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This article was published on May 11, 2011

How to Shop Efficiently Online

How to Shop Efficiently Online
Matthew Panzarino
Story by

Matthew Panzarino

Matthew Panzarino was Managing Editor at TNW. He's no longer with the company, but you can follow him on Twitter. Matthew Panzarino was Managing Editor at TNW. He's no longer with the company, but you can follow him on Twitter.

In the last 10 years, shopping for things online has gone from a new and scary thing to something that millions of people do every day. In fact, shopping for things over the internet has become so popular that there is literally too many options available.

When you hop onto the web to shop for something it can be easy to quickly get lost in a maze of pricing, reviews and site options. Following a simple checklist of steps can help you to make your online shopping excursions more efficient and even help you to save money.

  • Know what you want specifically or generally
  • Find deals for items in that category
  • Do a quick comparison of pricing
  • Buy from favorite sites or the site with the best deal

Start with a clear idea of what you want

It seems like it would be a given but often people will find themselves launching their online shopping session without a clear idea of exactly what they’re looking for. At the very least you need to know what category of item you’re looking for and some specifics about your tastes or needs.

For instance, if you’re looking for shoes are they casual or dress? What sizes do you need? Do you have a preferred brand?

If at all possible, you should not only have a general idea but a specific description of what you want to find. For instance, if you’re looking for a pair of shoes it could be ‘Nike running shoes, size 7’. Once you have a clear idea of what you want to find you can start browsing to get a specific model number.

Use major online stores to find your item

Once you have a specific idea of the kind of item that you need, use the websites of department stores or major online retailers like Amazon to find an exact model number. This can be any store that sells the kind of items that you’re searching for.

If you’re looking for a particular model of mp3 player or home theater equipment to add to your living room you might use Best Buy here in the US or Curry’s in the UK. Searching for your item on store sites that are dedicated to them will help you to get an exact model number. This might be a Sony CX-320B for instance. That might mean that it’s a Sony surround sound system in black.

Other sites to start looking for items include GILT, an invite-only site that is highly rated for clothes and home item shopping online and Yipit, which can help you to track commonly purchased items across a bunch of different deal sites.

Once you have a model number for the exact item that you would like, you can start finding the best price.

Getting the best deal

The first thing to do once you have a model number for your item is to begin looking for the best price available on the web. There are some great sites dedicated to helping you find the best deal on an item and others that allow you to comparison shop to see which shops that you’re familiar with carry the item and at what price.

Amazon is also a good place to start shopping for deals because they offer an extensive array of product choices at very good prices. Their marketplace allows for users to sell used and new items individually at competing prices as well. This can help to drive the price for an item down.

Some fantastic deal sites to check for any item are Slickdeals, Dealnews and Fatwallet. These sites are not as easy to navigate as a shopping site but they can yield significant savings if you know exactly what you’re looking for and don’t mind taking some time to search around their listings.

Google also offers their Product Search tool, which is a cross between a shopping comparison site and a deal finder. It will show you the best deals available as well as the seller ratings for stores.

Other popular comparison shopping services include Shopzilla and PriceGrabber, which will search the web for your product and display the retailers that offer it, the reviews of the products and the reputations of the sites that are selling them.

Product review tips

Many of these sites, especially Amazon, will offer extensive user reviews of the products that they’re selling. It can get overwhelming reading through these reviews and it can be difficult to tell exactly what you should listen to and what you should ignore.

If you’re reading a review on a product, check that users review history. Do they have an extensive record of reviewing products or is this their only review? If that person has a good long history of providing balanced reviews, this can aid you in trusting their review of the product that you’re looking at.

If the review seems overly negative and they have left little or no other reviews, it’s likely that they had a singularly bad experience with the item. If opinions left by other people are largely positive then it’s probably safe to disregard that one.

Remember that most of the time the reviews you’re reading are from people with opinions about the item that may be more related to their feelings about the brand or their lack of understanding than with any real problem.

Check reseller ratings

Once you’ve found a site that you think has the right item at the right price, pause for a moment and do your homework on that retailer. If it’s a well known site that you have purchased from in the past or is a major retailer, then you’re probably fine making your purchase.

If you’re buying from a site that is new to you or doesn’t look like a major chain then it is probably worth your while to check the customer satisfaction ratings of that seller. This can prevent you from losing money and time purchasing from an online retailer with a reputation for delivering poor product or terrible customer service.

ResellerRatings is a good site to use to check the reputation of an online store. They have detailed reports from customers that have purchased from them or used their services. This can help you determine whether a site’s deals are ‘too good to be true’ or if they’re on the level. UK shoppers should try out Shopsafe. If you have any other suggestions for good resources for checking the reputation of online shopping sites, let us know in the comments,

I cannot stress enough how important it is to make sure that you’re purchasing from a reputable site or store.

Have fun shopping more efficiently online

Shopping online can save you money and time and help you choose from a much wider selection than you can find in any store. As you purchase items from resellers online, you should also bookmark those sites where you have a good experience. This will help you to build a list of ‘trusted sites’ that you can rely on to deliver you a good product at a good price.

If you’re cautious about who you buy from and do a bit of comparison shopping beforehand, you can make your shopping experiences much more efficient and relaxing.

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