Before the internet developed, consumers had to resort to inefficient means of making purchase decisions. To make sure they were getting the best deal, they had to rely on their friends or self-assessment based on a limited amount of information. Now, online tools like Google and various e-commerce sites have made it easy for consumers to compare different options with as much information as they need. However, comparison shopping online has its own perils. Here, we discuss four ways that people can save even more when comparison shopping online.
Be suspicious of "default" options
The first and foremost benefit of comparison shopping is that it allows consumers to avoid the trap of default options. In competitive industries like car dealerships and grocery supermarkets, profit margins tend to be quite thin. To compensate for these, some of these businesses have developed a practice of promoting certain "default" options that provide higher margins for them. For example, some dealers will only offer car loans from certain banks or car insurance policies from certain insurers. Supermarkets will place higher margin products at eye-level and lower margin products at harder to reach places. In either scenario, the result is the same: higher price for the consumers and higher profits for the seller.
In reality, this same practice exists online as well. For example, even Google presents advertisements as the first 4 options on Google search results, though many of their ads are relevant for the search term. In most cases, the top result of searches for hotels, flights and other products tend to show the highest bidder and aren't always necessarily the best result. Knowing this, consumers should always be suspicious of the "default" or "top" options when making a purchase decision online. Rather than simply clicking on the top result all the time, you should take a little more time to read and choose an option based on its merits.
Don't just compare price & promotions, compare long-term value
Another phenomenon of online marketing has been burgeoning of promotions. While providing coupons, discounts and other incentives to lure more customers has always been part of business tactic, companies have leveraged the internet to be more aggressive in publicising their deals. This has also made it easier for consumers to be exposed to promotions, and eventually make purchase decisions based on promotions. However, buying something purely because of promotion tends to be a dangerous exercise in the long run. Let's assume that you are comparing a few credit cards to get. Because you will end up spending tens of thousands of dollars on the card over the course of a few years, choosing an appropriate card that fits your spending pattern could actually help you earn hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars worth of various rewards like miles.
For example, a card like DBS Altitude Card that provides 1.2 miles per S$1 spent can work for people whose expenditures tend to be spread out across different areas, while a card like HSBC Revolution Card tends to yield better results for those whose spending are more focused on dining, entertainment and shopping. Choosing the wrong card purely because of its promotional bonus like "S$100 for new customers" could mean that you miss out on even more rewards over the long run. This same philosophy should apply to other purchases that can be made online. Instead of focusing on the promotions you see now, you should assess whether the item you are buying is great value compared to its price.
Use private browsing mode when comparing hotel and flight ticket prices
Besides the 2 tips we provided above, there are more specialised tips specific to certain types of online shopping. For example, online travel agencies like Expedia and Agoda have been known to run extremely sophisticated pricing engine that are designed to squeeze out as much money as possible from consumers. For example, if you look up the same flight 3 times, these sites have been known to deem you as someone who is highly motivated to buy that particular flight and increase their price. To avoid such a situation, you should always use your browser's private browsing mode when planning out your trip. Once you've identified the flights and hotels you want to reserve, you can open the regular browser to log-in and make the purchase.
For basic items, choose house brands over well known brands
Lastly, a mistake that people often make when comparison shopping is comparing every brand's reviews to compare their most minute details, all the while ignoring house brands. For basic items like eggs, milk, condiments, HDMI cables and simple pharmaceuticals (allergy, etc.), house brands are often at least 20-40% cheaper than well known brands while still providing the same utility. Sometimes, they are even produced by the same manufacturer using the same ingredients. For basic items with low risks, house brands are often great alternatives, it wouldn't even be worth your time to compare shop other brands.
This article was originally published in Value Penguin.
Value Penguin helps you find the best value prices for better financial decisions.