Online Bargain Hunting

There are many benefits to shopping online.  The mainstream retail industry is literally hemorrhaging in the current economy.  Wipe aside a tear, and look on the bright side:  clothing is cheap, cheap, cheap!  Now, you may not know it if you pledge loyal allegiance to purchasing items in a store at the Westport Galleria.  In this installment of ‘Shopping Online’ are a few basic strategies for shopping online to get more bang for your buck.

Shop Major Retailers – Don’t shop the unique, independent online ’boutiques’ if you want to save.  Just go to the website of any mainstream apparel chain and immediately click on ‘clearance.’  With the advent of online shopping, many stores don’t stock clearance items anymore.  Instead, they post them online exclusively and ship them directly from the warehouse.  If you want the best deals (department stores are an exception here) you’ll find them on your favorite retailer’s website, not in the store.

When in Doubt, Stall – Most times an item that has already been marked down will be marked down further.  If an item on a store’s website is already tagged with a discount, it means they need to move it by next season.  Unless it’s an absolute must-have, keep an eye on the item and watch the price fall.  Think of it like stocks:  buy low.  Take a look at the range of sizes available when the item first shows up in the sale section.  If all sizes and colors are in stock when an initial discount is applied, you can probably save 50% on the item or more before it gets pulled or sells out.

Ebay is Dead – Be skeptical of the online marketplace.  Go directly to the website of the retailer selling whatever you want to buy to compare prices before purchasing.  Certain sites can help you find what you are looking for by virtue of better advanced search options–like zappos or ebags, for example–but they still typically pull items from retailers’ sites.  Most will say where the item is from, many with a link.  Sometimes these discounted items are exclusively sold through the ‘middle man’ site, but don’t let this sway you.  Keep in mind, virtual marketplaces have no rent to pay;  they can afford to keep a handbag or coat listed at a price that isn’t selling until the end of time.  There is much less pressure to move the merchandise, so prices are unlikely to drop below their original discount.  You may find a comparable item at a lower price if you look outside the online mall.  (Oh, and don’t shop on ebay.  The site is so outdated I wouldn’t use it to buy toothpaste.  Think about it: when was the last time you attempted to bid below the asking price and actually got that item?  Never?)

When to Ignore My Advice – The points, while valid, have some important exceptions.  Some retailers still have physical stores where they stock reduced price inventory.  The Banana Republic-Gap-Old Navy group of stores comes to mind.  If you want a discount, you’re better off just going to Old Navy.  With shipping, you might pay more online.  This is also true of all department stores, which, as a rule, still stock the clearance items in-store.  This means the item you see online isn’t collecting dust in a warehouse; it’s displayed on the floor for any shrewd shopper to grab up.  Chances of getting these bargains are much better in person.  Also noteworthy for stocking clearance items in the store:  Target.  Keep an eye on merchandise on in particular to make sure it isn’t pulling from Target’s website.  If you are on a budget or in need of basics, the clothing stocked in-store at Target is the best mix of low cost/cute style you’re likely to find.  Just don’t buy shoes there.  Or a business suit.