How to Find the Best Price on Anything
Last Update: 5/25/2016
Everybody wants to find the best price when buying items, how do the pros do it? In this article, the founders of BuyVia.com will teach you how to find the best deals on top-notch products from vendors you know and love. These shopping experts have been involved in Internet shopping since 1999, having started TechBargains and building into a top technology shopping portal and selling it to a big company.
We will examine many factors that come into play when researching stores and products. Product cycles and sales timing as well as different money saving discount techniques including coupons, rebates, credit cards, and more will be discussed. The goal is to get the right product at the best price possible while not endangering your credit card.
All this information will help you become a more savvy shopper and allow you to make your shopping budget go a lot further. The target products include computers, electronics, Smartphones, Tablets, home, apparel, shoes and more. We will not go into extreme couponing for groceries.
Finding the best price on anything includes these steps:
- Selecting the right product and ensuring it is a good value
- Finding a reliable store
- Dodging shipping and tax
- Checking price comparison engines
- Taking advantage of coupons and deal sites
- Buying when you don't need it tomorrow
- Being open to refurbished products
- Understanding how to take advantage of mail in rebates
- Paying with a credit card with rewards
The bottom line is how much you pay for a product, complete with tax and shipping. Our goal is to minimize this number. Before we can dive into techniques to find the lowest price, we need to have a discussion on product selection and value after we talk about prices.
Fake List Prices - Save 99%!
How much you save on a product is dependent on the list or retail price of the item. Over the last couple years, some stores and websites have been inflating the 'original' price of items. Some have at least indicated that the product never was sold at the list price, but other have been so bold that they were sued.
A California court found Overstock.com liable for false advertising. The court concluded that Overstock willfully inflated list prices to exaggerate customer savings, fining the merchant $6.8 million for the wrongdoings. Overstock is appealing the decision. Wayfair and Amazon have also been targets.
Here is an example of where this occurs.
KitchenAid 4.5 Quart Classic Plus Stand Mixer
- Sells for under $230 on Amazon, but has a List price of $349.
- Google Shopping shows most stores selling it for $250
- So much for the huge savings.
You can see why list prices should be ignored. The inflated savings percentages are just that. Always compare prices.
The New York Times has an article talking about meaningless List Prices.
If you buy a cheap product for the absolute lowest price you can find, that doesn't mean you bought something of good value. The goal is to select the right product first. It is a waste of money if you make a compromise and purchase a cheaper product of inferior quality or feature set. Buyers remorse will set in after a short while because you did not buy what you really wanted. Even though you saved money, you really wasted your money. So before you even begin to shop for a specific item, you need to do the following:
- Research the category
- Make a list of the manufacturers that fit the bill
- Identify specific products that fulfill your need
- Look up prices and select specific items that fit your budget
- Read reviews on these products and select one or two to purchase
Here is an example of how we shopped for a new Tablet:
- We read about Android and iOS, how they differ
- Apple and Samsung were the two makers we considered
- iPad Mini and Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 7.0 became the two obvious possibilities
- The iPad Mini 16GB ranged in price from $279 to $329. The Samsung costs from $149 to $189.
- Even though the iPad Mini costs more, we could leverage the Apps and knowledge we have gained from using an iPhone, making it a better choice.
Where to Buy
We have previously written an article that helps you determine whether a store is reliable. Please read: How to Find Safe Online Stores - as your shopping journey may force you to consider buying from a store you have never heard of. Limiting yourself to just Amazon, Best Buy, Target, etc. will not allow you to find the best price on a wide range of products. You need to learn how to spot a legitimate store and how to safeguard your credit card information.
Many articles have described a concept known as show-rooming, where shoppers visit a local store to look and feel products, whip out their Smartphones, barcode scan the items with Apps such as the BuyVia App, to find a lower price online. This is a double-edged sword.
- An online store does not have the overhead of a showroom, and can offer lower prices.
- If we don't support our local community, it will deteriorate.
The decision on whether to purchase from an online vendor with a cheaper price or to support your local economy is yours to make. This is more a moral dilemma than an economic decision.
Costco, Sams Club, and BJ's Wholesale Club are nationwide popular stores for purchasing products at a discount. These stores are definitely useful tools in finding low prices. In our experience, they do offer good prices and even better return policies, but seldom do they have the absolute lowest price on products. Other issues with membership warehouse stores:
- Limited selection of goods
- Unique model numbers that prevent price comparison (different UPC barcodes)
- No trained salespeople to help
- Being forced to buy more than you need (3 memory cards or USB drives, instead of 1)
Due to the above limitations, you should do some comparison shopping at your local warehouse club, but be prepared to buy elsewhere. Some stores like Costco allow you to return products at any time, technology products have a shorter return period. (90 days) This allows you to try out the product with no obligation, something very difficult with online stores.
