If you recall last week, we shared tips on how to prepare yourself for all the holiday shopping. We discussed the importance of communication, setting your budget, and of course making your list and checking it twice (well, a lot more than that – but we need to stay with the holiday motif!). This week we really want to focus on one of the most important parts of holiday shopping on a budget – doing all that research to not only make sure that you get the best deal possible but also making sure those items you want to buy are exactly what you want to give your loved one or friend.
Before we dig in however, we want to remind you of the three articles we will be providing on how to make this season a bit easier on you and your pocket book. I have included the three articles below so you can jump right to the article you want. We will update them with links when the following articles are posted:
- Preparing Yourself to Help Make Your Holiday Shopping Less Painful
- Research, Plan, and More Research!
- How to Maximize Your Holiday Shopping Either at the Store or Online
Research to find the right item
The first place we start is needing to researching the exact products you want to buy this season. You have your list and it might say something like mp3 player for Julie. What you will need to do then is really start scouring all the different types, styles, and levels of quality you can buy for that gift category. Of course, you could spend as much money as you could imagine and want to buy the latest generation of the iPod touch, but you are on a budget and have already set the amount you are hoping to spend. What can you do? First, find out which mp3 player you want to buy. Use the following sites as a starting point for your research:
- Retrevo.com – If you’re looking for electronics this holiday season then Retrevo is a must! Note the sample above when I typed in mp3 players and selected All mp3s to view a graph of 132 mp3 players ranked on value versus cost – this provides you a quick idea on what products are worth what you pay. First, when you search you can actually specify which set of results you would like to review; I could have selected low-end, medium-end, or high-end mp3 players which would have immediately provided me the price range I was looking for. This search (the example above) shows 132 different players. From here you can read user reviews, expert reviews, see a graph of whether the product is in its prime (or whether its now a dinosaur), with a list of its most important features. Not only this but you can see a list of stores with current price and rankings of the store – in other words, can you really trust that store with your credit card. I would highly recommend checking this site out if you are unsure what exact product you are hoping to buy.
- PriceGrabber.com – Similar to Retrevo, this site gives you all the data you are looking for in regards to reviews, comparisons of prices, and more but for all products – not just electronics. Your searches are extremely customizable as you can search within your results by brand, price, and order by the popularity, price, or rating. My favorite feature of this site is their Price Watch (see image above). You can set a target price for the item of choice and have a fully customizable filter that will let you define what qualifies as an acceptable purchase – want only merchants with a high rating then specify it. I also love that it will notify you when the target price has been reached, which means you can set it and forget it!
- Google Shopping – This is a really great tool to keep in your research pocket. What I really love about this is how flexible Google has made this product. If you wanted to search on Honey Nut Cheerios, Google Shopping will tell you where to buy it and the prices you can expect. As the other sites offer, Google Shopping offers user reviews, price comparisons, and store reviews so you know who to trust. But one feature that no one else seems to have is their local store lists – if you find a price that is exactly what you want (e.g., at Walmart), Google Shopping will provide a map and contact information for the store so you can call and ask for that product to be set aside. Google is really trying to maximize their local search and this seems to be one way they are really capitalizing on it!
- Savings.com – We are really enjoying this site. When you are searching for your deal make sure to check out the deals and promotions codes offered through their site. If you have defined your price point, you just might find that you can combine a coupon code with the deal at an online merchant for an amazing amount of savings. Not only that, but they have a great new feature of their site called Get Advice. When you have a question on any type of savings type question, you can ask the community, sit back and wait for their replies. We have been extremely impressed by the upbeat and optimistic answers provided by the Deal Pro’s (we are so excited to be one!) and anyone else that might know the answer to your question.
- Amazon.com – I would be amiss if I didn’t list one of my favorites – they just know their game. They cross-list items (when you search it shows that customers with similar searches bought other items – items that you really may want more or accessories that you may not have known existed for that item), they list the popularity of the product for different categories, and the user reviews are usually a great resource. We have found Amazon.com to generally have one of the lowest every day prices excluding major sales which means you can establish your price point that you want to beat.
Don’t forget about Black Friday or Cyber Monday
I almost chuckle as I write that heading for this section – of course you’re not going to forget Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In fact we have enjoyed getting comments and emails from all of you just waiting in anticipation for us to post the best Black Friday deals around! As such, we thought we would add some great sites giving you previews into these ads and helping you decide whether it will be worth standing outside in freezing weather (except ya’ll in the South that are exempt from that!) for those amazing discounts!
- BFAds.net – This is the site we’ve used most over the last few years of Black Friday shopping. We not only enjoy their great ads (check them out as they are already posting the ads today – including the 50 page Target ad) but they also post all of the deals for the season (including non-Black Friday ads) ahead of time for all of your research needs.
