6 new ways
How to find great deals
on almost anything
I l l u s t r at i o n s : C a r lo s A p o n t e / a r t d e pa r t m e n t
Checking out at a shopping site with your goodies can be a
thrill, even if all you’re buying is chew toys for the dog. But it
can also be a moment of doubt. Were there coupons or
special deals that you missed? Are there sites that sell the
same item for less? Should you buy it at a store downtown
instead? Will Mom approve? On the next six pages, we dug
up some cool new tools you can use to keep those second
thoughts from creeping up on you. Click around and find your
favorites. Also, don’t miss the tips on page 31 to make sure
that while you’re bagging bargains, Internet thieves aren’t
bagging your personal info.
Subscribe now at ShopSmartmag.org october 2010
1 Start your engines!
hen you’re in bargainhunting mode, you know
to shop around. But you
might be clicking in all the wrong places.
For starters, if you’re not using pricecomparison search engines, you’re
missing out on a great saving shortcut.
The trick is to use the right ones, as we
discovered when we put the top 25 to
the test, including giants like the
shopping engines of AOL, Yahoo, and
Google as well as Bing, Bizrate, NexTag,
PriceGrabber.com, Shopzilla, and more.
To compare the sites, we created a
basket of eight items (listed at right)
to see which ones turned up the best
prices and were easiest to use. The
results: The best ones make it superfast
and easy to dig up juicy bargains; on the
other hand, the worst ones can be real
time-wasters. For example, sites like
Pronto and Shopping.com sometimes
served up results that had nothing to
do with our search terms. (In one case,
when we asked for a book we got a
baseball cap.) Others didn’t factor in
tax and shipping costs, which can add
big bucks to the final tab. One other
thing we learned: It really pays to use
price-comparison engines, whether
you’re shopping for big items or small
stuff. When we looked for “Wolf Hall,” a
hardcover novel by Hilary Mantel, there
was an almost $10 difference between
the search engines’ highest and lowest
prices. When we hunted for binoculars
that went for more than $1,000, the
difference amounted to hundreds of
dollars. To dig up the biggest savings,
follow our tips on the facing page.
Our shopping list
The wide range of prices
we found on eight items:
n “Avatar” DVD, $13.50-$34.95
n New Balance cross-training
n Samsung NP-N150 Netbook,
n “Wolf Hall,” by Hilary Mantel,
n Graco Quattro Tour Sport
n Wacoal Awareness bra,
n Kenneth Cole Reaction wallet,
n Swarovski 10x42 binoculars,
24 consumer reports
Tips for zeroing in on the best deals
start with pricegrabber.com. As we learned in our
price-comparison test, this site is hands-down the easiest
to use and nets you the best deals.
NEXT try at least one of the runners-up. No one
site always turns up the best prices. To easily access
Google’s or Bing’s price-comparison sites, go to the main
search engine page and click on the “shopping” tab.
Be specific. Typing in “Lady Gaga” can bring up
headphones, sheet music, and a paperback biography. If you
want music, include “CD” or “MP3.”
Click through. Sometimes the prices shown in search
results are incorrect, so click through to the e-tailer to
double-check them. For example, when we looked for the
novel “Wolf Hall,” one comparison site showed that
Walmart’s price before taxes and shipping was $11.49. But
when we clicked through to Walmart, the price was actually
$14.50. Also click around to confirm shipping costs, and
while you’re at it check return policies.
Know your model numbers. The same product might
come in multiple models with different features and prices.
For true comparability, type in the brand name, the model
name (if it has one), and the model number.
be open to new sites. One of the best things about
starting with a search engine is discovering great sites.
When we searched for the “Avatar” DVD, we found
Glyde, a great money-saving source for used DVDs,
books, games, and CDs.
Get coupon codes. Never click buy until you’ve checked
for them at sites such as Coupons.com and RetailMeNot.
Why we like it We found the
lowest prices on six of our eight
items here. Also, the site calculates
tax and shipping when you enter
your ZIP code. The results are easy
to read and include seller ratings.
Used and refurbished items are
What’s new Apps for the iPad
and iPhone as well as for Android
phones. Also, it has partnered
with Retrevo.com to list user
reviews for electronics.
