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Saturday, February 28, 2015

10 Ways to Get a Discount on Every Online Purchase

If you ask me, shopping online is the way to go. No need to pack the kids in the car; no need to fight the crowds in the store. All you need is yourself, your computer and a piece of plastic. And in some cases, you may even be able to do without the plastic.

In fact, paying without plastic is No. 10 on our list of ways to get a discount on everything you buy online. Keep reading to see what other strategies made the cut.

1. Chat with customer service. Even people who regularly haggle for purchases in person forget they can negotiate online. The best way to ask for a discount is to open up the chat box on the retailer's website.

Sometimes, if you leave your shopping window open long enough, a chat box will pop up asking if you need help. Other times you may need to unearth the chat option from the contact page of the site.

Once you get a representative online, tell them you're shopping on a couple sites and looking for the best deal. Ask if any discounts are currently available. If none, ask if the company ever does free shipping. There's no guarantee of getting a discount this way, but it's a tried and true method that has worked in the past for me.

2. Give the retailer a call. Maybe you're on a site that still lives in the dark ages and doesn't offer customer service via chat. In that case, the phone is your new best friend.

It's the same routine as when you're chatting. Explain you're shopping for a deal, and ask if they have any discounts available or if free shipping is offered. The worst they can say is "no."

3. Check out coupon code sites. RetailMeNot is the very first place I look before shopping online. I find it tends to be the most comprehensive and accurate source of coupon codes on the web. You can also check out ShopatHome, CouponCabin and FatWallet for savings codes.

If you're not familiar with coupon codes, they're usually a phrase or a string of numbers and letters that you enter on the checkout page for an instant discount.

4. Install an extension on your browser. When it comes to using coupon codes, you can save time by installing an extension on your browser that will automatically search for savings. Honey is the most popular option, but there are others such as Coupons at Checkout.

You could also add an extension that will search for better deals while you're shopping online. InvisibleHand is one example. It will comb through 600 retailers to see if a better price is available elsewhere.

5. Abandon your shopping cart. It may not surprise you to know that online retailers are tracking your every move. And it's undoubtedly distressing to them to see someone with a cartload of stuff close the tab and move along. That's probably why you may find a coupon code landing in your mailbox a day or two after you leave your cart.

To get this trick to work, you need to be logged into your account so the retailer knows who abandoned the cart. Then put your items in the cart and leave the site. The list of retailers who offer codes to those with abandoned carts is likely fluid, but RatherBeShopping has a list of 17 stores that have been known to dole out the discounts.

6. Sign up for the mailing list. With sites such as RetailMeNot, shoppers can easily share codes with others. However, some stores have made that difficult by issuing one-time use codes.

To get these, you need to be on the VIP list, aka the mailing list. Sign up to receive newsletters from your favorite retailers so you can get discount codes and sales announcements delivered straight to your inbox. Just be sure to use a secondary email address so your primary account isn't overwhelmed by these messages.

7. Use discounted gift cards. Another surefire way to save money, even when there isn't a sale or coupon code in sight, is to use a discounted gift card.

View all Courses Why would anyone ever sell a gift card for less than face value? In many cases, they come from people who've received them as gifts and want to convert them to cash. Having $40 in their pocket can be more valuable than having a $50 gift card to a store they'll never visit.

While some people sell discounted gift cards on eBay and Craigslist, I'm wary of handing over my cash for cards that haven't been verified. Instead, I prefer to purchase through websites like CardCash or CardPool, which offer some buyer protections. To compare the discounts offered on gift card sites, go to GiftCardGranny to quickly see what's available.

Finally, warehouse club members can look online or at their local store for discounted gift cards. Costco, Sam's Club and BJ's all have a selection of discounted cards that cover everything from dining to travel.

8. Shop through a cash-back website. Using a coupon code and paying with a discounted gift card is a great way to double dip on your savings. On some sites, you can triple dip by shopping through a cash-back website.

Ebates is my favorite cash-back site, but other sites, such as ExtraBux, are popular, too. Cash-back amounts can range from a fraction of a percent to up to 30 percent for some retailers. You simply need to create an account and click through it to the retailers. After you make a purchase, the cash-back site will credit your account, usually within 30 days. Once you reach a certain minimum amount, such as $10, you can cash out via Paypal or opt to receive a check in the mail.

Similarly, you could use a site like MyPoints to earn points that can be redeemed for gift cards. And don't forget about the shopping portal for your favorite credit card, which can be a way to earn bonus points or miles.

9. Share on social media. Companies like Social Rebate and ReferralCandy are in the business of setting up companies with referral programs that let customers gain discounts simply by sharing their purchase online. While not standard on most major retailer sites, you can find the option to share for a discount at some smaller stores.

Speaking of social media, sending a message to a company on Facebook or Twitter can be another option to request a discount code if you strike out on chat or over the phone.

10. Pay with points. Our final way to get a discount on everything you buy online is to leave the plastic behind and pay with points or rewards instead.

