10 expert tips to save money when shopping online

I’ve tried dozens of online shopping hacks, so the ones here have been tested and are almost guaranteed to save you some cash. There’s a whole other money-saving strategy for shopping for big-ticket items like flights, but these tips are great for items like groceries, beauty products, electronics, or clothing.

1. Sign up to the newsletter

The first thing I look for when shopping at a new online retailer is if they have a welcome discount for signing up for their newsletter. Often, you’ll get a pop-up such as “10% off your first purchase when you sign up,” so this is a very easy way to get a discount. Once you’re on the mailing list, you’ll also be the first to know about future promos;  it can be worth signing up if you’re likely to purchase from a retailer often, but don’t go on a sign up frenzy because it’ll fill up your inbox and might tempt you into spending on things you normally wouldn’t.

2. Seek out price drop guarantees

Especially when shopping for slightly more expensive items, like electronics, I always check if there’s a price drop guarantee. Even if the item I’m interested in purchasing is on sale today, there might be a flash sale next week from either a competitor or the retailer themselves.

For example, Best Buy’s Low Price Guarantee allows you to claim a refund of the difference within 30 days of purchase if the item you bought goes on sale or if you find a cheaper price somewhere else.

3. Leave an item in your cart

I know, I know, adding an item to your cart is the most exciting part of online shopping! But, hear me out. Add the item you intend on purchasing to your cart, fill out your shipping details including your email address, and then leave the page. Wait a few days, and you’ll likely get an “abandoned cart email.” These emails are triggered when you add an item to cart but don’t check out.

Some online retailers send you a reminder and a discount code to incentivize you to complete the purchase. If it’s not an item that you need right away, playing the waiting game can mean extra savings. Patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to online shopping!

4. Use the right cards

Discount codes are nice, but any seasoned online shopper will tell you that you can still save money on full-price items when you use the right credit card. There are plenty of credit cards that are good for online shopping available to Canadians, but you still want to make sure you’re using the right one.

A lot of credit cards offer premium cash back rates on things like gas or groceries, but for online shopping, look for a credit card with the best all-around rates. For example, the SimplyCash Preferred Card from American Express gives you 2% cash back on all purchases with a relatively low annual fee of $99.

You could also opt for KOHO Extra; a prepaid card that works hand in hand with an app and allows you to earn cash back on your purchases. This paid version has an annual fee of $84 (or $9/month). You’ll earn 2% cash back on groceries, transportation, eating & drinking, and 0.5% on all other categories. You’ll earn up to 6% extra cash back at partnered merchants. You’ll also pay no foreign transaction fees.

However, if you want to avoid annual fees, check out KOHO Easy, the free version of KOHO Extra, that still offers cash back.

5. Compare before you buy

Buying an item right away is a rookie mistake. Before checking out, search for the item online to see if it’s cheaper somewhere else. A good place to start is the Google shopping tab. Simply search the name of your item and Google pulls the links and prices from multiple retailers.

After searching on Google, make sure to also check some price comparison websites. Shopbot.ca and Pricegrabber.ca are two good sites to use where you can search an item and compare costs from popular online stores, like Amazon.

6. Shop with cash back sites and apps

There are some great money-saving apps that offer you cash back at selected retailers.  Ampli is one of them. Simply download the app to browse the current deals, and you can earn cash back on your purchases online or in-store from popular retailers like Indigo, Roots, Hudson’s Bay, and more. With Ampli, you can cash out your earnings to receive the money directly into your bank account. You’re literally being paid to shop online!

When you’re shopping on a desktop, you can use cash back websites like Great Canadian Rebates to earn money back from online shops like Walmart, Old Navy, Amazon, and more.

7. Download retailer apps

I tend to do most of my shopping directly on mobile apps instead of my laptop. Many companies encourage shoppers to download their applications, so there are often special discounts for app shoppers. Often, apps also allow you to organize and store coupons, so you don’t need to go searching through your inbox (or heaven forbid, paper flyers) to find a coupon code.

H&M, Wayfair, Costco, and My Metro all have apps that offer you exclusive discounts and coupon-storing options, so saving money is always at your fingertips.

8. Take advantage of loyalty programs

A lot of bigger retailers offer loyalty programs where you can earn points on every purchase. Even if an item is on sale or you have a discount code, you can still earn points to apply towards a future purchase.

Registering for these loyalty programs is usually free and can be used both in stores and online. HBC, Indigo, Sephora, and PC Optimum all have great loyalty programs. Look out for special events or promotional items that earn you double or more loyalty points to use for future savings.

9. Buying internationally isn’t always better

I like to stick to shopping from companies that are based in Canada because costs can really add up when you shop internationally. You might find the item you’re looking for is a lot cheaper on an international site, and surprise, they even ship to Canada! However, once you factor in all the possible additional costs, like shipping, custom charges, the exchange rate, or even return fees, you’ll find you’re not really saving any money. In fact, you could even be spending more.

10. Reach out to customer service

Don’t be shy! Customer service teams can be helpful in letting you know about ongoing promotions or hidden coupon codes. I like to take advantage of live chat when available so that I can inquire if there are any coupon codes or sales that I may have missed. You’d be surprised to find out that more often than not you’ll be able to snag a discount just for asking!

To wrap up

Online shopping doesn’t have to burn a hole in your wallet. You can still enjoy it while racking up savings. An expert shopper will combine two or more of these tips to maximize savings. For example, use a welcome discount code during a seasonal sale and a cash back credit card to save even more on your next purchase. Now that you’re privy to the expert online shopping tips, go forth and use your newfound knowledge to buy that gadget, or purse you’ve been eyeing!

Montreal-born Alicia Schneider is a digital nomad that specializes in freelance content and travel writing. She has experience writing about financial topics such as invoicing and accounting as well as business technology and software. When she's not writing, she's exploring a new destination that most likely includes sun and a beach. You can see more of her work at aliciaschneider.com.

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