Some of the best coupon sites and deal sites out there offer cheap deals, but read this article first before you make a purchase. When bargain hunting online, learn how to spot rip-offs!
For the sake of radical transparency, I should tell you up front that when it comes to finding cheap deals online, I am totally biased. I’m an editor for CheapToday.com and I spend a lot of my time looking for bargains, discounts and hot deals. It’s not my day job, it’s my lifestyle.
So naturally I get a bit of a sneer on my face when I find some website supposedly offering great deals only to discover that there’s some cheesy crap going on behind the scenes: elevated shipping and handling fees, warranties that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, “customer satisfaction guarantees” that turn out to be what one guy I know calls an “S-J double-bluff”, you name it.
I have no idea what he means by “S-J” but you get the idea. A rip-off disguised as a hot deal is still a rip-off.
A great example — how many television commercials have you seen for “amazing product X” that will keep you snug and warm, or is super-absorbent, or promises to burn off ten pounds of body fat while you eat Twinkies? Every single one of these advertisements gives you some “bonus” freebie thrown in. “A $20 value, yours for FREE!”
Then you learn that FREE isn’t free. They tell you “all you have to do is pay for shipping and handling for the extra item.” Then you find out why they don’t tell you how much that shipping and handling is until you get the bill — that’s because it costs far more than the cheesy product they were hawking!
3 Golden Rules For Bargain Hunting Online
This leads me to the first step in my three-step process for avoiding the rip-off:
1. Rule Number One: always check the shipping and handling fees.
If S & H cost as much as the product itself, why bother? That item is no deal, the extra shipping is what some of my co-workers call a “moron tax” (pardon the language) for people who don’t bother to check the fine print.
2. Rule Two in avoiding the rip-off deal? Double check the warranty information.
What does that warranty include? Most people gloss over the phrase “limited warranty”, but that’s a warning to Joe Customer that the return policy might not be so generous and may not be what you’re used to getting from Wal-Mart. Limited warranties often have clauses that say you can only return the product if it’s defective or within a certain time limit. Did you buy the wrong size or color, or end up with vague assembly instructions such that you accidentally break a product when putting it together? Chances are, none of that’s covered.
I mention this because some companies sell you the goods and then try to bow out of the returns issue. Normal stores have good return policies — they want to keep their customers — but some shady vendors sell the items and then require you to deal with the manufacturer for any future issues. Don’t fall for it!
I’d never make a purchase — especially over the Internet — that I couldn’t send right back (if it’s something I didn’t LIKE, let alone, couldn’t use). The bad news? My “it was the wrong model” excuse which I usually give when returning something I just didn’t like (I never say “I didn’t like it”) won’t work if you buy from a company with a limited return policy. If an item gets broken during assembly, some limited warranties may blame it on “operator or customer error” or some other such nonsense. From the company’s point of view, it couldn’t POSSIBLY be a defective product, it HAD to be Joe Customer not following the (inadequate) assembly instructions.
Some reputable companies have a “no returns” policy on clearance items. Now I don’t believe this is a total rip-off — some may disagree — but I do think you should know EXACTLY what you’re buying when you decide to purchase one of these items. Don’t blame the store later — they told you up front about the terms and conditions. The real rip-off artists are the ones who try to hide those “no returns” policies or those who simply don’t tell you.
3. Rule Three: don’t buy anything online that will cost more to return than it did to purchase.
Consider buying a television online — if it arrives to you with a nice big crack down the middle, who pays for the shipping back to the company for your warranty claim? I avoid these kinds of problems by choosing the “ship-to-store” option instead of home delivery. Yes, it’s a hassle to pick it up, but I can take it right back to the store if there’s a problem. In these cases, make sure the store won’t try to force you to mail it to the manufacturer.
Always check the terms before you buy — that’s the most important thing. The real deals are the ones that don’t penalize you for having a problem. You CAN save money on expensive, heavy or specialized items by shopping online… but making an informed purchase is half the battle.
Joe Wallace is Managing Editor for CheapToday.com, a bargain hunter website that uses only hand-selected deals. He thinks CheapToday.com is unique because there are no robots, no web spiders and no automated deal-finding software. Just a staff of real live humans looking for what they think are the best deals around. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.