Fashionista ~ Career Woman ~ Op Shopper ~ Online Shopping Addict ~ Bargain Hunter ~ Child Rearer ~ Book Reader ~ Social Commentator

Friday, December 02, 2011

30 Tips from a Pro Bargain Hunter

Are you a super stingy bargain hunter? The proliferation of online shopping (and online outlet shopping, and sales!) combined with the decline in the retail sector have made me more bargain hungry than ever. Then there are the op shops, where I love rifling through racks of junk to find the treasures. I rarely, if ever, pay full price for anything. Sure, it takes a certain type to enjoy op shopping, it's not everyone's cup of tea. Many more people enjoy online shopping though, and these tips are mostly directed at online shoppers, with a smattering of op shopping tips too.

 Super stinge, my alter ego

One thing I am unwilling to buy online are bras, because fit is everything. Of course, if I know that I fit a particular brand/style/size perfectly, I'd order it online in a snap. The other item that I never ever buy without trying on is jeans/pants/trousers. I find it hard enough to find something that fits right in store - online is just impossible.

Here are my super stingy bargain hunter tips:

(1) The golden rule (and I struggle with this one, we all do) is NOT to buy something just because it's reduced or a bargain. Ask yourself whether you really love/want/need it, or whether you're simply being seduced by the great price or reduction. If you buy something that you won't use, you are wasting money - no matter how little it costs.

(1.1) Cheat to rule #1 - sometimes, if I'm not 100% sure about something, I think about whether I can get my money back (or even make a profit) if I sell it on eBay in the future. There is always some risk involved here, and I don't believe in buying to resell all the time (I like to leave things for others) but it this cheat to rule #1 has served me well. This especially applies to op shopping bargains.

(2) Be extra careful of timed sales or 'last one left' sales - the psychological element is huge. I have often pressed 'buy' in a hurry so that I don't miss out, only to realise that I really didn't want/need the item.

Now that those 'non-buying' rules are out of the way, let's get into the true bargain hunting tips....

(3) If you find something you like, add it to your cart but before pressing 'pay', remember that google is your friend. Do a quick search for voucher codes or coupon codes. I have saved percents off, gotten free shipping etc from these searches.

(4) Use Moneybackco or Buckscoop. The premise behind these websites is that you sign up and click through affiliate links. Instead of MBC or Buckscoop keeping the affiliate profits, they pass some or all of it on to you. Moneybackco is a subscription service, so you need to pay to use it but you get higher %s back. Buckscoop is 100% free to use, but you get lower %s back. I use Buckscoop because I wouldn't save enough to justify the subscription fee on MBC.

(5) Check for bargains on Ozbargain and Buckscoop at least daily. Both websites run forums where users post the best bargains, vouchers, sales etc. You can snap up some amazing discounts this way. Just remember rule #1!

(6) Use google to compare prices. There are some websites like Shopbot.com.au and MyShopping.com.au which claim to be price comparison search engines. Remember that these are run for commercial gain, and so you often will not get every result for a product on the web, but only those from websites that are paying to appear in the results. Although websites pay google too (and the more they pay, the higher in search results they appear), as long as you do a thorough search you will be able to find every price out there.

(7) If shopping for clothes or shoes, ask for measurements, and keep a record of your own. Even this is not foolproof, and I find it especially difficult to buy shoes online as sizing can vary so much between brands. It is also helpful to figure out what sort of styles / cuts suit you - if it doesn't suit you when you tried it on in a different brand, a similar cut or style is unlikely to look good if you buy it online. Look for stretch fabrics, stretchy waistbands etc - these are always more likely to fit well.

(8) Learn to sew. This is on my "TO DO" list - I 100% intend to buy a sewing machine and take a sewing course next year. There is so much that I could do with op shopped clothing - from reworking vintage items, to taking in dresses and up skirts that are too big.

(9) Watch out for shipping costs (check them BEFORE you have your heart set on an item). An item may not be a bargain once you factor in shipping. Also don't buy several items you don't really want/need simply to justify buying another where there is a flat shipping rate per order.

(10) Check the retailer's returns/refunds policy. If something is expensive, I want to know that I can return it for a refund if I don't like it or if something goes wrong. Also, who covers the return shipping cost if the item is faulty? I am especially wary of buying electrical items online, or bulky items - returns can be a nightmare, and not all retailers are willing to pay for return shipping (even if a problem is not your fault). While retailers in Australia are obliged to refund you for a faulty item, they are not by law obliged to pay for return postage.

(11) If you do return an item, pay the extra $3 for registered post. If you don't the item may get lost in the post or the retailer could claim they have not received it. With registered, you won't loose both the item and your money.

(12) Not a well known retailer? Google for reviews, and be wary of fake ones. I wish I had done this before placing an order at a cheap Asian retailer called DinoDirect. My order has been 'processing' (ie not shipped) for over 2 weeks now, and counting. I googled for reviews and amongst many negative customer experiences, there are a smattering of positive reviews written in broken english which quite obviously have been posted by employees of the retailer. Dodgy stuff, and these retailers do exist.

Retailers that I strongly suggest that you AVOID:

Alwaysonsale.com.au - these people are terrible. I didn't get what I ordered, they promised a refund and it was never received. I could have taken it further, but for a smallish amount I couldn't be bothered, and that's what they count on. Their communication was terrible and full of lies. The ratings at Product Review say it all really.

Shopping Square - I have heard many bad things about these guys. For some, look at Product Review.

DinoDirect - don't expect an item to be in stock when you order it. My order has been 'processing' for over 2 weeks now. Unless you are able to wait months for an item (months after they have charged your credit card...) then give them a miss.

