(TNS)—The thrill of shopping on your phone or online, of course, is that it makes stocking up on groceries, buying a rug for the apartment or even shopping on a Friday night after a glass of wine or two all that much easier.
But if you want to get the very best price, step back and take a few extra minutes before you hit checkout. It can be as simple as just doing a quick Google search of prices at various retailers to save $50 or $100 on a big-ticket item, like a bedroom dresser.
We’ve got plenty of websites and apps that offer extra rewards and price checks to help savvy spenders get a sweet deal, too.
“If you really want to get your cheapskate on, maybe there’s a coupon code,” says Rick Broida, who lives in Commerce Township, Mich., and writes “The Cheapskate Blog” for CNET.com.
Broida, who held workshops at the Detroit Public Library main branch and the Plymouth Public Library as part of Money Smart Week, says many of these tricks can turn into “free money” pretty quickly.
If you want to shop smarter, ask a few questions.
Is this really the best price ever on Amazon?
“Prices on Amazon fluctuate a lot—a lot,” says Broida, 50.
Take time to research previous prices, which amazingly is fairly easy to do if you’re shopping for a tote, a toaster or even a dash camera in order to dispute a traffic ticket. An online service called Camel Camel Camel tracks the price history of more than 18 million products sold on Amazon. As a result, you can decide if you really want to buy the item now or wait. The site has a price history chart to show you fluctuations in the cost, Broida says. Prices are updated regularly, but Camel Camel Camel notes on its site that a consumer should always verify that information on Amazon, too, before making any purchase.
It’s also possible to set a price alert using Camel Camel Camel for an item that you’d want to buy at a specific price. You copy and paste the link for the product you spot online onto the Camel Camel Camel site. You’d give your email, as well as the price you’d like to pay and you’d get a price alert in the future.
Knowing a price history—and getting price alerts—can be particularly useful at hectic shopping seasons such as Easter, Mother’s Day, Amazon Prime Day in July and Black Friday weekend, which now kicks off on Thanksgiving.
Shoppers are tapping into another service called Honey at www.joinhoney.com. Honey offers shoppers a way to automatically find and apply coupons at checkout. Some shoppers love Honey for coupons, but Honey also has a feature called Droplist that notifies you when the price drops on a product at a variety of stores, including Best Buy, Target, Chewy and others.
Honey has a tool that helps you find the best price for a product on Amazon and a tool that allows you to track a product’s price history so you can figure out the best time to buy, as well. When you use a coupon code in some cases, Honey will earn a small commission from the merchant and then pass along some of those earnings to members.
It’s also not a bad idea to review any complaints online about money-saving services, including taking a look at the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org.
Adam Levin, founder CyberScout, which offers identity and data defense services, says linking a mobile app to your credit or debit card carries some risk, even if a service offers bank-level security and encrypts data.
“When breaches have become the third certainty in life, and even big banks get hacked, there is no sure thing,” Levin says. “If the site gets hacked or your smartphone is compromised or stolen, your payment card and financial data could be exposed, leaving you a target for account takeover.”
Make sure to enable two-factor authentication on your mobile device. Never download third-party apps, which could be infected by malware. Always go to a trusted source like Apple or Google Play. Use long and strong passwords that don’t repeat across accounts and sites.
Is there a way to get extra points or rewards?
Many Generation X shoppers and others know about rewards with their credit cards. Busy young families often use shopping platforms such as Ebates.com, BeFrugal.com and TopCashback.com to get cash back when shopping online with major retailers. (Rakuten owns Ebates and is moving forward with plans to change the Ebates branding to Rakuten.)
Shoppers appreciate getting money back through Ebates via a check or a PayPal account, but there are even some strategies to use there. Ebates rates change daily, so some consumers say it can be better to shop when Ebates offers double the rebates and includes more in-store offers when you use a store-issued credit card.
Newer shopping tools provide savings, too.
