Remember when everyone used to shop in stores? With cash registers? And things you could touch? Well, most people still do that, but the smart ones don’t. Instead, they use Amazon and the like. That’s because shopping in stores, especially during the holiday season, is a lot like being slapped in the face repeatedly by a guy in a metal glove, except the glove is frustration and the guy is an overly-caffeinated mother who won’t get off her cell phone long enough to silence the screaming 6-year-old hanging off her leg. Physically going to stores is an awful experience and shopping online is the greatest thing the modern world has to offer. If you decide to choose the path of the cyber-enlightened, here are a few helpful shopping tricks for Amazon and some of its competitors.
Get free shipping
Because of its behemoth size, Amazon is able to cut sweet deals for its customers. One of those is its free super-saver shipping program. If your order comes to more than $25, you get free shipping. So rather than buy all of your gifts individually as you think them of them, hold off until you have a collection of stuff to purchase, then place all of your orders at once. If you find yourself just short of the free shipping price mark, go to filleritem, where you can enter the additional dollar amount you need to spend and see a list of suggested items for that price.
Shop by discounts
A few years ago, computer programmer and online shopping expert Yan Bezugliy beat the system. He figured out how to tweak Amazon’s URLs in order to generate pages listing every discounted item under certain product categories. As Bezugliy pointed out in an interview with Made Man, these discounts are not released to the public in such easily accessible form.
“(Amazon) is not interested in just giving you access to discounted prices,” Bezugliy said. “They want it to be in the context of regularly priced products. That’s how their marketing works. They want to lure you with discounts and then they want you to buy something else.”
Visit Bezugliy’s blog, ProBargainHunter, to access these somewhat-exclusive discounts. You’re on the inside now.
Know when your item is available
In the cutthroat world of online shopping, timing is everything. If an item is out of stock or out of your price range, you might consider giving up and looking elsewhere. Instead, download the BuyLater extension for Firefox. It lets you mark an item on Amazon and alerts you when that item becomes available or drops to a specific price. The extension is still slightly buggy, but it works for the most part.
Pretend you’re in a real bookstore
Amazon is the dominant modern bookseller, but if you long for the timeless pleasure of physically browsing through rows of bookshelves, you can check out Zoomii. The site organizes all of Amazon’s titles into a collection of virtual bookshelves laid out to make it feel as though you’re in a bookstore.
Watch out for dynamic pricing
Some online retailers track your Internet habits and use that information to determine individualized prices. That means one shopper might see an item listed at a certain price while another shopper will see the same item listed at a completely different price. It’s called dynamic pricing, and it’s one method that retailers use to get the best of their customers. Whether or not Amazon uses this system is unclear; they got called out for it back in 2000, promptly disavowed the practice and nobody has complained since. Just to be safe, clear your cookies periodically while shopping online to ensure that the sites you visit aren’t harvesting your information.
Don’t use your credit card (if you don’t want to)
Little-known fact: Using your credit card on the Internet can be dangerous. Little-known, that is, if you’re exceptionally stupid. Under its shiny, Google-coated surface, the Internet is a bastion of shady-as-hell cyber-hustlers and lonely-as-hell hackers out to steal your personal information and sell it to evil super-villains who live on skull-shaped islands. Granted, most of those super-villains are actually Nigerian scam artists who live in rundown apartment buildings, but the threat is still real. Avoid death by gamma ray/identify theft by using one of Amazon’s many alternative payment methods. You can settle your bill by check, money order or by using a pre-paid Amazon gift card. There’s even a “bill me later” option, although you’ll have to submit to a credit check before Amazon approves you. It may or may not involve a cavity search. Just saying.
Be wary of third-party dealers
One of Amazon’s most appealing features is the large number of private sellers who operate through the website. While these dealers often boast excellent prices, some of them have been known to charge as much as double the normal retail price for certain items. Be safe and do a quick search for whatever it is you’re looking to buy in order to make sure you’re getting a fair price. While you’re at it, don’t forget to read the dealer’s shipping and return policies before buying anything, as they probably differ from Amazon’s policies.
If the prospect of combing the Internet for deals is too daunting for your mind/fingers/tendency-to-lose-interest-in-things-after-three-or-four-minutes-unless-those-things-are-boobs, fear not: There are services dedicated to finding the best bargains the Internet has to offer. Shopzilla, PriceGrabber and Google Products all offer easy ways to search vast tracts of the Internet and locate the best price for your desired item. Bezugliy recommends Google.
“It’s the most comprehensive,” he said, “because Google doesn’t charge retailers to appear in their search results; you’ll find results from places you wouldn’t normally see.”
After all is said and done, there’s a good chance you’ll just end up back at Amazon, but at least you’ll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing you tried to be different. Which brings us to…
We all know that Amazon is convenient and capable of selling you just about anything, including food, wooden toilet thrones and some really messed up books on sex-toy-induced tantric karma. But what if you want to break free of the norm? To test the outer boundaries of Internet shopping? To expand the scope of your cyber-buying experience and get a taste of the near limitless possibilities for material consumption the Web has to offer? Amazon is just the tip of the iceberg — a one-stop mega-mart that dominates the Internet’s vast downtown skyline. Take a stroll off the beaten path, however, and you discover an entire city filled with shops and vendors. Here are a few of our favorites:
If Amazon is the mainstream corporate superstore, then Etsy is that trendy thrift shop around the corner you’ve always walked by but never ventured into, mainly because it tends to be packed with douchey art-school kids who smell like cigarettes and chai tea. Fortunately, Internet hipsters are far less annoying than real ones, and Etsy is open to all. At its core, the site is a collection of artists and craftsmen selling their wares at reasonable prices. Here you can find art you won’t find anywhere else because it’s not available anywhere else. And once you have it, you can hang it on your wall and tell people it’s rare. This is known as “being a smug ass” and it’s a basic requirement for having a decent art collection.
As long as it falls roughly within the “clothing and shoes” category, Zappos probably has it. What’s more, the site guarantees free shipping on purchases and returns for all orders, no matter how big or small.
Gilt offers its shoppers some of the fattest discounts available on clothing and accessories. It has been known to sell items at 50-70 percent off suggested retail price. Designer items. Those are the good ones. The only catch is that the site is members-only. You either have to be invited by a member or submit a request for membership on Gilt’s homepage.
There are thousands of online retailers, many of which offer price-matching, free shipping and impressive discounts. So put on your Internet shopping pants (Internet shopping pants = no pants), dive in and take a look around. Your girlfriend will be proud. And if she’s not, you can buy a new girlfriend. They have websites for that, too.