Every holiday season, financial pundits start preaching the “shopping around” religion. It’s all good advice: compare prices, find the lowest one, save.
But what does it actually mean? Too often, we are told to “compare prices” — without any specific techniques that identify savings opportunities. Since most people equate shopping around with visiting every store in town and squinting at price-tags, they just don’t do it.
Comparison shopping, of course, need not be neither difficult nor uncomfortable.
Here are some simple ways every consumer can comparison shop this holiday season:
Find Out Which Stores Match Sale Prices
One of the hassles of hunting for holiday bargains is driving to far-away stores to buy something for the sales price. Who wants to drive halfway across the state to save money? Well, in some cases, you actually don’t have to. DealNews.com maintains an annual list of which retailers offer price matching. As they explain, “you may find that another store has stock, or is less crowded, or otherwise suits your needs” better than the store you originally considered.
In order for this strategy to work, you will need to hang onto every sales circular you get your hands on. This way, when a seemingly unbeatable offer comes along, you can take it to a nearby, more convenient store that promises to match. The only caveat is that each store offering this will require a real flier as proof.
Investigate Free Shipping Offers
Before rushing to buy something in person, check whether a better price is available online. “But what about shipping,” you might ask. If you pay $15 to get it, it’s not really such a great deal, is it? Fortunately, many online retailers offer free shipping on orders above a certain threshold, often at $50, or even as low as $25. This, again, is where keeping sales fliers comes in handy. As soon as you spot a good deal, you can immediately research it online and do quick comparisons.
Use Comparison Shopping Aggregators
If you’re pressed for time, online price aggregators are your best friend. Think of them as the 85% solution – rather than painstakingly visiting ten or fifteen different websites and extracting their prices by hand, visit PriceGrabber or Milo instead. Just type in what your looking for, and watch an ordered list of prices (from lowest to highest, or vice-versa) appear before your eyes.
No waiting, no hassles, just instant, usable answers about which websites are selling your items for less. The sites don’t guarantee that they are pickign up every deal and price on the face of the planet, of course, but that’s a caveat many time-strapped shoppers might be willing to live with.
Try Social Buying Sites
One option today’s shoppers have that was not available even five years ago is social buying. Sites like Groupon.com allow like-minded shoppers to team up virtually, qualifying for the oft-discussed but rarely-obtained “bulk discounts” we all know retailers offer. Prior to social buying sites, it was difficult to actually qualify for these offers (after all, what if you don’t know 50 people who want a horse stable membership?)
On Groupon and other social buying sites, users self-select into groups of similar buying desires and form a unified force that businesses feel compelled to offer discounts to. In this way, a powerful group of people can literally create their own discounts, above and beyond the cookie-cutter ones that retailers print in the newspapers.
Act Quickly Once Good Deals Are Found
There is a tendency in human nature to delay making decisions. We hold out for the “perfect” choice that (we think) we’ll recognize once it pops up. While striving to make an informed choice is a good idea, comparison shopping does have a point of diminishing returns. Wait too long, and the good deals you were considering may have vanished.
Holiday shoppers are especially prone to this. Don’t repeat their mistakes. By all means, use online tools and newspapers to do a full analysis of what’s out there. But once you spot a deal you’re comfortable with, don’t wait – pounce on it!
Consider Opportunity Costs
Too many shoppers focus only on the price-tag of an item, ignoring the hidden, implicit costs of chasing a deal. These include:
- Waking up excessively early (3AM Black Friday deals, anyone?)
- Putting up with obnoxious and/or violent customers
- Time spent driving or comparing
Clearly, different people have different thresholds of comfort about each of the above. The point is, when implicit costs are factored in, the “great” deal you think you’re getting may actually turn out to be a wash – or even a waste! That’s why it’s important to assess the situation objectively, considering all the costs of a deal rather than just the stated price.