Ozsale - fortunately I have not ordered from them, but the amount of horror stories I have heard is astonishing. From fake brand name items to soiled or damaged stock, to a mystery shoe sale where shoes were valued at $100+ and someone received a pair with a $5 kmart tag on them... (which they paid $20 + shipping for). Google for info, or look at this Vogue Forums thread.

(13) Shop online outlet sites! My favourite is Brands Exclusive. Make sure that you *read* the terms and conditions about how long items will take to arrive etc. For example, a lot of complaints about Brands Exclusive are about how long it takes for items to arrive. BE advise *upfront* for those that bother to read that they receive stock from retailers after sales and then need to forward it on, so you're likely to be waiting 4-6 weeks until you receive the goods.

(14) Use booko.com.au to compare the prices of books. At the very least, check prices on bookdepository.com, bookdepository.co.uk and betterworldbooks.com, as well as eBay.

(15) For dvds, calendars and books - Amazon.co.uk has free shipping to Australia for orders over 25 pounds (at the time of posting, this offer is in place until at least October 2012). I have once found Amazon.com to be the cheapest, even with the high shipping costs from the US (you need to check out to see how much shipping will cost for any given order). Other favourites are Zaavi.com (1 pound postage to Australia) and Chaos.com.

(16) When eBaying, search for a variety of keywords. For example, instead of searching for "bag", if you put (bag, tote, handbag, satchel) into the search box, you'll get results including all of those keywords. It also never hurts to throw in a few possible spelling mistakes people might make - so that you don't miss out on finding items that are misspelled.

(17) Don't get into a bidding war. Decide on a price and stick to it. Better yet, use a sniper to bid for you in the last seconds on the auction. I like Justsnipe.com which offers 5 free snipes per week. Likewise, don't browse items by 'ending soonest' unless you know exactly what you're looking for - see tip #2.

(18) Check ebay.com and ebay.co.uk in addition to the .com.au website. It doesn't hurt to ask a seller whether they're willing to ship to Australia (and the cost), even if they haven't listed it as a destination in their listing. Do this before bidding of course.

(19) If you need justification for shopping (let's face it, you're going to do it anyway...) do a house-wide clear out and sell items on eBay or at the local markets. A bargain is even more of a bargain if you aren't using "fresh" cash to fund it.

(20) Check and double check op shop finds for stains and defects - it's easy to miss these in the excitement of bargain hunting. On the other hand, have an eye for what you could do to fix or refashion a thrifted purchase, and always imagine the item out of a cheap thrift shop context.

(21) When shopping online, find out the fabric type of any item you're interested in - it will give you more of an idea of how it will look in real life, and also of the quality. Do you like fabrics that are easier to iron, like a cotton/elastane mix instead of 100% cotton? Do you find that you sweat too much in artificial fabrics?

(22) Know what your size converts to in overseas sizing for shoes and clothing, and check retailer sizing guides as there are some slight variations.Along with sizing, currency conversion can be a trap. In the heat of the moment I have gotten confused about what an amount really converts to in AUD and have paid more than I would have otherwise allowed myself for items. You don't want a disappointing credit card bill to overshadow the joy of receiving parcels in the mail!

(23) If you have a problem with an online seller based in Australia, you know that they're governed by Australian consumer protection laws and you can always report them to the ACCC (this may or may not help you to get a positive resolution, but at least the authorities can deal with them). Watch out for retailers that you may assume to be based in Australia (for example, because their site address has .com.au at the end, or they have 'Australia/Australian' in their website name - many are actually based in Asia, and they abide by their own country's rules). For more information on this issue, see the ACCC website.

(24) Watch out for overseas products, as these may not conform with the safety specifications that we take for granted in Australia. For example, I would not buy toys from Asia for young children as they might have lead paints or small pieces that could detach and present a choking hazard. Electrical items are even more worrisome - even something as simple as an adaptor can give you a shock or cause injury if it is faulty. For this reason, I don't buy cheap Asian electronic items online. Also, if you buy from America you may require a step down transformer if the product is not dual voltage (Check before buying, I have fallen into this trap!)

(25) Always check the full cost of an item. This might include currency conversion, taxes, delivery fees, packaging and postage. After adding these costs, it may be cheaper to buy locally. Having an item delivered to your door is convenient, but factor in the time-frame and possible delays, especially from overseas. 

(26) Only use your credit card to pay over secure servers. If in doubt, use Paypal. I shouldn't really have to say this, but please pay off your credit card balance in full every month. Do you really want to throw away money on high interest charges?

(27) Watch out for exchange rates or currency conversion fees. Keep in mind that Paypal exchange rates are notoriously bad, and websites that allow you to shop in different currencies might not be that flash either. Know whether your credit card gives good exchange rates, and how much you are charged when you buy in an overseas currency. My VISA gives great rates but charges a 2.5% currency conversion fee.

(28) If you enjoy op shopping, try it in the countryside. I find country towns to have a better range and much cheaper prices a lot of the time. Make sure you fill a car with people so that you can split petrol costs of course!

(29) Use the internet before you go shopping at a bricks and mortar store to do your research. You can access all catalogues online - at merchant websites, or at websites like Lasoo.com.au

(30) Over to you - what have I left out? I'd love to hear your tips in the comments!


  1. awesome tips! I also am going to recommend Fishpond.com.au for buying books (we have spent around $1500 on books this year - most from book depository and the rest from fishpond).

  2. Great tips! I don't do much online shopping unless it's free postage. I'm stingy like that. Book depository was my favourite find of the year.

  3. Wow, great tips here! I'm going to save this post away, it's going to come in handy!
    This year I've learnt that when possible, it pays to be able to try something on in-store before you buy it online at a reduced price. I saved hundreds off some Wittner shoes by doing just that!

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