Monday, March 9, 2015

Simple Tips for Online Shopping

Sale Alert: These sateen jeans (available in plum, olive, and black) are on sale for over 50% off! See my review here. Also, how pretty is this gold necklace (on sale for $25)? Perfect for spring and summer.

A few months ago, Sarah from Sarah's Real Life wrote a post about her personal shopping tips. It was an interesting read (highly recommend!) and got me thinking about my own little tips and tricks from over the years. They're all very simple, but hopefully some of you will still find them useful. I mostly talked about online shopping, because that's what I usually do nowadays. Anyway, here are my tried-and-true recommendations.

0. Understand your percentages before you buy. Retailers frequently use numbers to mislead customers. One common tactic is to throw around confusing combinations of discounts. Another is to advertise only the percentage of the sale without referencing the base price. Here are some examples.
Scenario 1: A bag costs $100 full price at Store X. Last week Store X ran a sale of 20% off full price plus an additional 30% off. This week Store X ran a sale of 10% off full price plus an additional 40% off. Which sale would give you the better final price? Last week: $100 * 0.8 * 0.7 = $56 (44% off). This week: $100 * 0.9 * 0.6 = $54 (46% off).
Scenario 2: At Store X, the blazer you want is originally marked at $100. Yesterday the blazer was $20 off, and the store was running a 40% off sale. Today the blazer is back to full price, but the store is 50% off. Which is a better deal? Yesterday: $80 * 0.6 = $48 (52% off). Today: $100 * 0.5 = $50 (50% off).
Lesson learned: Crunch the numbers, and check the final price. 

1. Get sale alerts from your favorite retailers. Retailers frequently send out emails about sales and discounts, so make sure you're on their list. I suggest that you only sign up for your favorites, because otherwise it can get out-of-hand and clog up your personal inbox. Alternately you can do what I do, which is to have a dedicated spam account that I use to sign up for all of those shopping emails. That way you can check the account when you want to buy something, but you can also ignore it when you're shopped out or want to stick to your budget.
     More tips: Follow your favorite brands on social media and check in frequently. Sometimes they promote special discounts or events just for followers.

2. Use an RSS reader to follow bloggers who post about deals. For example, I follow The Chloe Conspiracy on Feedly, because she does a daily post about deals going on around the web. Of course J.Crew Aficionada is great for J.Crew-related sales. I occasionally post here or on Twitter about deals that I think are especially good. (If anyone's interested in me doing that more regularly, please let me know.)

3. Sign up for an online rebate site like Ebates. That's what I use for all of my purchases. To date, I've earned over $300 in cash back. All you have to do is sign into your account, find the store you're shopping at, click through their site before you check out, and your balance automatically gets credited. I installed a handy browser plug-in that enables me to just click on a header bar when I'm on a qualifying retailer's website. If you're interested in joining, please consider using my referral link. Also, when you sign up for the first time, you get a free $10 gift card. What's there not to love? Every little bit of saving helps.
     More tips: Try to synchronize your shopping with times when the Ebates cash back percentage is high, especially for large purchases.

4. Get a credit card with reward points. If you shop a lot at a few retailers, it might make sense to sign up for their credit card, depending on the terms and conditions of their rewards program. Personally I would only sign up if the benefits are great and I know I would use it all the time. Hence I only have the J.Crew card. Alternately, you can just get a general purpose credit card with reward points. Major caveats: 1) Never carry a balance, because the interest rates are killer, and 2) don't open too many, because it can ding your credit score.

5. Check a coupon collector site like Retail Me Not before you buy. Sometimes there are free shipping offers or under-advertised promotions that you can't see on the store site. Keep in mind that not all of the submitted codes will work, but when they do, it can pay off.

6. Take advantage of price adjustments. After you buy an item, keep watching it for the remainder of the price adjustment period (usually 7 days), in case it gets cheaper. If it does, don't be afraid to ask for a price adjustment! It can feel a little uncomfortable, but just remember that you're entitled to your money back.

7. Learn the sale cycle. Observe how long it takes things at each retailer to go from being in the new arrivals to being in the sale section, so you can predict when that piece you've been eyeing is going to be on sale. Also, most stores start their weekend sales on Thursdays or Fridays.

8. Always look for free in-store returns and/or free return shipping. Unlike shopping in store, online shopping can be very hit or miss. You never know if something is going to work out until you get it in the mail and try it on in person. Because it's so uncertain, you want to be able to return your purchase easily. Make sure you don't have to pay for return shipping, or if that's not an option, there's at least a store near you that you can take it back to.

So is there anything I missed? What are your tips for online shopping? Please share in the comments!


  1. I ordered the sateen jeans in black. Those jeans took a long time to go on sale!

    You're definitely an engineer... numbering from zero. ;-)

    1. I know! I'm glad they finally got marked down. They're fairly lightweight so they'll still work for spring. And lol about numbering from zero (I didn't even notice)!

    2. I got the black ones today. They felt a little tight so I ordered the plum in the next size up. Pics here on my instagram.

    3. They look nice on you! Based on my try-on back in October, I knew I had to go up a size. I went a little crazy though and ordered all 3 colors... Now I can't decide which ones to keep! They all fit beautifully.

    4. Thanks! I tried them on in store a few months ago and my usual size fit fine. I must have gained a few pounds since then. Need to get back on my exercise routine.

  2. I've been thinking about joining Ebates, but I use Southwest's Rapid Rewards Shopping program so I earn points towards flights when I make purchases. I've earned quite a bit from that (and would have a ton more if I remembered to do it every time!).

    I think another good tip is to be aware that you can return final sale items, at least to J.Crew. They'll give store credit in return, but it's worth it to me if an item I ordered ended up being the totally wrong size or something (and I always tell the associates the problem!). Recently I placed an order with LOFT during a flash sale. Nothing I bought was final sale, but on the packing slip, two items are marked as final sale. It should hopefully not be a problem returning them! Haha.

    xo Kimi

    1. What percentage does the Southwest rewards program offer? Ebates is normally between 1.5% and 6% of your purchase, but sometimes it goes as high as 12%! I also like that they pay you in cash.

      Good tip about final sale items at J.Crew! I actually didn't know that. Then again I avoid final sale like the plague, because I don't want to get stuck with anything. Do they give you the "one-time exception" speech?