Cool feature Don’t see a price you
like? Click on “Add Price Alert” in
the upper right-hand corner, and
the site will send you an e-mail if
the price drops.
Why we like it Google’s
price-comparison site found
the lowest prices on many of
the items we searched. And
you can customize results.
For example, you can see
photos or view as a list.
What’s new The toolbar gives
you more ways to narrow
your search. You can opt to
see only new items
or those with free shipping,
and you can specify a price
range or preferred stores.
Cool feature If you have a
Google account, click “add
to shopping list” to keep track
of products you want.
Why we like it It found the
lowest prices on fewer items
but makes it easy to compare
prices and get product specs.
What’s new User reviews
(millions of them!) let you
know what others thought of
a product you’re considering.
Cool features As with
Google, you can search
by free shipping. Also, a
price-history graph shows
how much an item’s price has
gone up or down recently, so
you can gauge whether to
hold out for a better deal. As
with PriceGrabber.com, you
can sign up for price alerts.
Why we like it This relative
newcomer is not only a Web
search engine. It’s also a
Click on “shopping,” choose
a product category, then a
specific product. Pages of
photos and specs will pop up;
click on “compare prices” to
see what deals are out there.
What’s new Sadly, Bing
has discontinued its
Cool features It’s easy to
spot deals offering free
shipping. Look for a “free
shipping” tag under the
Why we nixed them
Shopping.com had some
irrelevant search results—
typing in “Avatar DVD” pulled
up an Avatar game, action
figure, and paintball goggles,
among other things. And you
can’t always get shipping
costs for your ZIP code.
Pronto had the same flaws.
Our search for the novel
“Wolf Hall” pulled up an
Arkansas State University
baseball cap. And shipping
costs and tax were available
for some sellers but not all.
Save time and money by
sticking to our top-rated
sites, at left.
*PriceGrabber.com operates the shopping service at ConsumerReports.org.
Subscribe now at ShopSmartmag.org october 2010
2 Pinpoint local sales
Best for checking inventory on the go
If you use this tool on your computer, you
can find products and reviews, but the full
local search capabilities are available only
on your mobile phone. Just go to the site
through your mobile browser, search for
what you want, and if the item is sold at
a participating retailer in your vicinity, the
result will include a red map pin. Click to
see availability, prices, and directions to
Best for electronics and appliances
This site’s tagline is “Find national
brands near you.” If you’re in the market
for a new computer or dishwasher, it
can help you find which stores are selling
what you want, how much the item will
set you back, and whether it’s in stock.
It’s easy to compare in-store and online
prices. And you can sign up for alerts
that let you know when prices drop on
items that you identify.
Best for national chain shopping
This site is great for checking local
inventory at national retailers such
as Target and Barnes & Noble, and at
mom-and-pop stores, too. (It’s working
to add more local businesses.) There
aren’t any price-comparison tools, but
you can sort by products on sale, and
the price-alert feature is nice. It also
has an in-stock alert to let you know
when an item arrives at your store.
Best for sharing your local finds
The site allows you to search by “local
results only” and you can create a
shopping list and e-mail images to friends
and to your cell phone, whether you have
a smart phone or not. Download the free
iPhone or BlackBerry apps, view the site
on your mobile browser, or text your
query and ZIP code to 95173. Just be
warned: The search function can be
a bit sketchy—we put in shoes and got
a camera in our results.
ometimes you want to get in the
car and pick up your goodies right
away instead of shopping online.
But you don’t want to drive all over town
looking around and comparing prices.
The solution: local search engines. They
can help you find the best price before
you head out the door, and they can dig
up great coupons and sales. Just be
warned: These sites are far from perfect.
Prices don’t include local sales taxes,
and search results are often spotty or
include irrelevant items. (Note: Local
search is now available for subscribers
26 consumer reports
Best for restaurant savings
Type in your city and state or ZIP code
to see a map of local eateries where
you can chow down for less, then print
the coupons and go. The site also has
categories for savings on products and
services like apparel, office supplies, and
travel. Also check out Restaurant.com,
where you can buy discounted gift
certificates. Click “narrow by coupon
type” to refine results.
