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How can I find the best deals online?

Piggy bank with USB tail

If you shop or get services on the internet, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be cheaper. A lot of the actions are automated - the seller is saving money he would have spent on staff handling individual queries and purchases. So, there’s no reason not to pass the savings on. If you want to save a bit of cash, read on.

Guy Clapperton | 9th September 2010

For a long time, everything appeared to be cheaper on the internet. But then the shops started to catch on and began advertising ’internet-beating prices’. Competition continues to move up a notch or two, but it’s still possible to get good financial deals by using the internet judiciously.

First of all, don’t take it for granted that every price on the net is going to be cheaper than on the high street. People have sales that will distort the picture, they have one-off promotions, and sometimes the bricks-and-mortar shops deliberately target their online competitors to claw back some of the market.

Price comparison sites

The trick here is to use the internet as a research tool, as well as a shopping mall.

There are a number of price comparison websites - eg Kelkoo and Pricerunner - where you can enter the name of the product you’re after and they’ll offer a selection of retailers selling it. You can then see who’s the cheapest.

Be slightly wary. These sites usually run on an affiliation system, by which they take a cut of every purchase made through them. This is fair (as they have to earn a living somehow) but it means if a seller hasn’t signed up, they won’t come out in the search results.

Ask around

You might be better off asking real people who’ve bought from online or offline sellers already. This is where social networking can be really useful - ask on Twitter or Facebook about who’s selling your wanted item cheaply and you might get some very helpful answers.

Also have a look on auction sites. A surprising amount of brand new merchandise is there from merchants who are starting in business (but yes, if it’s a designer watch and someone wants £30, it’s either forged or stolen).

Weigh up pros and cons

Finally, remember it’s not just about the purchase price. If you look for a book on Amazon and find it’s cheaper from one of the sellers who also use the site, check there isn’t a massive delivery cost on top.

Price can be a limiting issue for other reasons. You might find a particular seller is slightly more expensive than others, but is better at sorting out problems and offers flexible deliveries. If you’re looking for an insurer, for example, the speed with which they settle a claim might be more important than 50p a month off the premium. Also, just as in the bricks-and-mortar world, a lot of online sellers offer loyalty schemes which can be used as actual cash.

One final thought, though. It’s very, very easy to spend money online because you can just do it with a few clicks of your mouse. Remember that if you wouldn’t have gone to buy a product in the shops, getting it online - because it’s cheaper - isn’t really a saving at all!

Guy Clapperton

Guy Clapperton

Guy Clapperton is a journalist specialising in writing about technology as well as small business for several major broadsheets. He broadcasts occasionally on BBC Radio stations and reviews the newspapers on the BBC News Channel.