10 insider secrets to guarantee cheaper online bargains

Online shopping secrets

Bargain hunters know they can often get a better deal by shopping online. It's one of the reasons why we do 15% of all our purchases through websites. But while we're patting ourselves on the back for hitting the net to find the item far cheaper than on the high street, we may still be spending far more than we need to.

There's always a better deal out there if you know the ten secrets of online shopping. A combination of all ten should mean you never have to pay full price again - and could easily snap up items with over 50% off - plus cashback.

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1. Hit the outlets
Just like the outlet villages in the real world, major retailers have outlet websites. Lots of these are available on eBay, but it's worth doing a search to see if there's a specific site section of the main site too. Hobbes, for example, has an outlet tab on the homepage. At the moment, it's selling Melissa trousers that were originally £99 for £39, and the Cara dress that was originally £169 for £75. As with the outlet shops, you won't always be able to find every item in every size, but it's still well worth a look.

2. Sign up to newsletters
It'll mean more junk mail, so you may want to use a specific account for them, but in among the junk will be details of flash sales and discounts. Some will offer a discount the first time you shop after signing up, as a reward for handing over your details. Others will regularly send details of sales and discounts of up to 25% off, so keep your eyes peeled.

3. Fake your birthday
Lots of retailers will ask your birthday when you sign up, and then send details of a discount around that date. If you like to shop on your birthday, it could come in handy. Alternatively, you could consider adding a fake birthday at the end of November or start of December, so you get a discount just as you're starting your Christmas shopping.

4. Always check for a voucher
There are a plethora of voucher sites now, as well as the forums on deal-hunting websites. It's well worth checking these before you make any purchase, as you may find a big discount just waiting to be taken advantage of.

5. Leave things in the basket
If you want to buy a specific items from a particular shop, but there's no sale on at the time, then it's worth adding them to your shopping basket and then leaving the site altogether for a couple of days. A number of retailers will record abandoned baskets, and if you don't return to buy the items, then as long as you have logged onto the site, they will drop you an email with an offer. You could easily be offered 10%-20% off for playing the waiting game.

6. Buy at the right time
Timing can be everything, especially when prices fluctuate so much. You can get a useful insight into the right timing by using camelcamelcamel.com. This compares Amazon prices with third parties, and then tracks the price back for as long as it has a price history - often more than five years.

Take, for example, the Krups Nespresso XN300540 Pixie Coffee Machine - Titanium. At the moment, Amazon is selling it for £126.95 and the best offer through a third party seller is £112.88. A quick check of its recent price history reveals that over the past year it has been priced at between £60 and £140 - and was for sale at £60 in August and September last year. Even accounting for Brexit price hikes, it may be safe to assume that this is something that will be on offer again below £100, if you're prepared to register with the site and start tracking the price.

7. Get cashback
There's cashback to be had on almost every online purchase you ever make. Sites like Topcashback.co.uk and Quidco.com offer an enormous variety of deals, so it's worth signing up to both, and checking the best cashback for any retailer before you buy. The average user makes £300 a year - that's £300 for all the shopping you were going to do anyway - which makes it something of a no-brainer.

8. Get in touch
If there's a retailer or manufacturer you want a discount from, then don't be afraid to get in touch. You can drop them an email and tell them how much you appreciate their product, and you'll often get a voucher in return. Alternatively, use the live chat function if there is one on the website to ask them to reduce the price, throw in some extras or price match a competitor.

9. Try a site that shops around for you
There are plenty of these around - known as shopbots - which let you put in details of an item, and it will track down the best deal (usually including delivery). So, for example, a search for a Shopkins Cotton Candy Party Playset, for example, produced an Amazon price of £17.99, while Flubit found it for £15.73 (from Jacinabox). Moneysaving expert has actually put together a Megashopbot, which searches lots of shopbots - although in this particular instance it couldn't track down the Flubit price.

10. Sign up to Lovesales.com
This is a useful site that lets you sign up to specific items from the retailers of your choice, and when the price drops you'll get an alert. You can add a target price, so you only hear when the price drops to that level, and when there's a real bargain on offer.

Save money on shopping: ten great tricks
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Save money on shopping: ten great tricks

The more work you are prepared to put in, the more you stand to save. If you put your shopping list into mysupermarket.com, you can identify where each individual items is cheapest, and can technically buy every single item at its lowest possible price.

If that sounds a bit too much like hard work, a reasonable compromise is to shop at two supermarkets: once at the weekend and once mid-week. You can buy each item at the cheapest of the two shops, and save money without devoting hours to shopping.

There are several deal-sharing sites, including hotukdeals.com and latestdeals.co.uk. Most of them have a ‘freebies’ section, where you can get items completely free, and all have a section where they post fantastic deals that are well worth taking advantage of.

They will often point the way to coupons for brilliant discounts too.

The more time you have spare to spend looking for these, the more you can save.

It’s worth following your favourite brands on Facebook or Twitter. It’s also important to pick up in-house magazines, try your free local paper, and check any letters from supermarket loyalty schemes for your vouchers. If you have a Nectar card, visit the website before you shop, so you can upload the latest deals to your card.

While you’re in-store, keep your eyes peeled for promotions on packets, and on receipts. Often the deal-hunting websites will offer a short cut to many of these, but if you have the opportunity to do some legwork, you will find plenty of others.

Compare the price of your branded goods (after you use the coupon) with the cheapest supermarket alternative. If the discount makes it the cheapest option, then feel free to use it immediately.

However, if it doesn’t bring the price down below the own brand price, then don't throw it away. Hang onto the coupon, and check Mysuupermarket.com every few days to see if there’s an offer running on the brand at any time before the coupon expires. A deal plus a coupon is often the cheapest option.

Prices change all the time, but it pays to have a shopping list annotated with the usual price - or an old receipt - on hand when you are shopping. When something is on sale, compare it to the usual selling price from your list, to decide if it’s really as good value as it purports to be.
The frugal experts have decent storage areas at home, so if there’s a very special deal on washing powder or toilet paper, tins or toiletries, they can stock up for a few months at a knock-down price. It’s not generally worth doing on fresh produce, or packets with a short shelf life though, because throwing something away that’s out of date will undo all of your good work.
There can be some incredible bargains in the ‘yellow sticker’ sections of the supermarket. Most stores will have a spot for fruit and vegetable reductions, somewhere for chilled food price cuts, one for bakery products, and a final one for those with a longer shelf life that may be a bit battered, or separated from the outer packaging. Check them all for a possible discount.

The ’yellow sticker’ items will usually be reduced at least twice a day: once in the afternoon and once later in the evening. If you can wait to shop at around 7.30pm or 8pm you can get astonishing discounts.

If you want to time your shop exactly, then your best bet is to ask in store when they do their final reductions - don't be shy!

Get to know the rules around freezing ‘yellow sticker’ items, so you can buy when they are cheapest and use over the following weeks and months.

Don't assume something is perishable without checking. Everything from cheese to beansprouts is fine to freeze as long as you treat them correctly (beansprouts need blanching, chilling in ice water, and freezing immediately).

It’s never worth buying something just because it’s cheap: you also have to be able to factor it into your life. If you can't immediately think how you would use that over-ripe avocado, a pack of cut-price tongue or kippers, then don't buy them.

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