This option is one that is just starting to gain traction, but I wouldn't be surprised if more rewards programs and retailers jump on board in the coming years. Here are a couple of programs currently available:
American Express Membership Points can be used to pay on Amazon.
Etihad Guest participants can use PointsPay to redeem points at 30 million merchants worldwide.
Discover Cashback Bonuses can be spent on Amazon, iTunes and Overstock.
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Friday, February 20, 2015

5 Pitfalls Of Online Shopping

Online shopping is convenient, quick and embraced by most every kind of connected consumer. While it is well-known for the benefits, few are aware of the darker side of purchasing from a "virtual store". Get the facts behind shopping with the click of a mouse, and use them to decide if your next purchase will be better made in person. (Shopping from the comfort of your couch has major benefits - and some unpleasant side effects. Check out Shopping Online: Convenience, Bargains And A Few Scams.)
IN PICTURES: 5 Money-Saving Shopping Tips

Shipping Fees
With the cost of fuel being an ever-increasing consideration, it may be easy to assume that having your purchase shipped to your door is both efficient and affordable. Pay close attention to that final shipping fee, however. Some stores charge the same price for all packages (making light or tiny bundles a bad buy), while others charge a separate fee for each item shipped. Even worse, many retailers punish their most loyal shoppers by charging more for every dollar spent, making that expensive but dainty gift pricier than necessary.
Inaccurate Sizing
Most women know their dress size, but are also aware that variations can occur. With the fickle nature of U.S. catalog sizes, one brand may fit true to size while others can run small. Perhaps the best way to assure that your online purchase will be a perfect fit is to research the return policy to see if returns are free or can be done via your closest brick-and-mortar location. If not, it may be wise to see about trying items on before you buy. (If you must be a virtual shopper, check any comments or feedback left by others who have purchased similar items. They often share information about whether a brand runs true to size.)

Misleading Product Descriptions
One of the benefits of shopping online is that it is a truly visual experience. If a product looks appealing on your computer screen, it may very well look superb in real life. Unfortunately, the pictures and descriptions that accompany a product page can be confusing or even completely fraudulent. The more trusted the shopping site, the less risk you'll have of ordering based on an ambiguous photo or depiction. Stick to sites you know, and if the image and narrative don't jive - don't buy. (For many, online banking has become a day-to-day routine. Still, there are some holdouts who refuse to accept the method. Check out Online Banks: Lower Costs And Little Sacrifice.)

Payment Issues
Having an adequate credit line may seem like all the discerning shopper needs to finalize an online purchase. In some regrettable instances, however, customers have been met at the final stages of their purchase with slow-loading pages, error messages, or no indication that their order went through - leaving them to wonder if their purchase was even made. Many websites instruct shoppers to "avoid hitting the payment button twice", since this could leave the consumer with a duplicate order (and double the bill). Be aware of how the payment page works before you hit "submit", and if a retailer won't allow a final review of your order before you buy, it may be best to walk away.

Poor Packaging
Some sites are known for their excellence in packaging. Amazon, for example, has even been criticized for its over-zealous (and reportedly wasteful) packaging, using more bubble wrap, inner boxes and packing tape for its packages than many of its competitors. On the other side of the spectrum reside retailers who skimp in this category, leaving a wake of frustrated shoppers who open their online purchase to find broken and damaged items. Even those who have a good track record of making sure their shipments are secure can't escape the casualties that can be caused by a careless order fulfillment employee or the hasty delivery driver. The only way to be absolutely certain that your purchase will get to you safe and sound is to pick it up from the store yourself.
IN PICTURES: 5 Ways To Control Emotional Spending

The Bottom Line
Buying online can be a gamble, so it is always best to allow for a little wiggle room with your purchase. If you need a gift for an event coming up within a day or two after your order is scheduled to arrive, you may not have time to rectify issues and get a replacement in time. Still, shopping via the web can be a money-saving endeavor, provided you're patient, wise, and up for the challenges. (Don't get taken for a ride. Learn the pros and cons before the salesperson makes a pitch. See Car Shopping: New Or Used?)

Deutsche Post aims for top spot in e-commerce logistics: paper

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Deutsche Post is aiming for a top spot in the global logistics market for online shopping, its chief executive told a German weekly, adding small acquisitions could help achieve this.

"Indeed, we want to be a global leader in logistics services for the e-commerce sector. In Germany, we're the number one already," Frank Appel told Euro am Sonntag in an interview published on Saturday.

Deutsche Post, the world's biggest postal and logistics group, is best known internationally for its DHL parcel delivery business but it is keen to win more work from the global boom in online shopping.

E-commerce is expanding rapidly, with online retail sales in Europe seen doubling from 2012 levels to around 323 billion euros ($440 billion) by 2018, market research firm Mintel forecasts.

Appel said it was the group's goal to grow organically in the e-commerce sector.

"However, smaller acquisitions ... are always possible - also in this area," he said.

