“Price is usually the biggest factor when choosing where to shop. But today, with everyone feeling the economic pinch, retailers are vying for your business and will do anything to get you through the door,” says writer Angela Daidone, who has produced pieces on personal finance for online publications including Investopedia.com. With more shopping choices than ever, consumers could literally spend hours researching where to find the best deals. Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the options and you can save both time and money.
Big-Box Stores Members-only warehouse stores or big-box chains are reliable for offering deep discounts – often hundreds of dollars – on big-ticket items like furniture, TVs and electronics and appliances. Not in the market for costly cart-away merchandise? You can find considerable savings on smaller buy-in-bulk items, like paper towels, disposable diapers and canned goods. Just remember that buying in bulk isn’t always a bargain, especially when you don’t have a houseful of kids or ample storage space.
Online Retailers E-commerce giants like Amazon and Walmart.com and up-and-coming wannabes are dominating the market and for good reason: competitive prices, free shipping offers and the priceless perks of convenience and ease. With free apps available that compare costs in seconds, the best deals on the internet are easily found. Add to that flash sales, discount coupons, rebates and loyalty rewards programs, and the incentive to shop online is hard to beat.
The downside? Returns can be dicey and pricey, the quality of the goods can be questionable and privacy can be risky if you venture into sites that aren’t secure. Experts at Consumer Reports recommend staying off public Wi-Fi when shopping online to avoid getting hacked; free Internet service is an open invitation for phishing, the practice of stealing a person’s personal information online, such as credit card and Social Security numbers.
Department Stores Brick-and-mortar stores are seeing shrinking numbers of consumers pass through their doors, but they still possess certain advantages that speak to value. One-day sales have parlayed into preview sale days, with percentage-off (and occasionally, dollars-off) coupons for loyal customers. And competition from online sales can spur greater markdowns. Many department stores also have clearance-only versions where older merchandise is dramatically reduced.
Outlet Malls If you’re looking for bargains, these shopping meccas can be a boon for your budget, if you’re savvy when it comes to spotting a true sale. Financial expert Dave Ramsey, author of The Total Money Makeover, says more often than not, consumers do get a deal. “According to Value Retail News, factory stores report discounting their items by 38 percent on average. And a study by Consumer Reports, in which testers bought and compared similar items from outlet and regular locations, found that most outlet store goods were 3 to 72 percent cheaper than retail locations.” But buyer beware: Testers also discovered discrepancies in pricing, which made some items as costly or even more expensive than their retail-store counterparts.