Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tips for the online shopper

Today I'm letting my friend Michele take the reins. She does a great job at shopping online so I asked her to go ahead and put something together for a guest blog post. Please comment and let her know you liked it. Enjoy!!!

Hello. Let me introduce myself. My name is Michele and I've been friends with Melissa ever since our sons were 3 years old. During that time I've been incredibly inspired by Melissa to learn about couponing in order to save on my once ridiculous grocery bill. Up until January of this year I was easily spending over $220 a week for a family of four. This seemed absurdly high and after talking to Melissa and reading her blog I realized how I could save money. (Couponing, doubling coupons, shopping the sales etc). I have saved approximately $380.00 a month since then by using Melissa's methods. This is significant!

In talking to Melissa almost daily I told her that she may be the queen of coupons but I have a serious knack for shopping online and finding online promotions, free shipping, stacking coupons and other wonderful things. She suggested I be her guest blogger so I could share how to find great bargains online and never pay full price.

The first thing I would suggest to you is to set up a 'spam' email account. This is an account where you can register for coupons, newsletters, and emails and not have to worry about if other spam comes your way. It's sort of your junk email account but you can still manage it. I use Yahoo and I'm able to filter out a lot of the other junk that ends up in there.

The main thing I buy online these days are children's clothes. I get emails from Carters, Osh Kosh, Gymboree and Lands End among others. These inform me of upcoming sales and Carters and Osh Kosh typically email me 20% coupons several times a year. Once I have these coupons is when I'll start surfing their websites for the sales. I just got a Lands End Bomber Coat from $65 for $19. I also got another jacket from $45 to $12. By shopping the sales and clearance with coupons just like Melissa does with grocery shopping, you can save a mint.

But what happens if you don't have an online coupon or promotion code? Simply surf the net for one. (Note of caution - be careful what sites you click on. Yahoo's browser tells me what sites are safe before I click on the link.) The following sites are legit and are where I find the majority of my promotional coupons: (Just featured in a Consumer Reports type magazine as a great web site for coupon codes)

You can also search for things like "Kohls Coupon" and see what comes up. My rule of thumb would be, if you don't find what you are looking for on the first page of your web search, it doesn't exist at this time. The further you go into your search pages, the more junk sites you'll find.

The best way to get an online deal is to meet their free shipping requirement. Amazon, I'd have to say, is the best for this. I do about 85% of my Christmas shopping through Amazon. When you surf Amazon for let's say "Blue sandals size 9" make sure you check off the "Free Super Savings Shipping" option on the middle left of the page in your search options. This will bring up all the items that will ship for free if you reach $25.00. By combining items you'll save tremendously.

I was in Target the other day with a book in my hand, it said "buy 2, get 1 free". I almost did it. Instead I came home and found the same book for $6.00 that Target had for $14.00. My son wants this Thomas the Train DVD for Easter. I found that too for about $3.00 less than Walmart and ordered that. Plus you don't pay state sales tax which between the Free Super Shipping Savings, their low prices and no tax makes Amazon the place to beat. You will be hard pressed to find prices lower than Amazon on pretty much anything from toys, shoes, books to household goods. Books are cheaper here than Waldenbooks, Borders and Barnes and Noble - up to about $3.00 at least. I use Amazon as a price comparison constantly when shopping online, also. If I can get it cheaper than Amazon, it's a GREAT deal.

Now a word on why Kohl's is not the big deal maker they promote themselves to be. Yes, I shop Kohls, yes I have a credit card and yes I love their 30% off coupon. However, they are famous for having ALL their stock ALWAYS 50% off, 65% off, buy one get one half price. Their shirts are listed for $44. But lo and behold how lucky are you because the day you happen to be in the store that shirt is now only $20 (normally priced!). Don't get sucked into Kohl's marketing ploy. Shop wisely and pay off your card quickly as their interest rates are crazy - even if you do have great credit. Also, watch out for their big "All toys 50% off" sales.