Deutsche Post, which went public in 2000 and lost its German mail monopoly seven years later, makes three-quarters of group revenues from its DHL logistics business, compensating for the decline in traditional letter deliveries.

($1 = 0.7336 euros)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Geneva mom tries alternative to online shopping

Online shopping has been displacing bricks-and-mortar trips for many consumers, but this year that trend has been reversed for Lisa Fullerton.

The Geneva stay-at-home mom typically shops online during the early holiday season, but this year she and her sisters decided to start a new family tradition of coming downtown for Black Friday shopping and lunch.

"I worked at a Gap outlet last Black Friday and saw a lot of families do that, and I thought it would be a fun tradition," Fullerton said.

She got downtown at about 10:30 a.m. on Black Friday. Her first stop was the Gap store on Michigan Avenue, but nothing caught her eye. She then visited Eddie Bauer across the street, where she bought $250 in merchandise, mostly gifts.

She was then off to meet her sisters at the Weber Grill restaurant, a recommendation by an Eddie Bauer worker.

Fullerton figured that she'd spend about another $50 on gifts today, bringing her total Black Friday spending to about $300, but still hasn't bought anything for her two kids, ages 10 and 8. She figures that she'll spend about $800 by the time the holiday is over, about the same amount as last year.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Is Online Shopping Killing Brick-And-Mortar?

Imagine one evening after a tiring day at work, you flop down for a quick nap but end up pulling a Rumplestiltskin, falling into a deep sleep that lasts years. When you finally wake up, it's the year 2025 and you're just in time for the holidays. You dash out of the house, searching frantically for places to do your shopping … but there aren't any. You can't find a single retail store among the supermarkets, gas stations, restaurants, car dealers and other businesses you're used to seeing. (Find out the best plays for taking advantage of the expected rise in mobile payments and money transfers. See Mobile Payments Predicted To Skyrocket.)

Then the memories come flooding back. You recall that in the Summer of 2011, when your long nap began, online shopping had already begun to wreak some pretty serious havoc with traditional bookstores and movie rental places. People were increasingly getting books and movies online. Now, nearly 15 years later, brick-and-mortar retail businesses of all types are pretty much extinct.

This is probably quite an exaggeration of things to come. But unless you've been soundly slumbering like Rumplestiltskin, you're well aware of how the Internet has begun to change retail. Here's the current situation for four brick-and-mortar retail chains that have suffered financially, or dramatically altered their businesses, because of the rise in online shopping.

Currently the second-largest bookstore chain in the nation, Borders is the latest casualty of online shopping. On July 18, the company announced it will be going out of business, closing hundreds of stores, and laying off nearly 11,000 employees. The inability to compete with online bookseller is a major reason for Borders' demise, experts say. Books-A-Million, the nation's third-largest bookstore chain, is in talks to acquire a small number of Borders stores, so perhaps at least some of those being laid off will be able to keep their jobs as Books-A-Million employees.

There aren't any reports of serious financial trouble at this huge bookstore chain, which is essentially the "Barnes & Noble of Canada." But online shopping has certainly prompted major changes in its business model. The company now does a lot more of its book sales online and has introduced a wide variety of non-book products at its physical stores. Customers will still find a Starbucks cafe at most Chapters locations, though the number of seating areas has typically been reduced. (Shopping from the comfort of your couch has major benefits - and some unpleasant side effects. Check out Shopping Online: Convenience, Bargains And A Few Scams.)

Barnes & Noble
Like Chapters, Barnes & Noble is trying to adapt to stiff online competition from and others. The company's biggest move recently was to introduce NOOK, an Android-based e-bookstore, and it plans to invest heavily in online retail going forward. In the short-term, Barnes & Noble's brick-and-mortar operations will probably remain reasonably solid because of their broad book selections and high-quality amenities like Starbucks cafes, comfortable reading areas, and literary events. However, only time will tell if the company can survive mainly on book superstores in the long-term as online competition intensifies.

Once the undisputed king of the video rental industry, with more than 4,000 locations and about 60,000 employees, Blockbuster succumbed to competition from Netflix and other online DVD rental services. The company filed for bankruptcy nearly a year ago and was acquired in April by Dallas-based Dish Network. By then, nearly 1,000 Blockbuster stores had been closed. Blockbuster is now attempting to compete directly with Netflix through its Total Access service that enables subscribers to rent DVDs online.

The Bottom Line
These are just four examples of brick-and-mortal retail operations that have felt the effects of online shopping to various degrees, from having to change the way they do business to going flat broke. Not surprisingly, competition from e-commerce is only expected to increase. In the past decade, online retail sales have grown by more than 20% annually compared with only 2.9% for retail sales overall. Still, brick-and-mortar businesses are unlikely to disappear completely. Instead, many experts see retail evolving to a point where retailers more often have online and traditional outlets that complement each other. But in the meantime, there'll probably be more casualties like Borders and Blockbuster. (For further reading, see What We Can Learn From 2011 Tech Leaders.)

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