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GUIDE: Safe, effective online shopping11 min read

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amazonlogoThere are many steps to finding and purchasing items at the best price online.  And there are a growing number of great tools to help.  Here are my tips for safe, effective, online shopping.

Last Update: 03.26.12

1. Product research

  • Amazon – the best place to look up products and read consumer reviews.
  • Consumer Reports – great product comparisons, but not free, you have to be a subscriber.
  • Consumer Search – like a free consumer reports, with less detail, but can tell you the top products in lots of product categories.
  • Metacritic – aggregates reviews on many of your favorite products. Very Web 2.0 :D
  • The Tracktor – this site (also FF/chrome extension) adds a price history graph to Amazon product pages. Awesome.

You can also find specialty sites that review specific types of products – often a great source of detailed reviews.

2. Finding current bargains

Before you use any of the deal sites, including those below, you really should NOT go to these sites directly (though you can).  Instead, add their RSS feeds to your feed reader (if you don’t have one, I recommend Google Reader).  Then, you can search against them all at once.  NOTE: there are lots of great bargain sites, these are just my time tested favorites.

  • Absurdly Cool Freebie Finder – ok, the stuff here gets old, but they list lots of freebies daily.
  • Amazon Discount Finder – great way to find bargains on Amazon
  • – my first go-to deal site.  What i love is the user participation in discussing each deal – many times, if you read the discussion, you can find out if the deal you are considering is really worth it or not.
  • – DC is great because it covers a lot more than electronics.  Also, it has specific RSS feeds for deals at such places as Old Navy,, and Target.
  • – not only does this site list more than just electronics (like home items), each item has a nice description discussing the current pricing patterns for the item (e.g. ‘lowest we’ve seen in 8 months for this item’)
  • slickdeals.netI prefer this feed because it is easier to keep up with – only about 30-100 new  posts a day, as compared to 1000 for others. High quality deals.
  • – good deals, plus great t-shirts at low prices
  • – kind of redundant with bensbargains, but if you want duplication just to make sure you didn’t miss anything, add techbargains.
  • – one item for sale a day, some great bargains.  Fun!   See yugster also, an inferior but still good clone of woot.

3. Finding current bargains on your iPad

I use these apps all the time (links open in iTunes app store). There are, however, tons of similar apps:

  • Dealcatcher – my favorite, has nice thumbnails to page through.
  • Dealdrop – this is highly configurable, and has more sites than you can shake a stick at. Dang.
  • iSlick (slickdeals) – a nice list-style bargains list. See description above.

4. Extreme Amazon Deal Finding

If you really want to geek out and find deals on Amazon, here’s some cool methods.  Beginners can skip this section, and leap to item #4.

A. Search by NODE

Search by node for deals greater than 75% off by using this formula:

Just replace the node number with the category you want to search (the above is for electronics).  Other nodes include:

  • Apparel & Accessories 1036592
  • Automotive 15684181
  • Baby 540744
  • Beauty 3760911
  • Books 283155
  • Cameras 502394
  • Car Toys 10963061
  • Cell Phones 301185
  • Computer & Video Games 468642
  • DVDs and Video Tapes 139452
  • Electronics 172282
  • Gourmet Food 3370831
  • Health & Personal Care 3760901
  • Home & Garden 1055398
  • Home Improvement 228013
  • Home Office 764512
  • Industrial and Scientific 16310091
  • Jewelry 3367581
  • Kindle eBooks 133141011
  • Magazine Subscriptions 599858
  • Music 5174
  • Musical Instruments 11091801
  • Office Products 1064954
  • Outdoor Living 289962
  • Software 229534
  • Sports & Outdoor 3375251
  • Sunday Paper Specials 546272
  • Toys 171280
  • Toys and Games 165793011

And if you want to drill down in any of these major categories, you can get those node numbers at

B. Search by node AND limit to Amazon free-shipped only

Only want to see stuff that qualifies for free amazon shipping?  Add this to your URL (also, sorted by lowest price first)

C. Finding free-shipping ‘filler’ items

Need just a little more in your cart to get free shipping, but don’t know what costs 2.99?  Just go to and enter your price and choose your product category, and voila!  You have a product you can add at just the exact price you need.  The results even show the amazon rating for each product.  Sweet.