Best for apparel and home decor
This site has deep listings for a huge
range of items, and the clothing and
home categories are a good place to
start. The clean interface lets you sort
results by location, store, brand, color,
price range—even items with coupons
or special promotions attached. The
site’s free iPhone app, Shop Nearby,
does all that, plus calculates the cost
of driving to a particular store.
Best for discovering local businesses
The search engine you know and love
provides listings for items at local
businesses. It’s easy: Just put in what
you’re looking for and your ZIP code
to find what you need in your own
neighborhood. Take advantage of the
supplied phone numbers to check
availability, the maps to see exactly
where stores are located, and the starred
customer reviews to make sure you
pick a winner.
*Krillion operates the local shopping
service at ConsumerReports.org.
Alibris goes deep, scouring independent
booksellers to deliver top bargains in new and
used books and DVDs. Hunt down rare books,
including first editions. Check out the 99-cent
book section and subscribe to the site’s
e-newsletter to get money-saving coupons.
for clothing & Accessories
This site has a fun user interface that lets you
search by color, shape, or pattern. If you like
slouchy hobo bags, for example, you’ll find them
under “shape match.” And if you’re looking for
a cute new T-shirt, you can specify whether you
want long sleeves or short, V-neck or tank.
Not only does Retrevo pull up the best buys on
computers, TVs, cell phones, and more; it also
gives you user reviews, detailed specs, and
downloadable manuals. And it’s easy to search.
For cameras, for example, you can specify LCD
size, minimum optical zoom, and megapixels.
Subscribe now at ShopSmartmag.org october 2010
4 Get in on group deals
he more, the merrier—and the
cheaper, too, That’s the premise
of a handful of “group buying”
sites that have sprung up in the past
two years. Those sites post limitedtime deals for local services and
merchandise. A minimum number of
people must click the “buy” button,
or the deal is off.
The discounts can be hefty. When we
clicked around Groupon and LivingSocial,
two of the more popular sites, we saw
deals such as $40 worth of food at
a Japanese restaurant for $20 or an
exam, cleaning, and X-rays at a dental
office for $55 (the regular price is $300).
Many of the deals are for restaurants and
services, but we also found offers for
things like golf lessons and Pilates
sessions. So far they’re confined to major
cities, which means that if you don’t live
near an urban center, you’re out of luck.
Here are dos and don’ts to help you
find bona fide bargains on those sites:
n DO Check out the business.
Before you sign up for a deal, type the
name of the restaurant or service
provider into Google or a review site
such as Yelp to see whether it’s a
business you want to patronize.
n DON’T lose your mind. Limited-
time deals are like auctions: In the
excitement of the moment it’s easy to
end up buying stuff you really don’t need.
So stop to think: Is this something you
really want? Also, read fine print; tax and
tips are often not included, or the deal
might be valid only on certain days.
n DO Keep total cost in mind.
Getting a $50 certificate for Mexican food
for $25 sounds like a great deal. But by the
time you order appetizers and drinks and
tack on tax and tip, your bill might swell
to $75 or more. Conversely, make sure
you’ll be able to spend the entire value of
the certificate—you won’t be able to get
a refund for the unused portion.
n DO Shop around. Half off at a local
restaurant might sound like a steal, but
you can often do better at sites like
Restaurant.com, which offers discount
dining certificates nationwide.
n DON’T BE TOO ANXIOUS TO
CASH IN. If you nab a great deal on
dinner at a new restaurant, remember
that hundreds of other folks will, too.
So you might have to put up with crowds
or long waits for a reservation.
n DO Check refund policies.
Groupon says it will issue refunds to any
dissatisfied customer, but LivingSocial
won’t give your money back more than
five days after the purchase date.
Cities 65 across the U.S.
Recent deal $10 for $20
worth of food and drinks
at a restaurant
Recent deal Half off a salon
Recent deal 50 percent off
a kayak tour
Recent deal $25 for package of
five yoga classes
5 Dial up savings
One of the best tools for smart
shopping is right there in your
bag—it’s your phone! Whether you
have a smart phone or a plain-Jane
model, you can use it to find the
lowest price on those shoes you’re
coveting, check the carbon footprint
of your favorite shampoo before you
restock, or even find a killer garage
sale in your neighborhood. Here are
some of our favorite shopping apps
(all are free):
The Coupons App
What it does Pinpoints your
location, then finds coupons for savings
at nearby retailers and restaurants. Cool
improvement: In the past, some offers
couldn’t be scanned from your phone’s
screen and had to be printed. Now you
can redeem all coupons using the screen.
how low can you go?