- BlackFriday.info – One feature we really appreciate about this site is their promised listing of Black Friday deals available on-line. It does appear that its too early in the season as this part of their site doesn’t have any great deals yet. We’ll let you know if we see them maximize this part of their site.
- Black-Friday.net – Make sure to keep this site on your radar as they do some of the work for you and list out the popular products for the year and do some of the work so you don’t have to. This will definitely be something we watch over the new few weeks in preparation for Black Friday.
You might be very surprised to hear me state this, but I’m going to my first bit of advice is going to be to be very sure that you really want to item you plan to purchase on Black Friday. WHAT?! No need to rewind or to reread the last sentence; it says exactly what you read. Now, I’m not saying that you should stop looking at those Black Friday or Cyber Monday ads, but the goal is to get you to think about what you really want to give this holiday season.
- The hottest items offered on Black Friday are usually the lowest quality model offered by a company – Now, the base model may be exactly what you are planning to purchase. If that’s the case then great! But we have spoke with some of our contacts in retail sales that have confirmed this to us – they oftentimes skip the Black Friday sale because they know the items offered aren’t the quality they want to purchase. Our best suggestion is to do the research – check out the quality and make sure the the model you are planning to purchase is reliable and gives you the features you are looking for.
- Don’t just buy a product based on a well-known brand – We have found this one out by experience. When looking for a cordless phone a few years ago, we bought one that was an AMAZING price – better yet it was a well-known brand! We didn’t do the research on whether the quality would be suitable – we just knew it was a deal we couldn’t pass up. Well, after purchasing the item we found that the phones lost reception from the base even when we were sitting 3 feet away from the base – ACK! Sure enough, when we read the reviews later we found out this was a common problem. This is why we highly suggest you read the reviews – you might not think a well-known brand could sell products with defects, but it happens. Another brand’s product may be more reliable, offer greater features and give you the satisfaction you desire.
- Products from a lesser-known brand could be a risk – I promise I’m not trying to be a total skeptic (okay, maybe I am a bit) but in years past we’ve seen it time and time again – products from lesser-known companies can have a high defect rate with a high return rate. I remember a steal of a deal on a DVD player about 7-8 years ago – when we spoke with a large retailer a few weeks after Christmas we found that up to 50% of the products were returned with a very low satisfaction. Again, my recommendation is to research and check those reviews. If the reviews are good then go for it! Just always remember that research is the name of the game.
- Don’t get caught up in the frenzy of Black Friday – We have seen it time and time again – we run in to get our couple of items and there’s always someone pushing two full carts through the store! We’re always amazed at that. Be careful as the stores often offer a few amazing door-busters but offer just decent deals on the remaining products in the store. This always goes back to the preparations we mentioned in the first article – make sure you know what your price point is, what you hope to purchase for each person on your list, and how much you plan to spend. Getting buyers remorse on Saturday is something you definitely want to stay away from. 🙂
- Make sure products include all the accessories you need – This may be more specific for computer accessories, but it does deserve a quick mention. One year we purchased a printer as we were really looking forward to maximizing on the deals of the season to purchase an item we needed. However, after bringing it home we realized it didn’t include the ink we needed nor the cables to hook it to our computer. All the sudden we realized the deal wasn’t as amazing as advertised when the price of all the additional accessories were included. Make sure that the items you need are included – otherwise you might be paying much more than you bargained.
Research the quality
You’re probably sick of hearing me mention this but always check the quality of the products you want to purchase. You can check the user reviews and expert reviews offered on some of the sites mentioned at the first of this article. Especially when you are buying a higher-end product you will want to make sure you know everything you want to know about this product.
When do I buy?
Obviously this is the question of the season. If you do all your research you will know your price point – the price you need to beat. The rest then is up to you. As we mentioned above, we really like PriceGrabber.com’s price watch which lets you define your target price and be notified immediately when that price is beat. Be watching throughout the season as the more you watch, the more you’ll know about the fluctuations in price and the deals that are offered for that particular item. Once a deal hits a price that you are willing to buy then do it! Although we all want the lowest price of the season, the reality is we just might not hit it every time. But know your store’s policy as well as they might have a price guarantee – keeping your receipt and checking whether they will beat that price is something we highly recommend as well.
But more importantly have fun with it and don’t beat yourself up. Part of the fun is making the mistakes so you have a great story to tell later. And we would love to hear them! So if you have any Black Friday stories let us know in the comments below!
* Thanks to Investopedia for the awesome graphic on keeping a tight rein of your budget this holiday season