14 Frugal Things Smart Online Shoppers Always Do, and You Should Too

updated Jun 10, 2020
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The combination of widespread store closures and sheltering in place means most shopping will be done online for the foreseeable future. No matter if you’re new-ish to pushing that online cart around the web or you did most of your shopping online even before coronavirus, you could probably stand to learn tricks to save a few bucks. Here are 14 frugal habits the savviest online shoppers swear by.

1. Beat dynamic pricing

Online retailers are constantly fluctuating prices to maximize their sales and profits in a move known as “dynamic pricing,” explains savings and shopping expert Andrea Woroch. If you aren’t paying attention to these yo-yoing prices, you’re likely paying more than you have to when shopping online, Woroch says. You can beat retailers at their own game by using a sales tracking tool like Droplist from money-saving Chrome extension Honey. “Honey will alert you when items you added to this list fall below your preferred purchase price so you never miss the sale,” Woroch explains.

2. Ask for a price adjustment

You may have asked for price adjustments in store, but you can do this with online purchases, too, says Woroch. Track sales after you buy in case the item becomes cheaper. “For online purchases, just call customer service to ask for that price adjustment,” she says.

3. Sign up for a refund service

Woroch suggests signing up for a refund service like Paribus. The site will monitor items you purchase online that are linked to your email. If an item you bought goes on sale, they’ll do the work of contacting the retailer to get your money back for the difference in price as long as it falls within the merchant’s price adjustment window, Woroch explains. If you’re hesitant to let a service like Paribus access your email, you could create a separate account just for shopping.

And if you’re shopping on Amazon, camelcamelcamel.com tracks prices for you and lets you look up pricing history—you can even set a price alert so you get an email if the item you want goes below a certain price, says Kimberly Palmer, a personal finance expert at NerdWallet.

4. Get cash back

To maximize your rewards when shopping, link your card to an app like Dosh, Woroch recommends. This app gives you cash back when you make a purchase at participating stores and restaurants using your credit card. Using other sites like RetailMeNot and ShopatHome will also help you earn cash back on purchases.

5. Look for coupon codes

It’s also worthwhile to check for available coupon codes and free shipping codes before making your purchase. “Run a quick web search for the name of the retailer and ‘coupon code’ or ‘free shipping code’ before buying to see if any are available,” recommends Palmer.

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6. Price match to avoid shipping fees

Free shipping is a common offer these days, but Woroch says some online stores require a minimum purchase in order to qualify for this perk. With this in mind, it’s important to compare prices and factor in the cost of shipping when doing so to understand the true final price. If you notice a price difference between two retailers and one has a higher price but free shipping, call their customer service team or open a live chat to see if they will match the lower price you found at the other site that charges a delivery fee.

7. Set aside time to browse

Shopping because you’re bored at home can lead to unnecessary purchases or overspending. Instead, Sara Skirboll, the shopping and trends expert from RetailMeNot, suggests allotting time to do it. “Give yourself a window of time to browse and shop online,” she says. 

8. Leave items in your cart

Not only will waiting 24 hours or so to hit the purchase button help you avoid impulse buys, it could also nab you some deals, Skirboll says. When you add items to your cart and abandon them for a day, retailers will oftentimes send you promo codes or exclusive offers to nudge you to check out, she explains.

9. Create a new email for online shopping

“I suggest creating a separate email that you use to sign up for the deals and promotions that your favorite stores are offering,” Skirboll says. This keeps all of the offers in one place so you don’t have to look through multiple inboxes to find deals.

10. Go incognito

Have you ever searched for plane ticket prices, and then later in the day, noticed prices have gone up for the same route? Retailers use this technique to get you to buy by tricking you into thinking the cost will keep going up. Afoma Umesi, an an avid online shopper and an editor at cleaning blog Oh So Spotless, recommends clearing your cookies and shopping incognito to get more consistent pricing.

11. Shop with a credit card

A credit card provides additional protections compared to a debit card in case of fraudulent transactions, Skirboll says. “If your card number is compromised, it’s easier to dispute any charges that you didn’t approve,” she says. Plus, Palmer, says some credit cards offer flat rate cash back on every purchase or bonus cash back on certain categories.

12. Research return policies 

If you’re buying secondhand, ask the seller if the item’s photos capture all defects and imperfections, suggests Anna De Souza, a shopping expert and chief stylist with Mercari, an e-commerce app. Be sure to read the seller’s return policies to determine whether they are fair, De Souza says. If something is unclear in the policy, ask for clarification.

13. Know the policy on counterfeit items 

Whether you’re purchasing a handbag or jewelry from a seller online, make it a point to read the site’s policy on counterfeit items—and find out what steps they take to ensure the authenticity  of branded items, recommends DeSouza. “If they don’t provide an authentication service, do they protect buyers with an authenticity guarantee?” DeSouza says.

14. Look at seller ratings

Before you hit the buy button, take a look at the seller’s profile and ratings from others with whom they’ve sold to in the past, DeSouza recommends. Is there a common complaint that raises a red flag? Or, if you see a one-off issue, did the seller respond in a fair manner?

If you’re looking for more ways to live your best life online, here’s where you can find free online courses.

This originally ran on Apartment Therapy. See it there: 14 Frugal Things Savvy Online Shoppers Always Do, and You Should Too