5. Product agents

  • – I LOVE THIS SITE, because it does more than just alert me to price changes, it does so on all sites it monitors, not just one, and based on trending, can tell me if I should buy, wait, or look at a different model.
  • ebay – on ebay, you can set up a standing search for an item, and it can notify you by email when that item shows up.
  • – they will notify you, based on a price that select, if a particular item meets your price from any vendors

6. Finding the cheapest price for specific items

You don’t have to do much work comparison shopping if you have these tools nearby:

  • Shopping – this browser extension works on many sites, awesome price comparison tool!
  • – I LOVE THIS SITE, because it does more than just alert me to price changes, it does so on all sites it monitors, not just one, and based on trending, can tell me if I should buy, wait, or look at a different model.
  • PriceAdvance – this Firefox/Chrome extension works only on certain vendor sites (like Amazon, walmart, target, etc.), but when you are on a specific product page, it will show you prices from the other vendors.  Nice.
  • pricegrabber – one of the best price comparison engines.  Also has nice price notification feature (see #3 above)
  • pricewatch – mainly for PC components and electronics, great way to keep up on prices for various items like graphics cards and cpus.  Just don’t trust their vendor ratings (see #8 below)

7. Finding coupons

There are tons of great coupon sites, but my favorite by far is RetailMeNot – not only can you search their site, but they have an awesome Firefox plugin which basically removes the work for you.

  • – finds free shipping coupons for various online merchants – often has coupon codes missed by retailmenot.
  • retailmenot – this Firefox extension runs in the background.  When you visit a site that it knows there are coupons for, it will pop up an unobtrusive taskbar up top telling you “40 coupons for” – you can click through to see them.  Nice.

8. Finding used stuff

  • amazon – not only sells new items, but has tons of vendors that sell used versions of the items you are looking for.  Great place to find bargains.
  • craigslist – if you have a local craigslist, use it!  It’s free, and you’ll be surprised how much stuff there is for cheap in your area – the best free classifieds ever.  NOTE:  once you search, you can add an RSS for that search to your feed reader, and just check for current results from there next time.  Awesome.
  • pennysaverusa – you might have one in your county/metro area – classifieds with a clumsy but workable search engine.

9. Best times to buy

  • Airline tickets – Airline tickets tend to be least expensive on Wednesday mornings because that’s when airlines try to fill unsold seats on flights for the following week to 10 days.  Also, about 8 weeks before your travel may be the best time to buy, price wise.
  • Consumer reports sales calendar – all kinds of different items are on sale during different months of the year.

10. Checking vendor reliability

  • Reseller Ratings – Reseller ratings is THE best place to check for obscure online vendors that you have not heard of, especially bad ones.  You might also check at Bizrate or the Better Business Bureau, but only as a second tier search.

11. Safe methods of payment

  • Pay by credit card, google checkout, or paypal.   DO NOT pay with a debit card ever.
  • Paypal – great if vendor accepts it. Ebay, of course, does.
  • Secure Online Account Numbers – many credit cards, like Discover, allow you to generate a one-time use number for an online purchase.  Once used, it can not be used again.  Nice.

12. Tracking price drops

  • BuyLater – Firefox extension, allows you to tag amazon items, and will notify of price drops via email.  Pricepinx (below) does this a little better, and more than just amazon, but it is not a firefox plugin.
  • I LOVE THIS SITE, because it does more than just alert me to price changes – it does so on all sites it monitors, not just one, and based on trending, can tell me if I should buy, wait, or look at a different model.
  • Pricepinx – this web-based service works very well – when you are on a product page, highlight the price and click the Pinx bookmark that you’ve set up.  BAM!  Now it will track and notify you of price drops.
  • – After you make a purchase, you usually have a 30 day price guarantee.  But who goes back to check?  Now, priceprotectr will email you if the price changes.  Especially useful with amazon, who change their prices often.
  • yapta – this Firefox plugin is useful, not only for finding cheap tickets, but for notifying you of price drops after you’ve purchased.  Sometimes, the airlines will credit you (I’m not sure of the rules), so you should watch for this.

13. Tracking rebates

  • – forget if you got that rebate or not?  Tired of tracking in a spreadsheet (or am I the only one that does that?).  Rebate Tracker is a great free service.

14. Tracking Shipments

  • slice – I love slice, but you have to give it access to your email in order for it to tell you where your stuff is at. Security freaks need not apply.  Also has fantastic iOS and Android apps.

If you know of any other great shopping tools, pls. let me know.  Thanks.