Avoid these five online shopping mistakes

Online shopping can be a great way to save a few bucks, just make sure to avoid these five online shopping pitfalls.

Michael Dwyer/AP/File
A woman looks at a Macy's smartphone app while shopping in Boston.

You might be an avid online shopper, but are you saving as much money as you could be?

Shopping online can be an art form unto itself, and how you go about it can make or break the amount of money you end up spending. The editors at Brad's Deals are experts at following online trends and finding the best deals on all the things you want and need. In their years on the job, they've perfected their art, so they know first hand which common mistakes cost online shoppers the most money.

After analyzing the ways Brad's Deals shoppers make their purchases, they have a few tips for readers who want to save even more when buying online.

"Know the real value of your purchases!" -- Lindsay F., Fashion Editor

If you're looking for sheets, check out the brand, thread count, and cost on other sites before you hit the "buy" button.

We often find outrageous deals on quality goods, so we understand that price is not necessarily indicative of quality. But because we also find lower quality goods at even lower prices, we want consumers to be aware of the difference. Having the right expectations about what you're purchasing ensures that you won't be disappointed.

To determine the quality of the item you're looking at, look at factors like the brand, the retailer, the original price, specifications, and reviews of the item. For example, a set of 320 thread count cotton Queen or King sheets goes for just $32 plus shipping at Macy's. That's a great value on a product that is likely to last. But if you just need an extra set for the guest room that you rarely use, you can pay less than half that price and grab a set of microfiber sheets elsewhere. Neither of these choices is a smarter buy than the other, it just depends what you're hoping to get out of the product. Basically, if you're looking for a great deal on something, price should not be the only factor in your decision.

"When shopping for tech, don't be afraid of smaller online retailers." -- David, Tech Editor

Any time we post a great deal on a TV or laptop from a large retailer like Walmart or Best Buy, it usually sells really well. Yet if we post an even better deal on a similar item from a smaller reputable dealer like B&H Photo, it's typically not as popular. We suspect this has something to do with name recognition, maybe some shoppers think only well-known retailers can provide truly good discounts? This is not the case at all!

In fact, of the several small tech dealers that we write about, like B&HBuyDigPC Richard & Son and Adorama, run great deals on some of the best tech items on the market. These are deals with lowest prices you will find online, and many of them offer free shipping and don't charge sales tax in most states because they have a smaller physical footprint. Plus, they are all authorized retailers, which is important when it comes to tech, because you want to make sure your warranties will be honored.

This doesn't mean that there aren't some great deals to be found at larger stores, but you should know that they aren't the only ones who are able to offer great deals in tech.

"Don't be too loyal to 'discount' travel booking sites and airlines." -- Mark, Travel Editor

A lot of shoppers (including some in my own family!), are really loyal to sites like Hotels.com, which offers a "free room" after 10 paid nights. This is effectively a 10 percent discount, as you receive the average price of the 10 paid nights as your reward, which is fine, but not exactly a bargain. In our experience, shoppers who book directly with hotel chains like Hlton or Hyatt are guaranteed the best possible price, usually lower than what you can find on discount booking sites. Plus, booking directly usually means you'll get benefits like free WiFi, and you'll also receive elite credit card points and bonuses that you wouldn't get booking with a site like Hotels.com

Another thing we've noticed that costs travel shoppers money is the notion that Southwest is a "budget" carrier. In fact, it isn't cheapest most of the time, so that means that those two "free" checked bags are actually built into the price that you're paying. If you still needed a free checked bag, a co-branded credit card like the Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard offers one free bag as part of their benefits.

"Savings can really add up with free trials." -- Candice, Editor

Listen to audiobooks for free with an Audible.com free trial.

We've noticed that our readers often shy away from trying free trial offers, like monthly box offers such as Naturebox or subscription services such as Audible.com. The fear, we think, is if they forget to cancel, they'll be charged excessive fees and rates to continue the service, which far outweigh the benefits from the trial offer.

But in our experience here at Brad's Deals, you can actually get some pretty good deals through these trial offers, as long as you remember to cancel, which we've found is becoming increasingly easier from online retailers. For example, Amazon's 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime: the price goes up to $99/year after the trial, but if you plan this strategically by signing up right around Black Friday, the savings in shipping fees can really add up! Better yet, you can cancel the trial in your account settings before it ends and still get the full 30 days of benefits. If you're still nervous about forgetting, set a calendar notification, or an alarm on your phone to remind you to do so.

"Don't let shipping fees be a deal-breaker." -- David, Tech Editor

We completely understand a shopper's hesitation when it comes to paying shipping fees. There's something psychological about it. With so many sites offering free shipping and services like Amazon Prime, it makes you wonder why anyone would ever pay a shipping fee online—ever. But here's the thing: Sometimes, stores that offer free shipping don't necessarily have the lowest prices on that particular item, and might actually have a higher total price than a retailer who is charging for shipping.

For example, the REI.com Outlet charges $5.99 for shipping on anything under $50, but some of their outlet items, especially the daily deal items, wind up being the lowest price online, even when you include the cost of shipping. The same can be said for some shoe and clothing deals under $50 at 6pm.com. We do our best as editors to always let you know when this happens with any of the deals we cover, but if you're shopping solo, make sure to do the math and keep in mind that shipping fees aren't always the enemy.

This article first appeared at Brad's Deals.

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