Websites to keep your wallet full

General bargain sites
Overstock.com
Specialty: This is the reigning champ in bargain sites, thanks to the breadth of its merchandise and the great prices. Overstock specializes in hawking excess merchandise from other retailers, which means their inventory is diverse and constantly changing. It’s worth stopping here if you’re unsure what you’re buying (when you’re looking for a gift, say) or you’re not committed to a particular model. Also, Overstock is continually expanding its product categories, and now sells handcrafted goods from across the world and cruises, among other things. (The site also says it will soon sell deals on flights, rental cars and hotels).

Pros:

  • Brand-name merchandise at hard-to-beat prices.
  • A wide variety of merchandise that is well organized, with lots of photos.
  • Gotta love that $2.95 shipping on all orders (yes, even on hand-knotted Berber rugs from Morocco).

Cons: Due to the sporadic nature of the inventory, there’s no guarantee that the perfect cashmere throw you spotted here last week will still be there if you delay your purchase.

SmartBargains
Specialty:
This is another general discount site, similar to Overstock.com, where you’ll find deals on everything from clothing and MP3 players to diamond earrings. SmartBargains doesn’t seem to have quite the quantity or breadth of deals that Overstock has, but it’s no slouch. I purchased Waterford crystal candle holders here at about half their usual retail price. High-end wool coats, including Donna Karan and Kenneth Cole labels, were anywhere from 35% to 65% off.

Pros: In addition to its diverse range of products, SmartBargains emphasizes its commitment to customer service. I found the site easy to use. Returns truly were no hassle.

Cons: Again, because this site operates similarly to Overstock, the mix of inventory is constantly in flux.

Deal aggregators/coupon sites
Sites in this category act as a home page for a wide variety of coupons (also called promotional codes) and discounts across the Internet. These sites lead you to retailers, rather than selling you the merchandise directly as the general discounters above do.

Wow-Coupons
Specialty:
Wow-Coupons focuses on providing both online coupons and the printable variety to use in person at general retailers. The site also offers food and restaurant coupons, though when we checked, the selection was limited to a handful of chains (Baskin Robbins and Hardee’s, for example).

Pros: A great mix of online and offline coupons. I found coupons for large retailers such as Ann Taylor (15% off), Barnes & Noble (10% off) and Borders (10% off). Grocery-store coupons were for well-known products such as Advil and Colgate toothpaste, rather than specific grocers.

Cons: You’ll have to mind your printing of the grocery coupons: You only get one chance to do it right. To cut down on fraud, the site only allows you to print each coupon once per computer. Also, the grocery-store coupons often ask you to complete a survey or offer personal information in exchange for the deal.

CurrentCodes.com
Specialty:
CurrentCodes.com seems to do a better job than many of its competitors in maintaining a focus on coupons rather than on sales and other discounts. Its home page states that it exclusively focuses on coupons, although in the event a coupon code isn’t available for a merchant, the site does list other sale and discount information. CurrentCodes.com didn’t list any coupons for Best Buy, for example, but it did tell me the retailer was holding a number of sales, including one on all portable DVD players and recorders. This approach is fine if you’re using the site as a starting point, but if you’ve come here to do a last-minute check for a promotional code before checking out at a retailer, you’ll likely already know of any such sales. Still, the list of coupons is usually long.

Pros: Better focus on coupon codes than many of its competitors.

Cons: Finding what you’re looking for is somewhat cumbersome. For example, if you want to browse offers by an alphabetized list of retailers, you’ll have to scroll down a long list of stores that includes plenty without any current promotional codes. It would be better if they simply showed those with valid coupons.

FatWallet
Specialty:
FatWallet lists deals and coupons from all over the Web and makes them easy to find by category, by retailer, by popularity or by expiration date for the deal. One of FatWallet’s best features: an active user forum that seems to have taken over some of the functions the rest of the site used to cover well, particularly in coupons. When I last looked, readers were posting coupons for 20% off at online jewelry retailer Ice.com, $20 off purchases of $100 at Staples, and $10 off purchases of $50 at Steve Madden.com, among others.

You also have the option of earning cash back from hundreds of retailers such as REI, Barnes & Noble and Eddie Bauer, though you have to sign in and shop through the links on the FatWallet “Stores” page. FatWallet’s price-comparison tool is actually the well-respected shopping bot PriceGrabber.

Pros: While the deals listed by retailer were the original hook when I started using this site a number of years ago, the active forum now often has the best information on everything from one-time use coupons to special promotions.

Cons: On the main part of the FatWallet site, coupons seem less prevalent than in years past. And there’s been talk of moving some of the coupon-related forums behind a wall for members only.

Shopping bots
Shopping bots allow you to quickly search for merchandise across a wide variety of sites. Most bots will include “pay for placement” retailers at the top of their results lists, though, so you’ll often want to re-sort by price. Still, they are an effective way to quickly get a feel for the available deals.

Shopzilla (formerly Bizrate)
Specialty: Shopzilla, formerly known as Bizrate, has been a longtime leader in including user ratings and feedback in search results. It sees its mission as twofold: to surface great deals while providing consumers with information on the merchants offering those deals. Like the other bots, you’re not buying things from Shopzilla, you’re just using it as a way to surface sites that have what you want.

Pros: Clean, well-organized site that is usually quick to return relevant search results from more than 54,000 stores. You have a number of choices in how to search: by product name or category, by price range within a category or by brand, among others. The written user feedback is particularly helpful when deciding between two merchants. When I searched for the Canon G6 digital camera, Shopzilla surfaced a deal for $505 from a well-rated retailer, including shipping and tax — the best deal found by any of the sites mentioned in this section (though in this case, Shopping.com was able to match it through an additional savings opportunity; see below).

Cons: Product specifications were limited. Nothing told me the physical dimensions of the Canon G6 camera, for example, or whether the LCD could flip out and be rotated. Also, you’ll need to re-sort your search results by price to see the best deal. You can then click through to read user feedback on the merchants. It’s important to do this because colored smiley-face ratings often obscure important distinctions. I spotted a couple of camera sites with glowing green smiley faces that had different customer-service approaches, for example: One required users call in to “confirm” their purchase, only to put them through another sales pitch; its competitor didn’t require that.

Shopping.com (formerly DealTime)
Specialty: Shopping.com combines the bot power of DealTime with the useful consumer reviews of a site like Epinions.com. You can see reviews of the products and the retailers. It has extensive product specifications; in my camera research, it gave me details such as weight, focal length, compression modes and plenty more.

Pros: At $510, the results for the Canon G6 search were competitive with those found by Shopzilla. But here, you have a chance to earn cash back from some retailers. The cash-back offer dropped the $510 price to $505, in fact, putting it up there with the best deal found by Shopzilla.

Cons: The first results page you’ll see is biased. It shows deals only from Shopping.com’s “featured merchants,” or paying partners. You’ll have to remember to click on the link that allows you to compare results from all merchants.

PriceGrabber.com
Specialty:
PriceGrabber reliably surfaces great deals and great product information, so you can get a real sense for what you’re buying. In addition to user reviews, it includes “expert” reviews written by product reviewers for various publications (the Canon G6 expert reviews included three from PC World, among others).

Pros: In addition to the excellent product information, PriceGrabber’s search results are competitive with the best bots, surfacing a deal for $510 for the Canon G6. Also, this site is heavily used, meaning there are plenty of recent user feedback posts to read on merchants.

Cons: Like the other bots mentioned here, you’ll have to re-sort your results by price to see what the best possible deal is.

http://moneycentral.msn.com/content/Savinganddebt/Finddealsonline/P109865.asp

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June 28, 2010. June.

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