InvisibleHand (www.getinvisiblehand.com) is an app that runs in
the background of your computer while you shop. Before you buy,
click on its yellow toolbar at the top of your screen to see whether
there’s a better price out there. While we checked out the “True
Blood” season-two DVD set at BarnesandNoble.com for $41.99,
InvisibleHand showed us a $31.95 deal at Buy.com.
28 consumer reports
What it does Puts coupons
for local stores in the palm
of your hand. To get in on the action,
follow a few simple steps to tag your
favorite retailers and you’ll get a
notification every time they post a
coupon. (The app is called “Where”
on Android, BlackBerry, and Palm Pre.)
Phone iPhone, Android, BlackBerry,
What it does Puts more than
170,000 recipes at your fingertips and
creates shopping lists with everything
you need to prepare them. Choose from
favorites, random suggestions, and even
meals that use whatever leftovers are
in your fridge.
Phone iPhone, Android
What it does Searches a
database of thousands of toys,
personal-care, household, and food
products to show you how safe, healthy,
and green they are (or aren’t) before
you decide whether to buy the product.
Scan the product’s bar code or type
in the item name. If you don’t have an
iPhone, text “gguide” and the product
name to 41411.
Phone App for iPhone; text for all
What it does One of our
favorite price-comparison search
engines has gone mobile. You can now
use your phone to see who’s selling
whatever you are looking for at the
best price, while also taking into
account tax and shipping fees. Scan
the item’s bar code or type in the
Phone iPhone, iPad, Android
What it does Uses barcode and visual search to find books,
CDs, DVDs, and video games (just
take a photo of the product’s cover)
at the best prices online or at nearby
walk-in stores. You can search by the
item’s title, too.
Phone iPhone (bar-code scanner
works only on 3GS and 4 models),
Garage Sales Tracker
What it does Tells you
exactly where your favorite stores (and
the bathroom and the up escalator) are
in hundreds of shopping malls
Phone iPhone, Android, iPod Touch, iPad
What it does Finds garage
sales, flea markets, and consignment
shops in your area. You can also use
the service by going to its website,
Subscribe now at ShopSmartmag.org october 2010
6 Make friends
tudies show that women
frequently seek out
recommendations and reviews
before making purchases and are most
likely to buy when they get feedback
from people they trust. We didn’t need
any surveys to tell us that. We know
from experience that feedback from
friends means fewer money-wasting
mistakes. The latest crop of Web 2.0
sites ups the ante. Now you can shop
with friends from your computer (or
cell phone). Use these sites to get all
the feedback you need to make your
next smart shopping decision. Other
ways to make shopping social: “Like”
companies on Facebook and “follow”
them on Twitter to see what others
think of their products. Also, keep an
eye on Woot, which was just acquired
by Amazon. It offers one sale item a
day with real-time user conversations;
we expect to see more socialnetworking opportunities soon.
This site is like a mashup of Twitter,
Facebook, and your credit-card
statement. Every time you make a
purchase, you can post what you spent
and where you spent it (or you can keep
the purchase private). Friends can “like”
or comment on your purchase.
This site is a great source of coupons
and special offers (we’re especially fond
of the “Free Shipping” area). It also acts
as your personal deal shopper. There are
two ways to interact: If you need
30 consumer reports
coupons for a certain store before you
shop, just follow @CouponBot on Twitter,
then tweet “@CouponBot StoreName,”
and you’ll get up to 10 coupon links. If
you’re looking for a deal on a particular
item, post in the “Find Me a Deal” forum,
and they’ll do just that.
Shop with a friend in real time. Say
an online sample sale is starting in
10 minutes. Add the “bookmarklet”
to your browser (easier than it sounds),
then sign in to the instant-messaging
chat with your friend, share images of
the dresses you’re considering adding to
your cart, and get immediate feedback
on whether she thinks it’s for you.