Shipping and Tax
When buying products online, we definitely want to minimize our shipping costs and sales tax. Any time we can get free shipping, we try to take advantage of it. Unfortunately, this may require purchasing more products than intended to reach a free shipping goal. You need to weigh the benefits of this, as wasting money to hit a certain order amount can be a poor choice. You may be better off just paying the shipping or buying elsewhere.
Sales tax is one area that is becoming harder to dodge. States are hurting for money and have been forcing online retailers to collect tax in many more states. Even if you do not pay sales tax, you may be liable for Use Tax in your state. We are not suggesting that you violate any laws. Many people find it important to understand which stores charge sales tax in their particular state. Examine this policy closely when you are ready to buy. Some states also have what are known as sales tax holidays where they don't charge tax for certain products purchased during a short period of time. Be sure to check with your local state to understand when these occur.
- iPad from Apple Store
- $499 + 9% CA Sales Tax = $543, free shipping.
- iPad from leading Store
- $479 + No Sales Tax in CA = $479, free shipping.
- Savings $64
Take advantage of State Sales Tax Holidays
Buying a product for a vacation that starts tomorrow will never yield you the best price. The best deals are had when you make a list of items you need, and constantly watch for hot deals on them. Visiting deal sites that help report the best buys, and setting alert notifications can help you stay abreast of special limited time offers without having to check them everyday.
It takes a disciplined shopper to keep a shopping list and an eye out for deals constantly. This extra effort will pay off. Looking into your crystal ball for products you will need someday soon, will save you a ton of money. If you know you're going on vacation in June, start buying everything you need, one or two months earlier.
Flexible Product Demand
If you are insistent on purchasing a particular product, you have limited the selection of offers you will be open to. Whenever possible, don't get stuck on a single product. Be open to purchasing several items from competing companies. If you are interested an iPad Mini, be open to a full sized iPad or an Android Tablet.
The iPhone 5s recently launched. If you had to have it day one, you will have to pay full price. If you can wait a couple of months, discounts will appear. To maximize your savings, purchase a product right after it has been replaced with a new one. In this case, purchasing an iPhone 5, the day after the iPhone 5s was announced, would yield you a better price. In fact, we asked several local Apple stores about this and found that they sold out of the older phone quickly.
Not purchasing the latest and greatest product also helps minimize frustration. With each new product release comes bugs, so don't pay to become a beta tester for companies. Let early adopters pay the price and help find bugs. Wait a couple months for a deal and a more solid product.
Some vendors sell refurbished or used products. You should definitely consider these, as they are great ways of saving money. Where do these products come from?
- Returns from stores due to buyers remorse
- Defective products, now repaired
- Used products from trade shows or leasing
The key is to understand what condition the refurbished item is in as well as what the warranty is. Apple sells refurbished products in their outlet at a discount, with the same warranty as a new item. They also make sure that the product looks good. We have no reservations buying an Apple refurbished product to save money. So be sure to look into these attributes before you buy a refurbished item.
- iPad Mini from Apple Store
- $329 + 9% CA Sales Tax = $358, free shipping.
- Refurbished iPad Mini from leading eBay Store
- $279 + No Sales Tax in CA = $279, free shipping.
- Savings $79
When buying online, it is a good habit to look for a coupon code when you check out. Many people simply Google the stores name and "coupon" or "promo code" as they are checking out to find if there are any other discounts. This is a good strategy although it's very frustrating when you find codes that don't work or do not apply.
Where do these coupons come from?
- Often times they are listed on the stores website
- They are sent to coupon sites
- Store email newsletters
- Store credit card mailings
- Club Card promotional items
- Local coupons printed in flyers, newspapers etc.
To ensure you receive as many coupons as possible, visit reputable coupon sites, sign up for as many store newsletters as you can tolerate, and visit deal sites often. Before you purchase from a new store, we suggest you sign up for their newsletter in advance, you may receive a coupon before you even order anything. Local coupons are also present in Shopping Apps that can display geo-located discounts for a wide variety of areas.
Mail in Rebates
Rebates allow you to save money after your purchase by having you fill out a form, cut out a UPC barcode, and send your receipt to them. They are counting on few people performing these tedious tasks. Some stats have shown that 75% of people will not send in a rebate for $10 or less, allowing the manufacturer to pocket the difference. Don't be part of the statistics. Read All About Rebates - Why should I submit a rebate - on how to get what you are due. Professional shoppers are not afraid of rebates and all the tedious tracking. This is just another game stores play.
Example of rebates:
- Tiger Direct often has free after rebate products when you purchase Total Defense Internet Security software
- The hook is to get you to subscribe to their annual updates, but you can cancel at any time and still take advantage of the rebate savings.
You bought a new refrigerator, laptop or TV and bam, you see it advertised online for less. This is a shoppers worst nightmare. What can we do to close the price gap? Shameless plug - You should have used the BuyVia Shopping App to compare prices first.
Amazon used to pay you back if a product dropped in price (If you made a request), but stopped doing this in late May 2016. It will now only honor price drop refund requests on TVs.
