Do your homework, cyber shoppers
BY TERRY SAVAGE Sun-Times Columnist Nov 29, 2010
An Amazon.com worker selects merchandise that was ordered online. | FILE PHOTO
Updated: May 3, 2013 12:14PM
Only five years after the name "Cyber Monday" was
coined, it has come to symbolize an online shopping binge -- mostly done
from workplace computers. By last year, more than 96 million Americans
shopped online during Cyber Monday -- and this year is expected to beat
last year's record.
Online retailers have already sprung into action, and this year the
idea of waiting until Monday to do your holiday shopping is almost a
laugh. Your email in-box has likely been deluged with 50-percent-off
offers and special deals from retailers, starting on Thanksgiving eve.
They weren't taking any chances that you'd spend all your shopping
dollars in the Black Friday early-morning spending ritual. Why brave the
cold and the crowds when the National Retail Federation says 88 percent
of its members are offering cyber-deals?
Just a decade ago the debate was whether "bricks and mortar" would
even exist in the future. There are huge vacancies in retail malls
because of the economy, but the most successful retailers have managed
to combine both methods of selling. From cosmetics to clothing, and
particularly in consumer electronics, retailers have created
sophisticated ways to reach you.
There are two keys to successful online shopping. The first is
knowing exactly what you want, so you can compare prices. The second is
knowing how to get all the discounts, coupons and deals that can lead to
the lowest price.
Do your homework
The most basic requirement of cyber-shopping is that you must be very
clear about the product you're seeking. If not, you can easily become
confused, or led astray. That's especially important in shopping for
For example, consider a Vizio 32-inch television. Maybe you want to
stop in at a retailer to pick the model of your choice, with help from a
salesperson. Since all the display models are playing the same fake
scenes, you can go crazy standing in front of them without learning much
about the important issues, ranging from picture clarity to energy
usage. And if you wanted the TV for the Thanksgiving weekend football
games, you probably went to a retailer so you could bring the big screen
When shopping online, knowing your specifications is critical --
because there are so many models of the same television brand, using
different technologies (LED vs LCD), with different resolution, such as
1920x1080. The latest models have wireless Internet apps. You probably
want to do some online research on "edge-lit" or "full array" (hint: big
price difference), as well as which are the newest models using the
latest in technology, and which are last year's leftovers. If you're
lucky, you'll have an electronics junkie in your family.
If you know exactly what you want, you'll find it's easy to search
online among the deals offered by well-known retailers. Using comparison
sites like CheapUncle.com is only a start. Be sure to click on the retailer's website to see the latest discounts. The same model at Amazon.com
costs $389 (with free shipping) compared with $449.93 at discounter
Tiger Electronics. But clicking on the Amazon offer reveals that it is
"temporarily out of stock."
More advice: Stick with a retailer you know so you don't get stuck
with a product that can't be returned or is not as advertized. Getting
$20 off the price won't make up for that aggravation.
And be sure to read the small print around costs for shipping and
handling. Quite often a low sale price is offset by higher fees to get
the product to your home in a reasonable amount of time. But in some
cases you can save sales taxes, and many online retailers offer free
shipping. It's important to compare total costs.
The most competitive aspect of online shopping revolves around use of
coupons. At most websites when you check out you'll see a box for
"promo code" -- and you'll be wondering who gets those deals. CouponCabin.com
is one of the premier couponing sites -- with more than 113,000 coupons
posted there. They even have a separate section for an estimated 1,750
exclusive offers that will be available only today -- Cyber Monday.
To make sure you're aware of the deals, CouponCabin created a browser
application you can download. It automatically shows active coupons and
deals that apply to your order. More than 1,500 merchant sites from
apparel to groceries, and from kids toys to electronics, participate in
this automatic toolbar coupon popup.
CouponCabin even offers a guarantee: If the "gold star" coupon you
use is not accepted by the merchant because it has expired, you'll
receive a $25 gift card from Restaurants. com. They also have a page listing sites with free shipping (something also found at FreeShipping.org).
So now, well-armed (or fingered) with the help you'll need to get the
best deals, it's time to shop Cyber Monday's bargains. Sadly, the one
thing online shopping can't do is solve the age-old problem of "what
will I give" her or him. Browsing the Internet might not be as inspiring
as walking through the store aisles listening to holiday music and
hoping you'll see just the perfect gift.
That's why retailers have created gift cards -- perfect for some, but without the romance. And that's The Savage Truth.
Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser.