Q: My husband and I just moved into our new home and need to buy electronics, home furnishings, and several small appliances. We started shopping around causally about a month ago but decided that we’re going to wait for the discounts we hope to see with Amazon Prime Day next week. We each booked a day off work so that we can be online and not worry about missing a deal. When I mentioned this to a friend, they warned me about scammers who take advantage of people while they shop during these events. I guess it could be an easy day to trick people out of their personal information, but when it comes to shopping, what do we need to watch out for? ~Emmie
A: Online shopping has quickly become a favourite pastime, freely shared about on social media or listed as a hobby in dating profiles. Some people shop online because it’s convenient and easy. Others search for unique items not available at local merchants, and many Canadians visit online retailers to save money on the things they need or want.
To take advantage of consumer enthusiasm for online shopping, large retailers have earmarked special days throughout the year when they offer deeper discounts than usual. But buying during hyped-up shopping events invented by retailers can cause you to spend more than you planned. Here are tips and tricks to keep your clicks in check and your cart reserved for what you can afford.
Plan your shopping strategically
If the retailer publicizes which items will be on sale, consider the enticing offers well before starting your shopping. Compare prices, features, models, warranties, and brands and expand your search to include items that aren’t deeply discounted or on sale. Items which are not on sale or which aren’t promoted during the shopping event — such as a previous model or less popular colour, could in fact be available at the price point you can afford, and be just as suitable to meet your needs.
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When the deals for that day are not made public ahead of time, or if there are time-limited offers during the promotional days, it can help to refer to a list. Outline a shopping list ahead of time for the items you plan to purchase. Jot down your first, second, and even third choices, with the prices you’ve seen advertised elsewhere. This will help you compare prices quickly so that you know if you’re getting a real deal or not.
Read through as many reviews as you can. Most online retailers have a review system of stars or comments with photos and videos. If there’s been a manufacturing change, there could be a difference between newer versus older ratings. You can choose to order the reviews by date to spot trends. Look for the keywords that are important to you, read reviews on several different websites, and consider critically any comments provided as part of a promotion.
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Be aware of savvy marketing tactics
Competing for your hard-earned cash has retailers pulling out all the marketing stops they can. Discounts can be artificially created if prices were increased before the discounts were applied. Eighty per cent off looks better than 60 per cent off, but to generate the same amount of revenue for the retailer, the more deeply discounted item might have a higher starting price point listed in the description or have the price prior to the sale hidden altogether. To get around inflated discount promotions, compare the actual selling prices of similar items and decide if that’s the price you want to pay. Disregard the original prices and the discount amounts because those could just be marketing ploys.
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Many online retailers also use dynamic pricing strategies and when the demand for a product goes up, so does the price. There can be regional differences in pricing, as well as changes to how much you need to pay for the same item based on the type of device, operating system, and/or the browser you’re using to do your online shopping. Switch between apps, devices, and private or incognito browsers where possible to get around some of the pricing differences. It can be worth using a VPN if the discounts in another part of Canada are much greater than where you’re located, but be cautious that you account for difference with shipping, taxes, and warranties before you confirm your purchases.
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Base your buying on your budget
Online shopping has the tendency not to feel quite real. You don’t leave the store with a shiny new item and with the click of your mouse or touch of your finger the payment is sent silently through cyberspace. However, regardless of what the buying experience is, the paying experience can start with a shock if your credit card bill is bigger than you anticipated.
Avoid buyer’s remorse by outlining a list of what you plan to buy and what you can afford to spend on each item. Keep refining your list based on your budget. If you’ve saved up to pay for the items, determine how best to make your funds stretch as far as possible. Check your household budget over the next month to see where you can save to make up any difference so that you’ve got the money available to pay the bill when it’s due.
If the purchases are splurges, create a plan for how to pay for them within the next three or four months, before you’re tempted to splurge again by the winter holiday deals. If paying your current purchases off in that time period is not possible, revise your list because the discounts you realize today will be all but gone by the time interest and fees are added to your credit card bills if you choose to only make the minimum credit card payment.
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The bottom line on marketing blitzes like Amazon Prime Day
The enticing deals that retailers offer consumers as part of special saving days, can be hard to resist. Time-limited offers create a sense of urgency and can even leave you with FOMO, the fear of missing out. Recognizing the blitz for the marketing tactic it is, can help keep it in perspective. Make your online shopping more intentional by sticking to a list and keep a running tally for how much you’re spending while you’re shopping. There will always be another sale, so remember, the best deal right now is the one you can afford to pay for.
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Peta Wales is President and CEO of the Credit Counselling Society, a non-profit organization. For more information about managing your money or debt, contact Peta by email, check nomoredebts.org or call 1-888-527-8999.
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