Some physical and to a lesser extent, online stores, will match prices of competitors. (Best Buy, Target, Walmart) Very few people take advantage of this money saving tip. You would think the process is pretty straightforward but in reality, the process is not very smooth. We have tried this technique many times and find success will vary depending on which clerk you get.
Different Store Price Matching policies:
- Match local competitors in store and online prices, and match specific online stores
- Best Buy will match local competitors plus newegg.com and Amazon.com's price
- Bed Bath and Beyond matches Amazon.com's price
- Office Depot OfficeMax will match competitors prices in store and online including Amazon.com
- Walmart will match Amazon.com's price
- Home Depot will price match Lowe's and lowes.com price but not Amazon.com. Home Depot gives 110% of the price difference. The process takes a while because a manager needs to intervene.
- Match local competitors pricing only
- Lowe's will price match Home Depot but not Homedepot.com or amazon.com
Walmart's Savings Catcher App will check your Walmart receipt, automatically check competitors, and send you the difference via an electronic gift card. Talk about service!
Price Match Exceptions
- Often times they will have to call or see the price on your phone, and ensure the other company has the identical item in stock.
- Some will only match Amazon.com if the seller is Amazon and not a 3rd party.
- Coupons are not usable after a pricematch
- A pricematch request must be submitted within 14 days or less
- Clearance and closeout pricing may not be matched to
- The items must match make, model number, and color exactly
Any excuse will cause they to invalidate your request. By all means try price matching but do not expect miracles. Buying from a local store, even with a price match, keeps the revenue in your local community. A salesperson might get a commission and may have been far more helpful than a webpage. You will also benefit from instant gratification, no shipping hassles, and easier returns and exchanges.
Price Comparisons Engines
To get the best price, you need to see how much other stores are selling the product for. Check its price on sites like Google Shopping, Pricegrabber, Shopping.com, etc. Keep in mind that stores have to pay to get listed on these engines, so not every company will appear. You may have to check certain stores manually.
A great time to buy product is when there is a big sale going on. Different have different product cycles, causing the best time to buy to be all over the calendar. Check our article for a calendar that shows the best time to purchase items.
The holidays are a big sale time with Black Friday in November, right after Thanksgiving being a great time to look for bargains. Cyber Monday, the Monday after Black Friday, is a great time to buy items online.
Online stores experiment with price changes on a minute to minute basis. They may employ these sneaky tactics:
- Offering lower prices to new customers
- Offering lower prices to existing customers
- Adjusting prices as their competitors change theirs
- Discounts for abandoning items in the shopping cart
When shopping online, try checking the price with an anonymous browser session. This disables browser cookies which are used to track you.
- Firefox - select New Private Window
- Chrome - select New Incognito window
- Safari - turn on Private Browsing
Employee's often are allowed to purchase products at a significant discount. One can never have too many friends! Befriend one to take advantage of this or temporarily work for a store during the Holidays to get access to an employee discount.
Portland, Oregon is home to the Adidas, Columbia, and Nike Employee stores. Most items are sold at 50% off. You need to be an employee or know one to get access.
These websites feature Deals from various stores around the web. They can be helpful in identifying sales and other promotions that you would not be aware of. Some key attributes to look for in a good deal site:
- Constantly updated with new deals
- Brand name merchants listed, not small unfamiliar stores
- Popular products and well known manufacturers
- Professional staff that actively goes out looking for deals
- Professional, easy to read and understand layout
- Mobile website as well as Android and iOS Apps
- Alerts to when products you want have deals on them
- Newsletter, RSS feed, coupon section
Finding a good deal site is not easy. Anyone can get a free website account and paste up links to different stores. If you take a careful look, you should be able to tell a professional looking deal site from an amateur spam site. With the rise of many online store affiliate programs, many sites are lazy and just regurgitate what stores send them. These are not real deals, just paid advertising.
It is important not only what you buy but how you buy. Be sure to read How to Find the Best Rewards Credit Card. Always use a credit card for your purchases, do not use a debit card. You have far more rights when using a credit card. Look for following in credit card features:
- Cash back on purchases
- No annual fee
- Free balance transfers, low interest rate
- Extra discounts from certain stores - Amazon card, Chase freedom, Kohls, Macys, Nordstrom, etc
- Extended warranties
- Accident protection
- Rental car insurance
- No foreign transaction fees
We have several credit cards that we use, depending on the particular store. When we buy from Amazon, we use our Amazon credit card to maximize the cash back. (3%) At gas stations, we use a different credit card that gives us a higher reward. (5%) The Chase Freedom card has 5% cash back on different stores every quarter. Kohls as well as many other department stores have their own credit cards which enable to unlock additional discounts. Unfortunately you need to have several credit cards to play this game. Your credit rating will limit your ability to sign up for new credit cards.
We have covered many different facets of shopping. There are so many different techniques that can be applied in combination to ensure that you find the best price. Hopefully we have added new ways of saving money that you did not know about before.
Do you have some other money saving tips? Please leave your comments and suggestions below.