of eliminating all those sudden ads touting anything you recently browsed for, but aren’t yet prepared to buy.

Check for Discounted Retailer Gift Cards
Raise

Check for Discounted Retailer Gift Cards

Let’s say you want to make a purchase from Old Navy, and you’ve already done your thrifty due diligence by shopping during a good sale and checking for any other coupon codes. There’s another way to save: Check gift card resale sites like Cardpool or Raise for electronic gift cards you can purchase for less than face value. For instance, we found plenty of Old Navy gift cards at Cardpool for 15% off — in other words, you’d get $100 for $85, or $50 for $42.50. Best of all, gift cards spend just like cash, so you can get these discounts on top of other offers.

Use a Receipt Tracker
Paribus

Use a Receipt Tracker

One of the most frustrating things about shopping is finally deciding to buy an item, only to see it go on sale a few days after your purchase. But just as some bricks-and-mortar stores offer price adjustments, you can often get the same courtesy online — and automate the process. One of the most well-known apps that does this is Paribus, now owned by Capital One, which tracks prices at more than 25 major retailers in order to find potential refunds. Techlicious provides a good rundown of a few of these services and how they compare.

Chat With a Customer Service Rep
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Chat With a Customer Service Rep

That little chat icon on your favorite retailer’s website isn’t just for complaints. Strike up a conversation by asking whether there’s any way for you to save on the item you have your eye on. If you’re chatting with a real person, they’ll be happy to be fielding something other than a complaint; if you’re chatting with a bot, you may get hit with a link for an automatic coupon code. Of course, you won’t always hit paydirt — but as mom used to say, if you don’t ask, the answer is always no.

Try Haggling
PriceWaiter

Try Haggling

While most Americans rarely think of haggling to begin with, the prospect of negotiating seems like a complete non-starter online. But it doesn’t have to be. An app called PriceWaiter allows you to offer a lower price on select products, then sit back and see if a seller accepts. If they do, you’re still under no obligation to buy, and if they don’t, you can even present a counteroffer.

Related: 11 Essential Rules for Negotiating a Discount

Don’t Forget Secondhand Stores
ThredUp

Don’t Forget Secondhand Stores

Just because you’re shopping virtually doesn’t mean you have to buy new. Of course everyone knows eBay can be a treasure trove of used goodies, but there are plenty of other options, depending on what you’re looking for. ThredUp and Swap are among the sites to browse for second-hand clothing. In the market for used furniture or other larger items? Check out Facebook’s Marketplace and the ever-interesting Craigslist. Want a good price on used books? Try AbeBooks or ThriftBooks.

Related: Buy These 24 Things Secondhand to Save Big

Shop on the Right Day
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Shop on the Right Day

Depending on where you want to shop, some days might be better than others if you’re angling for the best deal. Rather Be Shopping has documented the online sales cycles at major retailers. For instance, it’s best to wait until late in the week or the weekend to load up on clothing at Old Navy, while Target appears to update its all-important online clearance section on Saturdays.

Walmart Grocery Pickup
Cheapism

Save on Shipping With Store Pickup

Free shipping is more of a gimme than ever, especially as stores try to entice shoppers who don’t want to shop in stores during the pandemic. Still, if you’re looking to save money (or forgo long shipping times) don’t forget that in-store pickup remains a money-saving option at many retailers. Many are now offering curbside pickup so you don’t even have to get out of your car.

Related: I Tried Walmart's Grocery Pickup and This Is What Happened