Insider Shopping SecretsHow to get high-tech deals.
James Oliver Cury
James Oliver Cury is a New York-based writer who hunts for bargains any way he can.
If there's a golden rule of shopping, it's that you can always score a better deal. But finding real bargains on PCs, digital cameras, and other types of high-tech products takes skill, patience, and persistence. To get you started, I've compiled a short list of insider shopping secrets that can save you money, shield you from shady retailers, and help you recognize a genuinely good buy.
These tips are just the beginning. To find 30 tips and Web sites that help you shop for deals on technology products, check out "The Art of the Deal" at PCWorld.com.
Know thy product: You can't make an informed buy if you don't understand the way that an item's features and bundled accessories affect its price. Find out whether your product comes with cables, batteries, software, and so on. Shady vendors may charge you for something that's already in the box.
Get a sense of the market: Don't give up searching for bargains prematurely--there may be three or 30 products that meet your criteria. Browse reviews at established sources such as ConsumerReview.com and Epinions.com. Also try Overstock.com's natural-language search feature; it delivers a snapshot of available products based on the query that you enter. For example, type the phrase "Find all digital cameras for less than $300" in the search window, and the site searches its database for items that match the request.
Let decision trees guide you: Instead of researching every feature, follow an automated decision tree to find product candidates. The Active Buyer's Guide employs an on-screen question-and-answer process that explains key features and ends with recommended products. PriceScan.com offers a similar weeding-out engine for pinpointing the product that matches your needs.
Sign up for e-mail alerts: Ask to receive e-mail messages when the price of an item you want drops. At Yahoo Shopping, you can set an alert; at NexTag and PriceGrabber.com, you can indicate a target price and specify item condition (for example, new or refurbished).
Visit newsgroups: For the most exhaustive and impassioned counsel, visit sites dedicated to a particular device. Go to any search site and type the name of your desired product in the search field. For example, doing a search at Google's Groups page can lead you to newsgroups where people debate a product's merits and flaws. Post a message, and you're likely to be besieged with advice (consider using a secondary e-mail address). Alternatively, visit Epinions.com for product and vendor reviews. If you favor a particular reviewer, you can add them to your network of reliable, online-shopping sources.
Beware of bait-and-switch ploys: It's the world's oldest scam: a store advertises a great price for a product and then claims to have sold out when you want to buy it, forcing you to opt for a similar but different product--at a higher price. Or a vendor may try to persuade you to buy accessories as a way to jack up the price. For more about all-too-common shady sales tactics, check out PCWorld.com's "Camera Confidential."