Dosh is a cashback app that pays you some money back when you use a credit card or debit card that’s linked to Dosh. Participating retailers include Sam’s Club, Sephora, Vineyard Vines, and others. Percentages of the cash given back vary by merchant.
Dosh—which is based in Austin, Texas—says its consumer financial services platform delivers automatic cash back to consumers when they dine, shop or book hotels.
Retailers like such platforms as a way to build return business and customer loyalty. You can transfer your Dosh cash to bank accounts or PayPal, or donate to a charity from the app, according to Dosh.
Some shoppers are even searching online for answers to questions like: Is the Dosh app legit? Broida and others who have used the smartphone app say it’s not a scam.
“Sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t,” Broida says.
To be sure, your friends might be pushing you to sign up with Dosh because they get $5 in rewards for each friend that signs up and links a verified card. Be careful of any fantastic pitches on social media, though, as one consumer complained to the Better Business Bureau about a promise of receiving $300 for just downloading the Dosh app. That unauthorized deal, not surprisingly, never worked out.
Remember, if you want to get the cash back, your online purchase must be paid with a card that is linked to your account at the time of purchase.
There’s the Drop app, a Toronto-based startup that was launched in 2016. Drop lets you build up rewards to redeem for gift cards to be used at retailers such as Amazon, lululemon, Apple, Starbucks and others.
Again, you have to link the Drop app to your debit or credit cards, and you’d select your favorite stores where you like to shop, such as Uber, Tim Hortons, Starbucks, McDonald’s and Walmart, in order to build points.
Now that gas prices have been climbing for the past several weeks, consumers may be rethinking how they get discounts at the pump, too. Gasbuddy.com has its own discount program called “Pay with Gas Buddy.” To save money, you need to connect your checking account to the Gas Buddy account. Then, you receive a rewards card that you’d swipe when you buy gas at the pump. The program is free to join. You’d save 10 cents per gallon off of your first fill-up and five cents off every gallon after that.
GasBuddy says its card works at 90 percent of stations across the country, including brands like Shell and Mobil. But you won’t get the discount at Costco, Sam’s Club, ARCO, BJ’s Gas and H-E-B stations.
Can I save more after I bought it? Or booked it?
Maybe. Some price-monitoring services will search for a lower price after you bought something, too. Earny provides refunds if something drops in price after you purchase it. The service covers items bought at participating retailers, such as Amazon, Best Buy, Target, Walmart, Costco Wholesale, Nordstrom, Nike, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Home Depot and Zappos.
Because Amazon doesn’t have its own price protection policy, you must use a price-protected card in order to receive refunds on these items, according to the Earny site. Amazon at one time did offer price protection: If a product’s price dropped after you purchased it, you could get a refund for the difference. But that policy doesn’t exist anymore, making it useful to use some outside apps, Broida says.
The searching for better deals is done based on receipts in your inbox. There is a cost: Earny collects 25 percent of the refunds only after you have successfully received a refund. While the price might seem steep to bargain shoppers, it may not be a bad idea for someone who doesn’t have the time to search for a better price and then take advantage of the limited window offered by a retailer who promises to adjust for lower prices, Broida says.
Earny scans your purchases and submits refund requests when there’s an eligible price difference. But are you comfortable giving an outsider access to your emails to scan for your receipts?
Another price monitoring service: Paribus.co (not dot-com) from Capital One, which tracks goods bought online as well as hotel room rates booked through sites that include Expedia, Priceline, Marriott and Hilton. You sign up with the email you use for online shopping receipts and Paribus scans your inbox for receipts from stores that it monitors. Paribus has no service charge.
Broida recommends using price monitoring services after you’ve booked a hotel for a trip, too. He notes that there’s a 40 percent chance that your room rate will drop after you book it.
If the price goes down, he says, you can be alerted to the lower price and then cancel your old reservation and rebook in many cases. Travel-related services include: Hopper.com, Pruvo.net, Getservice.com and AutoSlash.com (for car rentals).
Is the little extra effort worth it? It very well could be for some budget-conscious consumers. Every dollar can add up over time.
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