After giving a five-minute run down of my holistic approach to shopping enhancement via the Internet, I was encouraged to write a post about it by some of my coworkers. It’s going to cover a lot of ground, so don’t blink.
Mode of shopping: I know what I want, and I know what store I want it at.
Go straight to fatwallet.com (aka FW/ObesePurse), and search by store for special discounts, coupon codes, or in-store printouts. If you’re not dead-set on going to that store, follow the next section.
Mode of shopping: I know generally what I want, or exactly what I want.
First, I usually go to amazon.com to read customer reviews. This helps me gain confidence that I want a particular product, and get comfortable with the product’s competition. Any excessively bad or suspiciously good reviews can be background checked by looking at all other user reviews by clicking on the username. That helps eliminate the corporate shills and coffeesnobs on the net. Secondly, I perform a search on SlickDeals (aka SD), motherofalldeals.com, and Anandtech’s Hot Deals forum for the exact model number and type of product you’re looking at. That should get you remarkably good coverage of any recent or current deals going on. If you find nothing, you can use a service like bizrate, froogle, Yahoo shopping to look at vendor prices inline with vendor reviews. Features will vary by site, but you will get used to the areas of coverage that each offers, and pick the right ones in no time. Besides, more info never hurts.
Mode of shopping: Big Ticket Items, Non-Motivated Buyer
For big ticket items that you’re willing to wait for, RSS is going to be your best friend. RSS is a technology that lets you subscribe to updates for stuff on the web. In the realm of deals, RSS will let you be notified of new deals before almost anyone else. Some really important sites provide RSS for the patient deal hunter. My favorite two are craigslist and motherofalldeals.com. Craigslist is typically all used items, but if you’re cool with that, and you’re shopping for furniture or a car, RSS will let you know about it before all the other schmucks on the internet who only search for an item on the off chance they think about it once a week. RSS will shop for you, so you don’t have to. RSS is how I got such a good deal on my car. In short, RSS is good. You can get started with RSS by checking out a service like bloglines and reading up on it. When you go to craigslist and do a search, there is a small text link in the bottom right that says RSS. Copy and paste that link into something like bloglines to get started. Deals are really one of the big reasons to learn RSS.
Mode of shopping: Bored at Work
Each day, there are two fantastic websites that exclusively sell one item per day. The first is woot.com (woot), and the second is steepandcheap.com (sac). Woot was a pioneer in this field, so i’m going to spend a lot of time on them.
Woot is oriented around crap you might find in the clearance section of a Best Buy or Micro Center. They post a new item every day at 10:00 PM PST sharp. Check eBay time religiously, as they post closely to that clock. Woot has several really special characteristics, a few of which i’ll cover here. Shipping for every item is $5 flat. Even 150-lbs. televisions cost $5 to ship. The Bag Of Crap (boc, or other B.O.C. acronyms) is the holy grail of woot items. It consists of a bag, plus 1 to 3 random items, priced at $1 each. Occasionally, a woot member will post a ridiculously good item of crap, such as an Xbox 360 or a bigscreen DLP TV, which they claim to have received as one of their $1 “craps.” BoC’s are posted unnanounced, and typically have caused woot’s servers to crash, but they weather the traffic storm with aplomb these days. Bags of Crap sell out within the first 3 minutes these days, and it is somewhat of a mark of pride to buy one. The other unusual activity on woot is what is called the “Woot-Off.” The Woot-Off is an entire day where they post a new item as soon as the current items sells out. As you can imagine, this leads to a ridiculous day of constantly checking woot. There has been one recorded “rare afternoon crap” in which a BoC was posted during a Woot-Off. Generally, however, community interaction around items on woot tends to bring out knowledgeable folks on every topic imaginable. The commerce design has been streamlined beyond anything else I’ve ever seen, and the order tracking interface is top-notch. Also unique are the daily “Product Stats” which break down statistics like the “Wooter to blame for sellout” to the “Woot wage,” which I presume is a measure of the speed of gross sales per time period. Woot is a brilliant internet phenomenon, and I tip my hat to its creators and denizens.
Steepandcheap is a woot-like site I just found out about that features outdoor supplies. A new item is posted every night at 11pm PST. They sell high-quality, name brand outdoors gear for as low as a quarter of the retail price. It’s unbelivably awesome if you love good quality outdoor gear but gave up on going to REI once you realized that you were spending more time at the store than outdoors. It’s the perfect way to fill in the gaps in your gear, a piece at a time.
Other worthwhile things to check on daily for the hell of emptying your wallet are deal curators like slickdeals and one other one I can’t remember now (Update: I was reminded that the site I was thinking of was passwird), because it didn’t have RSS so I hated it for a while. I think of certain deal sites as curators when they make an effort not to post links to many other deals, but rather only to a select few each day. This theoretically keeps you from being overloaded by deals, a fate you are probably destined for anyway by reading this far.
Mode of shopping: Looking to Travel
This is its own post, but basically, if you’re not in the know about these things, just get started with using priceline for hotels (because it doesn’t matter when you check in, typically), and use something else for flights. I say “something else,” because the amount you can save is typically proportional to your technical ability, and I hate the way I end up on shitty flights at shitty times on priceline. A good middle-high ground is farechase, which lets you live-search through a decently sized flight fare database with a very nice comparison interface.
Mode of shopping: hungry, or hungry while traveling.
If you’ve got a pretty experienced palate (i.e. you’re not writing four-star reviews on citysearch on Wendy’s and TGI Friday’s), and you just want good, honest food for a decent price, do yourself a favor and learn how to use chowhound. It’s the most unpretentious group of eaters on the internet, willing to go down to the corner and have a taco at a grungy taco stand, only to return to the site with a comprehensive review of the experience, food, and owner’s conversational skills, history, and friendliness. Do the community a favor as well, and tell them about your favorite holes-in-the-wall, but avoid posting excessively positive (oh, sorry, optimistic) reviews on things before lurking for a while. Your taste may improve exponentially once you start really eating in your city, or in cities away from home, and what you once considered the best use of a $20 bill may no longer apply.
This should get you started in using the internet pretty far out on its bleeding edge to save money. Of course, “saving money” really means that you’ll be buying pieces of crap over the internet for a dollar each, constantly in suspense of news deals popping up in your RSS reader, and reading through hotly contested amazon.com product ratings like mystery novels in your spare time, all while dollars are floating in large chunks out of your pocket. You’ll know it’s bad when you desperately search through entire subcultures in order to buy the best $25 dollar pocket flashlight for your car.
If you’re like me, and you hit that point, you’ll retire from the active deal addiction, hit up woot and sac daily, and flip by slickdeals once in a while. You’ll rarely pay full price for anything after that point, but when you do, you’ll secretly know that if you just spent an hour, you could probably have gotten a better deal…