Twelve Weeks of Christmas, Week 1: Online Shopping Tips and Tricks

Part 1 in a series of 12

(sung):  “On the first week of Christmas my true love gave to me:

Online shopping tips for ab-sol-ute-ly free!”

(Sorry, I couldn’t resist… and I don’t promise I won’t do it again.  In fact, it may happen eleven more times.)

I'd like to think I was singing 'The Twelve Weeks of Christmas" song. But that might not be true.

All right folks, if you have read my previous post, then you are armed with holiday shopping knowledge, and hopefully you have mapped out a twelve week purchasing plan, or as I liked to call it: The Gift Acquisition Phase (I really need you to hear sci-fi music fade in and then fade out right here).  If you’re like “what is she talking about?”, then stop, open this page in a new window,  and read “Early Christmas Shopping” (all the cool kids did it, so I wouldn’t want you left out).  Thanks.

So… if you made your three lists of gift recipients, you probably have some idea of what you would like to give these fine folks for whom you have deemed gift-worthy.  And if you don’t, that’s OK, too.

(I’ll be offering some ideas in the coming weeks, especially for hand-made things, so hold tight if you haven’t decided yet – help is coming!)

Once you have made some decisions and are ready to get the Gift Acquisition Phase ball rolling (or G.A.P., as it will henceforth be known), I recommend turning to my favorite resource:

THE INTERNET   (click here to humor me, this is a killer graphic of 1990’s glory)

More specifically, Online Shopping.  I realize that for most people this is hardly a new frontier.  Nearly everyone has done online shopping, in some form, at some point in their Internet lives.  With so many shopping websites and resources to choose from, it is easy to comparison shop and find the best deal…  and time and again, I have learned that even with the cost of shipping included, you really can get the best deals online.

Now, I am in no way knocking established store fronts, because they offer their own unique specializations and customer service.  For some people, this is an invaluable difference and they are willing to pay more for these things — myself included, when it comes to buying shoes and clothing.  However, if you are of the monetarily challenged – or if you’re just a cheapskate—then online shopping is one of your best options.

As I mentioned, we here at The Ginger Penny Pincher – “We, party of one, your blog is now ready…”—LOOOVE to make lists (as evidenced in last week’s post), so that I have done.

I give you…

The Ginger Penny Pincher’s Top 10 Online Shopping Websites:

(Did you just shift your weight a bit while sitting in your chair in order to hunker down for this list?  Cause I did.)

1.   Amazon.com

Not just for books, music, ad movies, this site has practically EVERYTHING!  Their selection is surprisingly expansive, and they typically have the best prices.  Along with “Super Saver Shipping” (spend $25 and it ships free, in most cases), Amazon.com is really hard to beat

2.  O.co   (or the artist formally knows as Overstock.com)

Another GREAT source with GREAT prices.  This website has a large selection, including surplus inventory and liquidations, i.e., quality for a lot less.   I especially like O.co because they have flat rate $2.95 shipping in the U.S.  That’s it!  Wanna ship a necklace? $2.95!  A book? $2.95!  A 42” flat screen TV? $2.95!!!  Better yet, if you’re a first time shopper, your order ships FREE.  Also, if you add yourself to the mailing list, you will be notified when they have free shipping on an entire order (and they really do).

3.  Ebates.com

This is a great place to go to once you’re actually ready to make a purchase.  This website has a free and secure sign-up, and once you’re logged in, you can purchase things through this website from your favorite stores (including Amazon, Ebay, and even Groupon).  When you make a qualifying purchase—which is basically any purchase—you earn cash back!  Of course, this is a small percentage (3%-5% usually), but if you plan on doing a fair amount of holiday shopping (which I hope you do after reading this post), then it really adds up and is worthwhile in the long-run.  And it’s free.  Need I say more?

4.  Uncommon Goods

This is a fun site that’s actually based in Brooklyn –little did I know—and it has lots of options for the “person who has everything.”  It also features handmade and recycled gifts (so you know this GPP’s heartstrings are a-zingin’!), but be warned: this is not necessarily a website that is friendly to the frugally-conscious.   For me, I browse this site’s merchandise as if I were window shopping.  I rarely buy things from this website; instead, I search for the same item elsewhere and usually find a better price (but not always).  Verdict: a great jumping off point, but not necessarily a penny pincher’s paradise.  More at number 10.

5.   ThinkGeek.com  (their tagline is “Stuff for Smart Masses.”  Haha.)

I love geeks, and I happen to have a lot of them in my life (electrical engineer father, computer guy brother-in-law, all-around-geeky-sci-fi/fantasy/theatre-lovin’ husband).  However, this site is not just limited to geeks; it also has some great options for… well, anyone!  Again, like #4 above, this is a look-but-don’t-buy kind of place, as you can typically find their items elsewhere and for less moolah, but if you are stumped and can’t think of what to get someone, this may give you some ideas.

6.  Gifts.com

Featuring a “gift finder” that can be customized for any age, gender, relationship, personality, occasion, or budget, this resource is another great “window shopping” tool and like #5 above, this is another go-to place when I am especially flummoxed for gift ideas.

