My Guide to Online Shopping

My Guide to Online Shopping:

I do A LOT of online shopping and while that means I can find all sorts of things that I normally wouldn't at local stores, it's not necessarily a good thing. Ask my bank account. Ask my mad dash to scrounge money to pay my insane energy bill each month... ($195?!?! ugh, fine.). Ask my mom who laughs at me when say I have no grocery money... because it somehow morphed into shoe money mid-month. Regardless, I've got a system down that has helped me save money on items I buy and hopefully you follow some of the same techniques I do.

1. Join the email lists of your favorite stores and follow on twitter, facebook, etc...

While this may hurt you because you end up getting notified of specials and new arrivals, prompting you to shop more; it is a great way to learn about various coupon codes and specials. I can't even tell you how many sales I found out about on twitter, facebook, and via email campaigns and used the code to get an item I'd had my eye on! Many stores even offer a percentage discount (with a personalized coupon code) upon initial signup, which is a great way to save money. In PA, there isn't sales tax on most clothes, so I've become quite spoiled to the idea of seeing a shirt for $39.99 on a big name website and not wanting to pay a penny more for it. These codes can offer you deals that either remove shipping costs, offer the item at a discounted price, or both. Especially sign up for this during sale times like Friends and Family or Cyber Monday so you don't miss our on your favorite stores!

Exhibit A from Shopbop:

Because I shop at various stores somewhat frequently, I often sign up for the email lists with a second email address, devoted to junk mail and these sign ups, in case they offer one time use or personalized codes to their subscribers. If you don't want your inbox filled, just make a gmail acct. that you only look at when you are looking to shop online. I do this in case I see something a week after making a purchase -- so instead of kicking myself for not lumping it all together in one purchase, I can still use a promotion to get it cheaper. If they offer a general coupon code like SUMMER10, then that is a non issue. When J. Crew offered subscribers personalized codes to Madewell in the past, it worked out because I ended up making two separate purchases that month and both were under a promotional discount. Besides, if you don't end up using them, you can always be the fairy code mother for you friends and help them get a great deal. Sharing is caring, but only when it comes to codes. Try to wear my shoes out and I will murder you. Did I really just say fairy code mother? Someone kick me.

2. Join group discount sites (like Gilt Groupe, Rue La La, ideeli, MYHABIT, Belle & Clive, Refinery29 Reserve, Ivory Trunk, LivingSocial, and Groupon) and email lists (like Shop It To Me).

These sites work in all different ways. The free group membership sites offer discounts to members daily for clothing, accessories, homewares, vacations, etc... They are a great way to get items for a good deal. I picked up some of my very favorite books (The Dolce Vita "Jax") via MYHABIT and am over the moon about the savings I made!

Exhibit B, My amazing shoes I own now because I read my daily morning flash sale site emails:

Sites like Refinery29 Reserve offer for discounted gift certificates in various cities (and have no fear if your town is not offered, many of the stores are online as well as physically located in a certain city). It is similar to Groupon and LivingSocial in that you have to buy into these deals, but you can purchase gift certificates to a store for half the face value. Just recently I used my Refinery29 Reserve $200 certificate (purchased for $100) at Azalea Boutique in Hayes Valley, SF. If you know you will use it, this is a great way to get deals. However, beware the fine print! These deals have expiration dates and restrictions. My Azalea Boutique certificate had to be used within seven months (I think), used in full, and only on full price merchandise.

Email lists and sites like Shop It To Me or ShopStyle are a great way for sale items to be organized into your inbox however frequently you want. You can pick your favorite brands and retailers and Shop It To Me will send you a collection of sale items. I really like this service because it's an easy to way to see lots of sale items from all over at one time. Below is a sample section from my most recent email:

3. See if your bank/credit card/student cards offer any cash back deals. If not, use Ebates!!!

I won't shop at Madewell online unless I'm desperate and they don't carry the item in stores. At Madewell, J. Crew, Topshop, etc... students get 15% discounts. Sometimes there are even student cards that can save you lots of money on all sorts of things. In college, had a Student Advantage discount card that saved me 15% on all Urban Outfitters online purchases/10% off Target/15% off Amtrak/tons of other merchants. It was great because it worked online, where many retailers don't accept student discounts because they only offer them in-store after looking at your student I.D.. And all you graduates out there, have no shame in pretending that you're still in school. Dust off that I.D. and so long as it doesn't say the years you were in school or "Undergraduate," just pretend you're getting a PhD. or something, hell... while you're at it, tell em it's for Biochemistry or Metaphysical Biology (but I'm pretty sure that last one isn't real). Lying is always acceptable unless you say, "No, Chelsea I didn't borrow your suede shoes and spill my drinks on them..." because again, I will murder you.

