Take Advantage of Online Retail Price Wars

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When brick-and-mortar stores compete with online retailers, who comes out on top? You do.

Online retail price wars are heating up. In fact, some online retailers fluctuate the prices of consumer items – from toilet paper to microwave ovens and televisions – several times each day, according to price-tracking site Decide.com.

“Last month, retailers on Amazon.com changed prices on a Samsung 43-inch plasma television four times over the course of a day, between $398 and $424, according to Decide.com. Around midday, Best Buy boosted the price to $500 from $400 before dropping it back down, while electronics retailer Newegg in the morning raised its price to $600 from $500,” reported The Wall Street Journal.

Given the increasingly competitive and confusing online marketplace, who comes out on top? You do – if you play your cards right. When it comes to online pricing changes, patience and research can go a long way. Here are some more things savvy shoppers should look out for…

1. Lowered prices on brick-and-mortar companion sites

Almost every major retailer has an online shopping site. Many of those retailers use their companion sites to compete with the bigger online retailers. For example, in Best Buy May Cut Prices Online, we reported that Best Buy might be trying harder to compete with online competitors like Amazon – which could lead to price cuts.

And while that doesn’t mean brick-and-mortar stores always have the cheapest prices online, you might find good deals shopping their sites now that they’re getting more competitive, especially if you stack their sales with a coupon, free site-to-store shipping, or another discount.

2. Easy returns

Most stores in my area have a 30-day limit on returns, which makes things like early holiday shopping difficult. After all, I don’t want to buy a gift in October that the recipient can’t return in December. This limited return policy is part of why I shop online.

Many online retailers have longer return periods (and more ways to return a product) than their brick-and-mortar competitors, especially during the holidays. For example, HSN.com is offering returns from now until Jan. 31, 2013. Check out How to Spot the Best Return Policies for Your Holiday Shopping for more.

3. Promotional codes

Coupons make a good deal a great one, but your discount options at brick-and-mortar stores are limited to the coupons you have in hand. When shopping online, you only need the promotional code, and the Internet gives you access to hundreds of them. Here are a few of my favorite coupon code sites:

I never finish checking out without doing an Internet search for a promotional code or coupon. Nine times out of 10 I find a working code. Sure, it may only be 10 percent off or free shipping, but a discount’s a discount.

4. Daily deals

Daily deal sites compile individual daily deals and post them on their site or email them out in a newsletter.

During the holidays, these sites are like my personal shopping assistant. I know I should probably get gifts for extended family, casual friends, and a few neighbors, but I don’t know what to get them and don’t want to spend a lot. So I check out a few daily deal sites until I see a good price on something fitting for the recipient. I get a good deal, and I don’t have to spend hours shopping for someone I don’t know that well. Here are a few of the sites I check daily:

5. Live chats

Brick-and-mortar stores used to have one big advantage over online stores: sales reps. You could visit a store, haggle with the sales rep, and walk out with a discount. Now many online stores have online chats. I used to ignore these little pop-up boxes, but I recently learned how wrong I’ve been.

Last month I was looking for a new couch on an online designer-furniture retailer, Fashion for Home. I found a couch I loved, but I didn’t love the price tag. As I was looking for a coupon code (to no avail), a chat window popped up, “How can I help you today?” On a whim I responded with, “Is this the best price you can do on this couch?” Immediately the person on the other end came back with a 10 percent discount. Thinking that happened too quickly, I asked for an even better price, this time saying I had seen similar pieces at competitor sites for less and was leaning toward them. A few minutes later, the sales rep upped the offer to a 20 percent discount. I saved about $200 just by asking.

6. The abandoned cart trick

If you walk into a department store, fill your cart, and then walk out, leaving everything in an aisle, the store isn’t going to call you a few days later and offer you a discount on what you left behind – but online retailers might. In A Sneaky Way to Get Discounts Online, we reported that some online retailers are following up on abandoned carts. Sure, you may just get a pesky reminder email, but you might score a discount too. Here is how it works:

  • Shop the site and add anything you want to your cart.
  • Proceed to checkout and fill out enough of the form to enter in your email address.
  • Don’t complete the sale.
  • Wait a day or two and see if you get a special deal or discount in your email inbox.

As an added bonus, waiting a day or two to buy something may be all the time you need to realize you didn’t want the item in the first place. Then you’ve saved 100 percent.

Stacy Johnson

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