7.  Ebay.com

Gimme a good auction any day!  This is the famous online auction and shopping website that was actually one of the successes from the infamous dot com bubble.  If you’re not in a bidding mood, you often have the option to “Buy it now,” but of course you’ll be paying quite a bit more.  If you are in a bidding mood, you can get some incredible stuff for obscenely low prices, but buyer beware: for every great deal and honest merchant, it seems like there are just as many people who are looking to swindle you and overcharge you for poor quality, so really take the ratings to heart—and of course, you’ve got Ebay Buyer Protection, but why get into one of those messes in the first place?

8.  Half.com

An Ebay company, sans the bidding—you can find books, textbooks, movies, music, games, and game systems for SUPER CHEAP!  Like with Ebay, you are buying from individuals, not directly from Half.com.  The same caveats that I mentioned with Ebay, apply to this website, but as long as you check the seller’s ratings, you should be fine.  More often than not, shipping will cost more than the actual item, e.g., a paper back for 95 cents, $5.65 for shipping.  Be a smart penny pincher and make sure that this really is a good deal when considering shipping—but it probably is.  Make me proud!

9.  Etsy.com

Every time I browse on over to this website, I just want to reach through the computer screen and give the creator of Etsy a hug.  I love this place!  It is a marketplace and community where you can buy (and sell) handmade goods and vintage items.  Everything here is one-of-a-kind, and your purchases directly support an artist or curator.  As with the case of any handmade item, these creations can often be a little on the expensive side.  More often than not, I will say it is TOTALLY WORTH IT!  Also, if you find an item you love, but would like to have it customized or changed slightly to better fit your needs, you can start a convo with the seller and usually they will honor your request.  A lot of the items are upcycled or antiques, so that definitely makes my resource saving heart very happy.  Some of my favorite gifts that I purchased from Etsy include: my wedding garter (lime green accents of course), personalized address ink stamps for my mother and mother-in-law, and a brooch made from antique metal zippers.  Love.

10.  Google Shopping

Perhaps I should have listed this place first, because unless I’m in the mood for auctioning or handmade items, this is where I begin.  “Begin what?” you ask.  The G.A.P., of course!  (and in case you’ve already forgotten what this nifty acronym stands for, it’s the Gift Acquisition Phase! Sorry, it’d been too long since it was mentioned, I just had to…)  This is one of those oft overlooked resources, but it’s quite possibly the best one when you are looking for the best price.  After window shopping has concluded, I got to the advanced search feature, type in my query (and price parameters, of course), and let Google do the rest of its work.  Obviously, a lot of the options will be completely irrelevant, e.g., showing me a 99 cent light bulb first when I asked for a “grill light,” but you have the option of sorting by price or relevancy, so you can figure out what works best for you.  From the search results, you are given a picture, price, reviews, and a link of this item that sends you over to the original site.   Easy peezy lemon squeezy.

Obviously, this list is not exhaustive, but it is definitely my go-to when online shopping.  As with any transaction where you don’t actually meet a seller, you should always proceed with caution.  The ten websites listed above are legit, in addition to many others, but there are always the rogue resources that are just trying to steal your credit card info.  Bad news!  The good news is that when someone is unfortunately swindled, word goes viral pretty quickly.

Therefore, if you are dealing with a shopping website and you’re not 100% assured that your info is safe, I advise you to do the following: Google the name of the site along with the word “scam.”  So if I’m looking at a (fictional) website called Elazar’s Electronics and I’m counting my lucky stars that I’ve found an iPad 2 for a mere $100 and free shipping (Hot Dog!), but that nagging voice in the back of my head is saying that it might be too good to be true (it is), I should probably Google “Elazar’s Electronics scam,” and see what I come up with.  If you see nothing sketchy, but still aren’t totally comfortable, you can also check out BBBOnline (Better Business Bureau online), and you might find some answers there to help you sleep a little better at night.  Of course, BBBOnline is not a complete resource as it lacks profiles on plenty of major and legit companies (Amazon.com, for example), but a good resource nevertheless.

Oh, and one more thing.  I would be remiss if I spoke of online shopping and didn’t mention Cyber Monday (cue zany Six Flags music now)This neologism first coined in 2005 was the World Wide Web’s answer to Black Friday—and needless to say, falls on the first Monday after Black Friday.  In case you were holding out on the online shopping thing, this would be the day to strike.  On this day, many websites feature a large percentage off of your total order, free shipping, and other madness.  The best way to stay hip to these happenings is to subscribe to the online retailers’ mailing lists which you are most interested.  For approximately 364 days of the year, you can simply delete these if you’re not wanting to buy or browse.  However, for that one day out of the 365 in the year, you’ll be glad you had the inside scoop on the best deals.

Whew!  That’s a lot of info to digest – I hope it proves helpful.  I only listed MY ten sites, but I’m sure you’ve got some of your own!  So… if you are cyber savings savvy like myself (ooh, that was some good alliteration), then PLEASE send me your resources!  You can comment (below) or e-mail me directly at TheGingerPennyPincher@gmail.com.  I’d love to add them to List Lovin’!  Why not help a cyber savings savvy sista’ out!?   (I’ve really got to stop.)

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12 thoughts on “Twelve Weeks of Christmas, Week 1: Online Shopping Tips and Tricks

  1. Totally gonna vouch for the O.co here. I was on the hunt for a new comforter set, and decided to venture there. I found one I really liked and it’s a 7 piece, Queen sized set for only $90!

    I am definietly going to be going back here to look at ideas for gift ideas!

  2. Great ideas Courtney! I have already bought many items for Christmas presents using many of these sites. Love your blog!

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