If you are an Honest Abe in the working world or just want to rack up even more discounts, check your bank debit and credit cards out. My Bank of America debit and credit cards (the Add it Up! program is free for online banking customers) offer cash back deals for lots of retailers, some online and some in-store, straight into my debit account. Check those out to see what is the best deal for you, is it in-store or online? With a combined student discount and an in-store cash back promotion, you could end up saving a lot of money in the long run. Below are just a fraction of the retailers in my bank's promotion that I saved to my favorites.

If you have no luck finding a debit or credit card that offers these cash back promotions, check out Ebates. It is amazing. Instead of keeping all the commission for referring you to the site to purchase something, they share the commission with you (up to 15%+ on some special occasions!) The selection of stores they have is HUGE -- over 1,500! You'll get your cash back savings mailed to you in a check, deposited to your paypal, or given to a charity or family member! *cough* Mom... *cough* I could use the extra money... just sayin'.

4. When makeup (and clothes) shopping, find the retailer with the rewards system you will get the most out of.

If you're anything like me, then you're a forever faithful Sephora shopper, I'll probably be a V.I.B. member for the rest of my life! I have a hard time shopping at ULTA (only generally go there for brands not carried at Sephora) because I think they have an awful rewards system -- you just earn a level at the end of the quarter which you mostly can redeem for products you don't want. If you spend a lot, obviously the prizes are better but they are definitely worse than Sephora's system. If I'm going to spend my money on frivolous makeup, I want to really get my money's worth. However, other sites that you may not know about as the big makeup and skin care retailers off great rewards too. Birchbox has Birchbox points, which every 100 translate to $10 to their online store, and using the Birchbox point system has awarded me with many, many free items! I had heard about Bloom from an ad that popped up while watching a YouTube video (contextual marketing at it's finest) and clicked on over to see what all the fuss was about. This was a few months ago and I always kept them in the back of my mind since they don't carry THAT many brands -- they are no Sephora, come on now. Recently while perusing Ebates' retailers in the Beauty category (I know, I just won't shut up about it... sorry guys.), I saw 6% cash back and went back over to Bloom to look up how they work. Essentially, they run deals A LOT and offer 10% cash back in the form of points on every purchase. Holla! (Note on 10/10/14: I think Bloom is out of business now? Not sure. Probably because I used their system to my advantage haha!)

5. Always search around for a different retailer offering that item for less.

Google is a godsend for so many things--especially using the Shopping section of the website for finding cheaper versions of products. I never buy a pair of shoes without first googling around. Often times I can find retailers where the item is on sale. However, beware!! Some results are hidden from Google shopping if the company isn't paying to participate/featured/etc... Don't let that be your only googling. Do a web search, not just shopping search, too!

As well, you'd be surprised at how many shoes/clothing items are offered on too!

Beso is also a great site for finding full price things and those on sale (you can sort by the percent discount, brand, and/or category). You can even sort by items that have free shipping (and just like Shop It To Me, you can have Beso send you emails and just like Beso, you can search for items on Shop It To Me's website).

6. If all else fails, and you can only get the item from one retailer, search for promotion codes you may have missed online.

I never checkout without checking out. Get it..? Sorry! Spending at least 10 minutes searching around for promotion codes is very wise; you'd be surprised at how many codes are floating around (and how many expired ones end up working) on various sites devoted to helping people find discounts. If you aren't subscribed to email lists (um, hello... tip numero uno! Why aren't you listening to me??) you NEED to do this before EVERY online purchase. You have to be smart about making dumb, impulsive purchases... duh.

When makeup shopping, always be sure to check this promo page for Sephora, which has a running list of all promo codes that can be used. Yay, free makeup and skin care! Stores like SkinStore always broadcast their promo codes in banner ads on their site, so keep your eyes peeled! It's generally always a 20% discount code!

Happy Shopping!