In the May issue of ShopSmart, the publisher of Consumer Reports, ShopSmart makes sure you nab the best deals -- and avoid rip-offs -- every time by using these 23 strategies:
Start with comparison sites: Pricegrabber.com, Shopping.com, Google.com/products, BizRate.com, Shopping.Yahoo.com, BeatMyPrice.com, Retrevo.com (electronics).
Comb through product review: Buzzillions.com, Epinions.com.
Grab a promotional code: Retailmenot.com.
Shop retailer sites: Sign up for email alerts.
Take advantage of websites that round up sales: iStorez.com, ShopItToMe.com, MyPoints.com.
Leave the item in your cart: We recently left an item in our cart at Pottery Barn and we got a follow-up email notifying us of a discount.
Get free shipping: FreeShipping.org.
Shop the stores: Don't assume that online prices will be better than a store's price.
Get a rebate: Ebates.com.
See if eBay has it cheaper: Check to see prices paid for the item by clicking on "advanced search."
Keep an eye on prices: PriceProtectr.com, DealAlerter.com, PriceSpider.com.
Look for ship to store: Many e-tailers will deliver the item to a store saving you the shipping charges.
DON'T GET CHEATED
If the site is unfamiliar, go to BBB.org: Click on "USA site," and then "Check out a business or charity," and then on the "Phone, URL, Email" tab.
Scan for negative seller reviews: PriceGrabber.com, Google.com/products.
Check seals of approval: The symbols at the bottom of a Web page can tell you if a site is legit. Hacker Safe (now McAfee Secure) and VeriSign Secured attest to a site's security; TRUSTe certifies a site meets its minimum privacy standards. Warning: These seals can be copied. To spot a fake, go to the seal issuer's site (www.mcafeesecure.com, www.truste.org) and look for the seller's name and URL. For VeriSign Secured, click on the emblem.
Put away the checkbook: Never pay by check.
Try an alternate method of payment: BillMeLater.com.
Eyeball the site's return policy: You will usually find it under "help" or "customer service."
Be careful when returning to a store: If you buy online, don't assume that you can return an item to a store.
Watch out at online megamalls: Site like Amazon sell products from other merchants that set their own policies or shipping returns. Google the site's name and check their policy.
Watch for red flags: If the site has typos, misspellings, or a URL that ends in .CN, .RO, or .RU, or some other odd suffix, or only accept checks, it could be a scam.
Scramble your credit card: Many credit cards allow you to generate a number for a one-time use so that your real card number won't get into the wrong hands.
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