Amigos, here’s a worthy poster to nail on the gate post: “Wanted: Safe Bargain Shopping on the Internet.” In case you’re new to frugal buying online, here’s a big “howdy” to the new frontier of shopping.
Find online bargains: Many web sites do the bargain hunting for you. Dealnews.com is a favorite, constantly updating information. Also, check these locations: deals2buy.com; gottadeal.com; slickdeals.net; offers.com; retailmenot.com; dodtracker.com; amazon.com, and pricegrabber.com. A number of sites also offer reduced-price vouchers, including groupon.com, livingsocial.com, and localdines.com — the latter a Valley-based site that deals strictly in dining discounts for area restaurants, including a bunch in Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler, Tempe and Ahwatukee. Just be careful to watch for expiration dates on vouchers!
Use One Credit Card: Choose only one easy-to-monitor credit card for online purchasing, review your statements often for errors and print receipts and file them. Don’t want to use a credit card? Use a PayPal account where possible — another company with local roots, PayPal employs more than 1,100 at its Chandler operations center — and protect your information from the vender — and from all those identity outlaws out there who are ready to rob you, shoot you and leave your carcass bleaching in the sun.
Use coupons: The best place to find coupons is often on the actual store’s own website. No current store coupon? Then get coupons online from various sites like couponcabin.com, and retailmenot.com. Want other sites? Google the word “Coupons” and “git ‘er done!”
Use cash-back shopping: Where possible, go through ebates.com to make your purchases and to realize cash back averaging 4 percent to 10 percent. An actual “big fat check” will be sent to you faster than the Pony Express.
Get free shipping: Go to freeshipping.org to get — uh — free shipping. Find out who pays the shipping on returned items. I watched a TV commercial the other night wherein the shipping-and-handling cost was almost half the price of the item to be sold. If I got two of them on their “special deal,” then I had to pay the same shipping price two times. Guess where some of their profit comes from?
Shop at home: Public Wi-Fi connections are easily hacked. While you are drinking a caramel machiatto and eating a breakfast bun at Starbucks, do not shop online. Same advice for using any other public hot spots.
Use your own escrow company: If you have to use an escrow account, choose your own escrow company not the one suggested by the seller. An escrow site with a good reputation is escrow.com.
Inform yourself: Know the return-and-exchange policies. Some online sites will let you return items to their affiliated, nearby stores. Make sure you know all costs and hidden fees. Know about warranties and guarantees. As always, read the fine print.
Beware of unsolicited emails: Do not blindly open strange emails especially those offering too-good-to-be true deals. Identity thieves are devils with Houdini brains and no conscience. A recent e-mail said that I had won a bonanza: “Shh! Your check may have finally arrived!” Open the email and collect the gold. Right.
Buy or sell gift cards: Giftcardgranny.com will sell you gift cards for less or will buy your unwanted gift cards at a reduced price.
Keep the packaging: When I had to return a TV, I nearly swooned to discover that it would cost me several hundred dollars — SEVERAL HUNDRED — to have the item safely packed up and returned. Why? I no longer had the shipping materials. You don’t have to be one of those ghastly hoarders on TV — just wait awhile before you throw out the packaging.
Know your seller: Always strive to deal with reputable people. Research the seller and read his customer comments. If in doubt, DON’T. We once looked at buying a bargain used car. The seller proposed to meet us at a gas station, wanted only cash, and offered no identification whatsoever. He couldn’t have looked shadier if he wore a black cape, twirled his moustache and picked his teeth with a nail.
Protect yourself: Do not send cash, do not use wire transfers and do not use debit cards when shopping online. A credit card gives you certain rights if you have a complaint or if you need to cancel a purchase. Look for secure sites identified with https (the “s” is important) and/or a small lock icon on the screen.
Do not share personal information. (Got a big purchase in mind? Giddy up. Congress is ready to shoot down tax-free, online shopping.)
Best strategy: Get the precise identifiers of the item you want to buy: manufacturer, SKU, features, model numbers, etc. Check for the best prices using the bargain-hunting websites above. Use cash-back shopping if available on your item. See above. Check the coupon websites above. Check to see where you can get the item shipped for free. Guess where? Above. You’ll get a rip-snortin’ bargain.
And for you thieves out there — identity and otherwise: A pox on you. We shall get bargains online, we shall be safe doing so, and we shall thwart you until you bite the dust and die dead from frustration.
• Linda Hutchings is a Gilbert resident and life-long frugal consumer — uh, cheap skate. Send her your penny-pinching ideas to email@example.com.