US-centric: In the past 10 years, the internet has completely revolutionised the way we shop—so much so that there's rarely a compelling reason to make purchases offline anymore. But the rise of online shopping has also given rise to an ocean of choice, and you want to make sure you're getting the best deals available to you. If you're a die-hard bargain shopper, you can spend tonnes of time looking for deals on the internet—and you can be very successful. But if you don't have an abundance of time to dedicate to bargain hunting, you can still save buckets of cash by following just a few simple tips.
Find Your Trusted Online Retailers
Sure you can always search across retailers with Google Product Search (previously Froogle), but generally what you get is a long list of retailers you've never heard of before, and when you're making an important purchase, you want to be sure. Generally I use Froogle as a barometer for price to see what kind of benchmarks I should be looking for when I'm making a purchase.
But when it comes to some purchases, finding the cheapest and easiest buy isn't what's most important. When you're making bigger purchases, a lot of times you'll want to look for quality products from trustworthy sources. For example, when I'm shopping for computer hardware (hard drives, RAM, etc.), I make almost all of my purchases online at Newegg.com. Not only does Newegg always offer competitive prices, but they have a good return policy and they generally ship out your orders for cheap and at breakneck speed (though they're not quite as good as they used to be on this front). Newegg also provides RSS results for their search results as well as deals and category (see their available feeds here).
Likewise, Amazon is one of those retailers that everyone trusts and generally feels good buying from. Chances are you'll do a good share of your purchasing from trusted sources like these, and a lot of the time you'll be getting some of the best prices available. But if you're cool with rolling up your sleeves just a bit more and keep your eyes open for online discounts and coupons, you can likely find even better deals.
Keep an Eye out for Discounts and Coupons
RetailMeNot: The one thing I always do before finalising any online transaction is check previously mentioned web site RetailMeNot (from the creators of BugMeNot) for any applicable coupons for the web site I've decided to purchase an item from. RetailMeNot aggregates discounts and coupons by online retailers and lists them on their site with the success rate from users who've tried them. You won't always find a coupon from RetailMeNot, but the two seconds it takes to check are well worth the effort for the times you do find a coupon.
Techdeals.net: There are also sites that serve as great deal aggregators—sites that scour online retailers and list great deals in blog-like fashion—reverse-chronologically—so the latest deal is always up top. For example, I've always been a fan of Techdeals, a site of this type that—despite its name—tracks deals on everything from apparel to software. They've even got an RSS feed to make keeping up with the latest listings a breeze.
FatWallet: Like Techdeals, web site FatWallet is a hugely popular resource for finding great deals and free stuff online. Though personally I've found FatWallet's site and forums to be somewhat unwieldy and a bit too much work, their Hot Deals and Free Stuff RSS feeds are easily worth a subscription. You won't always get lucky, and a lot of FatWallet's hot deals are actually pointing out in-store purchases, but it's always got new and great deals pouring in.
Woot: Then of course there's the one-deal-a-day web site Woot, a bulk wholesaler (recently partnered with Yahoo) that sells one product a day, often highly discounted, until either the day ends or the product sells out. Woot's products can be very hit and miss, but if they happen to be selling something you're in the market for, it can be a great place to find a deal. To ease the process of keeping up with day-to-day woots, check out the Woot Watcher Firefox extension or the Windows-only WootAgent (both of which come in especially handy in a Woot-off).
Find It Second Hand for Cheap
Buying items second hand (or first hand from auctions/resellers) is a great way to save a bundle, but it can be a great deal more time consuming than the simple one-click purchasing from the likes of Amazon. If you want to spend a touch more time, though, places like Craigslist and eBay are still excellent resources for online bargain hunting.
Craigslist: If you're lucky enough to live in a city with an active Craigslist community, you can get incredible deals on just about anything. However, it can also require a bit more work than the rest of your online shopping. In contrast to online retailers, you have to factor in whether or not you have to pick up the item (most often you do), the trustworthiness of the seller, and the time required to get in touch with and secure an item from the seller. Also, Craigslist is a cash-in-hand operation, and very rarely will you see much in terms of customer protection. That said, if you've got the time to weed through the listings and what you're looking for doesn't have to be brand new, it's generally very easy to find a great deal on Craigslist. To get you jump started with your Craigslisting, check out our guide to Craigslist for power users or any of our many Craigslist tips.
eBay: Despite the fact that eBay remains an internet juggernaut, it's actually become the last place I go when I'm looking for deals. The site's listings are progressively becoming a playground for professional resellers, which is fine, but you'll have a much more difficult time finding the great one-off bargains that used to be eBay's calling card. That said, eBay is still home to a lot of excellent deals as long as you're willing to look. We've posted a tonne of eBay hacks over the years, but I've always appreciated sites like Fat Fingers, which looks for deals by finding typos in listings. You can also create your own eBay search RSS feeds with RSSAuction, which promises more specialized searches than eBay's default RSS feeds.
Where Do You Save Cash Online?
None of the tips I've listed above are groundbreaking by any means, but they also demonstrate the limit to which I'll dedicate time to online shopping before it starts feeling like my time could be dedicated better elsewhere. It's by no means the best way to shop online, but it is what works for me. Share your online shopping methods—from your favourite trusted online retailers to coupon aggregators and other online money-saving tips—in the comments.