It’s no secret that online shopping has changed the face of retailing forever. As consumers, we’ve now become accustomed to ordering items at any time of day and receiving them at our doorstep in less than a week.
According The Wall Street Journal, this year marks the first time that consumers have bought more of their purchases online than in physical stores. And Forrester Research projects that “about 190 million U.S. consumers, will shop online this year.”
It’s clear that online shopping is super-convenient for us consumers, but after retailers load in shipping costs, is it still possible to find great deals online? Fortunately, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
Unlike shopping in most physical stores, online shopping gives you the opportunity to save money by leveraging cashback programs, promo codes, and deal sites (to name a few).
We made notes of our favorite smart shopping tactics and also consulted some industry experts to hear their secrets. What resulted is the following list of 26 tips to help you get the best online shopping deals:
- Use a cashback site every time you shop online
Cash back sites like Splender.com are not only free to use, but also can save you up to 40% off your online purchases. Surprisingly, many people either still aren’t aware of cashback sites or don’t take the time to use them religiously before each online purchase. Once you take the 2-3 mins to setup your account, using a cashback site probably adds all of 30 seconds to your online shopping trip, but can literally save you hundreds of dollars over time.
Most cashback sites have relationships with hundreds of major retailers (e.g. Best Buy, eBay, Sephora, Macy’s, Home Depot, Staples, Sears, Expedia, etc.), so the odds are extremely high that you’re already buying things that you could be receiving cashback rewards for. It’s also worth noting that earning cashback rewards doesn’t exclude you from saving in other ways (e.g. coupons, loyalty programs, credit cards rewards, etc.). The savviest shoppers find ways to “stack” cashback rewards with other deals, something I’ll touch on a bit more in “tip #7.”
- Check cashback comparison sites to find the best cashback rates available
When it comes to cashback sites, you’ve got several options to choose from and the actual cashback rates will vary across different stores and product categories. A great way to see who offers the best cashback deals at your favorite stores is to check cashback comparison sites like Cashback Monitor or Cashback Holic. These sites show you who (currently) has the best cashback rate, and they also will show you other rewards programs (e.g. airline miles or points) and how those stack up against cashback rates at the stores you’re going to shop at.
Before you blindly use cashback comparison sites to simply pick the site with the highest rate, there are a few things to keep in mind such as:
- Promotions: some cashback rates only last for a limited time. So, tomorrow (or next week) you may see a different cashback rate at the same retailer.
- Payment time: some cashback sites will actually pay out your cashback rewards faster than others. Splender (for example) pays monthly, but other sites may make you wait up to 3 months to receive your rewards.
- Exclusions: certain purchases (like gift cards) are often prohibited from earning cashback rewards. So, be sure to read the fine print at the cashback site you’re using.
- Leverage online coupons
Whenever you shop online, it’s always worth a quick look to see if any valid coupons exist for your retailer of choice. Whether it’s free shipping, or a juicy percent-off discount, the right coupon can cut your purchase price significantly. Coupons can be found in a variety of places including:
- Cashback sites*
- Retailer sites & emails
- Coupon sites (e.g. RetailMeNot, Coupons.com, etc.)
- Social sites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
- Forums & blogs
*Keep in mind that if you’re looking to combine (i.e. “stack”) a coupon with the rewards you earn from a cashback site, you should only use coupon codes listed on your cashback site of choice. Why? Well, cashback sites track your purchases via cookies and often these cookies can be overwritten (negating your cashback rewards) when you visit various coupon sites, blogs, or forums before making your final purchase. Also, some retailers distribute specific coupon codes (in emails or on their own sites for example) which can’t be combined with any cashback rewards, so you’ll need to keep that in mind.
- Pay with a credit card that offers rewards
These days there are literally hundreds of different credit cards to choose from. Finding the card(s) that’s right for you really depends on variety of things including your spending habits, credit history, favorite places to shop, preference for cashback vs. miles, etc. One thing’s for sure, though, if you’re not shopping online with some type of rewards credit card you’re likely missing out on substantial savings.*
Some credit cards offer up to an additional 6% cashback on purchases and others come with equally high points or airline mile rewards. So, you’ll need to do your research and figure which cards are the best fit for you. Need some help deciding? Check out these resources from CreditCards.com, The Simple Dollar, and NerdWallet.
*Reminder: if you’re going to leverage rewards credit cards (and reap the benefits) you HAVE to pay your balance in full every month. Many rewards credit cards come with great perks, but the downside is they also typically have very high interest rates. So, always make sure you’re only spending within your means, otherwise finance charges are going to eat up all your rewards (and then some).
Pro tip: lots of cards offer big bonuses when you sign-up. If you’re selective, and time it right, you can collect some nice rewards during sign-up and within the first couple months of using your new card. NerdWallet recently did a study on the best time to apply for travel rewards credit cards (based on when you plan to travel and then the sign-up bonuses are typically highest).