Follow These Tips to Ensure the Best Deal When You Shop Online

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Follow These Tips to Ensure the Best Deal Every Time You Shop Online

You’ve loaded your virtual shopping cart, input your shipping address and are ready to click the “submit” button. You’re feeling confident. After all, you even added a coupon to your order.

But how can you tell whether you’re really getting a good price? Suddenly, that $299 vacuum looks grossly overpriced.

You can alleviate buyer’s remorse before it starts with our step-by-step checklist to ensure you get the best possible deal every time you shop online. Before you buy, follow these ABCs:

Act at the right time. TVs usually go on sale around the Super Bowl. Black Friday brings tablet discounts. Summer products go on deep clearance at the end of August. There’s a season for buying just about everything, and if you time your purchase right, you can get your vacuum, stroller, coffee maker or whatever it is you need at its lowest price of the year.

When possible, plan ahead and spread out your purchases throughout the calendar year accordingly. NerdWallet put together a guide for what to buy every month of the year so you know what sales to anticipate.

Buy the right product. Once you’ve narrowed down when to buy, you have to decide what to buy. Sure, you know you want a Kindle. But which Kindle? Is the Voyage or the Paperwhite the better Amazon e-reader for you?

Do your homework and compare product specifications, including user reviews, before picking a model. Higher-end versions typically carry better features, but they also come with higher prices. Think realistically about how frequently you’ll use a given product and its various attributes. A more basic model may be more than enough for your usage habits.

Consult Amazon. You’ve picked a time and you’ve picked a product, but now you have to pick a place. Amazon is known for its competitive prices, so it’ll be worth your while to check the site for any deals. If you’re a member of Amazon Prime, many products are eligible for free one-day or two-day shipping. Even if you don’t end up making a purchase from the store, you’ll gain a point of reference to judge how much the item is selling for online.

Dial into prices. But how can you tell the worth of a deal? A price may sound appealing on the surface, but it can be difficult to determine whether the markdown is substantial compared with the price the product generally sells for. Is it always on sale for that amount? After all, The New York Times reported that Amazon is removing its list prices (that’s the “regular” price of a product before a sale). Without these, shoppers are left with little frame of reference for evaluating a deal other than their own judgment.

But there’s a way to validate the value of a deal. With the help of free Amazon price tracker website camelcamelcamel, for instance, you can see the price history of a given product. Just search by the URL or keyword of the item you’re considering. You’ll see its price and a graph of past price fluctuations. You can even sign up to receive alerts when a price drops. For instance, we tested the site on the Dyson V6 cordless stick vacuum. It’s currently $299. That’s less than its highest price point ($367.18 in February 2015), but more than its lowest price ($224 in November 2015). Another price tracking website that’s worth checking out is MyAlerts.

Expand your search. So if your research tells you now is a good time to buy, you can move ahead to the next step — that’s consulting prices from other retailers. After all, Amazon isn’t the be-all and end-all of online shopping.

Conduct a quick Google search for the name of the product you’re researching to cross-compare deals across multiple stores. Some retailers will pop up in the general search results, but you can see a full display by clicking on the “shopping” tab. Here you can compare prices across retailers, including taxes and shipping costs.

Find a coupon. Next, extend your research beyond just sticker price. It’s possible that a store is selling a given product for more than its competitor, but with the help of a coupon code, that higher price could come down below the other. Many sites collect coupons in one place. Simply search by store or brand name.

Or join a cash-back site like Ebates.com or BeFrugal.com, where members can browse through coupons, plus combine them with cash-back offers from participating retailers.

Also important — wait to look for a coupon until you’ve already settled on something you want to buy. Allowing coupons to become the reason you shop is counterintuitive; you’ll shell out more than you would’ve before finding the coupon in the first place.

» MORE: How to use coupons effectively

Get on an email list. Can’t locate a coupon? Some stores offer other ways to save, particularly for new customers. If you’ve never shopped online at a given store before, try signing up for the retailer’s mailing list. It’ll often send you a one-time promo code for a discount on your first order. This could be anything from free shipping to 30% off.

Some retailers that offer one-time incentives for registering include: Old Navy (30% off), Aeropostale (20% off), Abercrombie & Fitch (15% off) and Under Armour (free shipping).

Have protection. Finally, when it’s time to finish off your transaction, make your online purchase with a credit card. It’s not only more secure than a debit card, but this payment method can help you save, too. Some credit cards earn you cash back. And some offer price protection if you find the exact same item on sale for less after you buy. Look into the details of your particular card, as you may have to register your purchase in order to take advantage of such price protection.

Courtney Jespersen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: courtney@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @courtneynerd.