Sharing your purchases is the name
of the game. Link your account with
Facebook or Twitter. Then upload a
picture of your fab new stilettos or take
a photo of the DVD you’re pondering
and ask for feedback before slapping
down your plastic. Download the free
iPhone app so that you can take your
sharing on the road.
It’s social shopping with a purpose:
Make a product recommendation, share
it with your Facebook friends and Twitter
followers, and if someone buys it, the
charity of your choice gets more than
50 percent of the referral fee that
Rec.fm earns. You get a warm, fuzzy
feeling and a receipt for your
Go to the site and share details on your
new HDTV or ask for ideas for your
dad’s birthday gift, and your friends can
comment, “like,” or recommend. You
can also see what your friends are buying
and follow shoppers with taste similar to
yours for inspiration. Requires a Facebook
account to sign up.
Swipely imports your purchases from
linked credit, debit, and e-mail accounts,
then publishes the items you buy, along
with photos. (You can choose to make
certain transactions, like those chicken
cutlets, private.) Use it to learn what your
friends are loving now.
How it works Companies
amass details about you and how you
spend your time (and money) online
from information you volunteer when
you fill out profile pages (such as
telling Facebook how old you are or
entering your mailing address so that
you can get a coupon book). Also, when
you visit many websites, they place
a small file, called a “cookie,” on your
computer. That cookie is then used
to identify your address and track how
you use the Internet. The data helps
retailers sell to you more efficiently. For
example, if you search for plane tickets
to Italy, you might see ads for hotels in
Rome. The opt-out system in the U.S.
means that you often give consent the
moment you type a Web address into
your browser. But if you keep all your
information to yourself, you’ll miss out.
You can’t get that 20 percent off coupon
for a local restaurant if the site doesn’t
know where “local” is. And so we’re
trading our privacy for personalization,
convenience, and savings. Cookies
might not tell retailers your name a
nd age, but they can help companies
assemble a picture of who you are and
What you can do
While you’re getting in on good group
deals, you can hook up your friends, too.
See a deal you like, or one that seems
perfect for someone you know, and
share your find on Facebook or Twitter
or send an e-mail. If three friends or
followers get in on the featured offer,
you get the deal free! Download the
iPhone app and never miss a deal.
Remember when you first started
shopping online? You might have been
a little nervous about entering your
credit-card number, but it seemed
a small price to pay to shop from
home. Today, your privacy is almost
nonexistent: Buy a book, and it’s added
to a list of all the items you’ve ever
bought online. Use a promo code to
get free shipping on your new camera,
and the e-tailer knows what other
sites you’ve browsed. This
phenomenon is called behavioral
targeting, and it’s ubiquitous.
This site is all about putting you on the
cutting edge. Members make fashion,
home-products, and electronics
recommendations. Follow “mavens” who
share your taste or post your own faves.
Daily and weekly picks show you stuff
you didn’t even know you wanted.
At press time, Congress was considering a bill that would
require websites to display simplified privacy policies,
protect info from third parties, and permit users to opt
out of accepting cookies, among other protections. In the
meantime, here are some ways to protect your privacy:
n Don’t give info just because a website asks for it. If you do
n Clear browsers’ caches to delete cookies. Set Internet
what you like, making anonymity
almost impossible. Companies can
figure out your income, health status,
race, education level, religion, sexual
orientation, political affiliation, and
much more—and there’s an industry
built around selling that info to retailers.
Marketers know more about us than
ever, and with so many bits of personal
info out there, we’re at risk for
dangerous leaks. Blippy, mentioned on
the facing page, had a security breach
earlier this year that briefly exposed
some user credit-card numbers in
Google searches. See below for some
ways to protect yourself.
options to accept cookies only from authorized sites. Reject
Flash cookies at macromedia.com/support/documentation/
n Opt out of Google’s behavioral targeting ad program
(search “Google Advertising Cookie Opt-out Plugin” and
follow directions), then opt out of other programs at www.
n Disable geolocation in computer and mobile browsers,
and deny requests to “find your current location” when
asked, unless you want info that requires your location.
Subscribe now at ShopSmartmag.org october 2010