Who: This post is for people who are thinking about making an online purchase soon, folks who often make online purchases, or for people who don’t know what the Internet actually is.
What: This post will discuss the steps you should take before making any purchase online. This post emphasizes research in order to make sure you get the product you want and also helps you save tons of money when you actually make your purchase.

If you’re looking to make a purchase online, you should do your homework (DYH) before you make the purchase. This can save you a lot of trouble and a lot of money! DYH means researching to find out about the product you want to purchase, including alternate products and possibly superior products. DYH also means finding the best price from a reputable online retailer, when you finally do decide to make your purchase.

Step 1: Figuring out exactly what you want.

  • This is an important step, even if you already think you know what you want to buy. Sometimes there are very similar products are better. Sometimes there may a newer model of what you want. Sometimes an older model may be a better choice for you.
  • Compile a list of features of the item and how important they are to you. If you’re buying a portable MP3 player, maybe it is important to you that it is small? Or maybe the size is only a marginal consideration and it’s storage capacity is more important to you. This will allow you to differentiate between items and how well they suit your needs.
  • So, how do you figure out what you want? I usually like to start with Amazon.con. If you go to Amazon (they sell pretty much everything) and type in the name of your item, you’ll get an information page for it. Under the initial item description, they have a neat little feature “Others who viewed this item also viewed…” The feature shows other items that people looked at while browsing for your item. This will help you look at other comparable items. Remember to browse around the comparable items OF the comparable items of the one you want.

Step 2: Read the reviews and make the selection.

  • How on Earth can you know if a product is worth the money if you’ve never owned it before? It’s always an excellent idea to ask any of your friends that have had the product, how they enjoyed their experience with it. You can even ask your friend to borrow the product (unless it’s something like shampoo, or socks, because that would be somewhat awkward) to see if you like using it.
  • The most common place to find product reviews is on the actual sites from which you are purchasing the items. This is the most convenient and the quickest ways to read product reviews. However, one must be aware that some of the product reviews on these sites are fraudulent and posted by promoters of the product. So be wary when reading these reviews.
  • Epinions.com is an excellent site for consumer created opinions. Again, I am sure there are some fraudulent reviews on here, but Epinions actively works to try to prevent things like that, and it is in their best interest to do so.
  • ConsumerSearch.com is another excellent site for reviews, and it is much more thorough in that it links you to many retailers, much the same way that some of the comparison shopping sites I mention below do.

Step 3: Saving yourself money!

  • There are a plethora of sites available on the Internet that you absolutely MUST look at before you make ANY purchases. The more time you put into doing this research, the more money you can save. You can find GREAT deals on comparable items, coupons/discounts on the items you want, or even rebates to give you cash back!
  • FatWallet.com - If there is one thing you take from this post, it should be this site. This site has an excellent array of features including a Hot Deals Forum. The traffic on the site is extremely high, and for good reason. The forum is often one of the first online forums to identify deals, rebates, and coupon offers for all sorts of products being sold online (and in store). Another fantastic feature is the FatWallet Cash Back. Whenever you make a purchase on a FatWallet linked merchant (They have hundreds of popular retailers) after 2-3 months, you get “FatCash” which is a percentage of your purchase price. The FatCash usually ranges from 1% - 4% of your purchase (though many retailers are higher!). I bought a laptop and got $32.00 in FatCash!
  • BensBargains.net - This site is not NEARLY as extensive as FatWallet, but it is much, much quicker and easier to use. All the items that have deals associated with them are sepeated out with information about the deal and a link directly to the item. This means you don’t need to browse around or search the FatWallet Forums, and you can go straight to the discounted/rebate item.
  • eBay.com - If you don’t necessarily want to buy an item new, or you want an item with special features, or even if none of the above is true, it’s always worthwhile to check on eBay if your item is there. I’ll have another post at a later date about making purchases on eBay, but for now, just know that sometimes it’s an excellent option.
  • PriceGrabber.com and Froogle are also excellent sources for shopping online. Usually, I don’t find items that are priced better than the deals on BensBargains or FatWallet, but sometimes you can’t find them on those sites, and sometimes deals just don’t exist. If that’s the unfortunate scenario, then using these two tools can be particularly useful. They allow you to search for items across multiple online retailers. You see price comparisons and ratings for each of the retailers that are carrying the item that you want to purchase. This lets you shop around for the best price.

All I can urge you to do is to remember that while making an online purchase is a common thing for many people, not taking these simple steps before a big or even moderate sized purchase can prove to be very disadvantageous. You will spend a significant amount of time researching, but if out of 3 products, it prevents you from getting screwed once, don’t you think it’s worth it? If not, then feel free to skip steps 1, 2, and 3, and make your purchase.

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