At Christmas I was happy to see this and got online to see what I could find. I found the Batman Imaginext toy on sale from $79 to $39.50 Wow.. that's a great price! Right? WRONG. I got that same item, regularly priced, at Toys R Us 6 months previously for somewhere around $35-$39. When I went to Amazon I saw that that toy was NEVER listed for $78 anywhere. Toys R Us same thing - they had it for the REAL price which was $39. Kohls jacked up the price of their toys and then told you there was 50% off to get you in there but the price of the toys was then regularly priced after that. Truthfully I think they should be reported to the CT Attorney General for this kind of practice - but that's another story! Again - ALWAYS do your homework on the item first to determine if it really is a great deal. Kohl's is sneaky so pay attention. Plus - remember anything over $25 ships free from if it's cheaper there - go for it!

The second worse place to shop online is Sears. They just revamped their website and when you search for items you come up with 1,595 of them. Whoa! Sears has that many washing machines? Answer is no they don't. They are featuring products FROM OTHER WEB SITES on their main search. Be very careful about this. If you are expecting a great warranty from Sears you want to do a store pick up, or want to use their credit cards, you have to make sure you actually BOUGHT it from Sears. You can select at the top to "Search Sears only" but I still find the site cumbersome, the deals aren't great and it's my least favorite place to even look for deals.

Back to a couple of fun sites: and Slick Deals users post where to find some of the day's best deals. That's how I found out about Lands Ends clearance sale and the code to take an additional 20% off. Some of the deals are 'lightening deals' and you'll see a little flame next to it. This means hop on it fast because it won't last. I check this site several times a day. You never know what will turn up.

Woot is a web site that posts one daily deal at a reduced price. You do have to sign up to be a member in order to purchase anything. I got a handheld steam cleaner machine for half off what it was in Target. Deals ship for a flat rate of $5. They also have 'sister sites' of Wine Woot and Kids Woot. However, the BIG however, is always double check prices against Amazon, Best Buy etc on anything electronic. Sometimes you can get a new item, not refurbished for only a few bucks more with a better warranty. Not all the 'deals' on Woot are fantastic deals. Several times a month they have a "Woot Off" where they sell a bunch of items, one at a time, until they sell out. That's always fun to see what they are offering next. Don't be hasty on Woot though, compare notes, read reviews and make sure you are getting what you think and it's the latest and greatest model, has company warranties, etc.

Famous Footwear is another great place for great online shoe bargains, as is DSW. I was able to stack several coupons at DSW, plus my rewards points, plus free shipping code and I got two pairs of shoes that would have cost me $229 for $45 shipped. Shoes I wouldn't have bought otherwise because they were ridiculously expensive. At Famous Footwear I got the buy one get one 1/2 off and was able to stack a 20% coupon I found online and $5 off. THESE are the types of deals that you can only do online because you wouldn't have the printed coupons at hand. Sign up for DSW Rewards online and you'll be notified of sales and start earning points towards credit off. Same as Famous Footwear.

Not every place will let you stack the coupons. Sometimes you have to opt for free shipping vs. 20% off. Just do the math and figure out what coupon gets you the best deal. Always aim to reach the free shipping limit when possible. Land's End was just offering free shipping, no minimum. That's awesome! If you use a 20% coupon there on clearance, you made out!

A note on shipping charges. No one wants to pay shipping charges. It seems like a frivolous waste of my money to do so. BUT, with the gas prices being the way they are, with the big mall being 35 minutes from me, Carters is 50 minutes away, with my truck getting 16mpg, sometimes it DOES make sense to ship your item and you DO save money. What I save on time and gas and aggravation to drag my 3 yr old to every store is worth it for a $6 shipping fee. It would cost me more in gas to get there at almost $4 a gallon. Weigh it out and you may find that some of the shipping fees are quite worth it! Some sites will also do a free ship to store option for you. That is definitely worth it if you find great online promotional codes that you wouldn't have been able to use in store.

Which brings me in summary to: When you order online always double check the return policy. Some places will offer free return shipping. Some places will allow you to return items to the store like Gymboree and JC Penney. Also know, just FYI, that Gymboree, Osh Kosh, Old Navy and Carter's clothes tend to run big for kids sized 4 and up. I've had to return a few things here and there and exchange for the size smaller even though their measuring chart read correctly.

I hope these ideas help you to shop online and find bargains. I can honestly say I never pay full price when I shop online and always find a promotional code to reduce my purchase! Good luck!

Thanks Michele!!

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