Seven Great On Line Shopping Tips During COVID-19 or Anytime to Get the Best at the Best Price

In this time of COVID-19, spending more time in our homes, we are not only cleaning closets and reorganizing, we are looking to change or upgrade our surroundings. Whether redecorating an entire house or room, or replacing one item in the home, on line shopping is the way to go now.  Our daughters are doing the same, and, thankfully, give me projects to find the best at the best price for anything, not only items for the home.  Our younger daughter suggested I share what I have learned over the last half century of being our family’s personal shopper, for everything from toddler pajamas and toys, to home décor and improvement.

I have targeted this post to the home as an example, however most of the tips are applicable to on line shopping generally as well.

THE INSPIRATION

Unless one is a professional decorator, we must explore for inspiration.  I watch the Property Brothers on HGTV and love that they show the couple an outrageously expensive inspiration house first, then convince them to buy a dilapidated fixer upper, which they redo beautifully duplicating the inspiration house at a fraction of the price. That is always my goal for whatever I buy.

If you are just exploring and enjoy wandering for inspiration for home items, there are several websites where I find inspiration, not in any specific order.  Apartment Therapy, Dwell, Flipboard’s Home Decorating and Design sections, Apple News sections Ideal Home, AD (Architectural Digest) and Home and Garden, Etsy, and most of all HOUZZ.  I recently found a great fireplace idea for a daughter’s home from a story and photographs of Kendall Jenner’s home by browsing stories of celebrities’ homes on Apple News.

 

HOW TO USE HOUZZ AND OTHER SITES FOR THE SEARCH FOR PERFECT ITEM

Where to look is as important as how to look for the best and the best price. This article on “affordability, quality and selection.” gives you many places to look. “25 bargain shopping outlets for deals on furniture and home décor: Deals and more affordable prices are just a click away if you know where to look,” By Kathie Bozanich, Los Angeles Daily News, August 10, 2020,   Many of these sites have a less expensive version of what is trending on more expensive websites.  An important tip to remember is to spend less on trendy items, and use trendy items in decor accessories.

HOUZZ is the place I to go first for inspiration for a specific search for the house, rooms, and even small individual items.  Be sure to click “photos,” not “products” to start.  You want inspiration photographs first, not the item itself first.  Houzz is also in the business of selling products, but I primarily use HOUZZ for leads to the best products and prices.

If you are wandering, you can put in some general terms, and expect even a million search results on HOUZZ.  Start with the most specific search you can think of. If you are on a specific search, start with the most specific search phrase you can think of.  It can be long.  If you need to develop a search phrase, for example, start with the style you are looking for, modern, traditional, transitional, etc.  Each photograph has a caption, which may start with the style, for example, as above, modern.

HOUZZ is wonderful, and here are tips as to how to get the most detail about your potential inspiration item using the site.  It is hard not to find many of the room or the items you will think are beautiful and perfect.  Contractors and designers photograph their projects and share them and the information about them.

When you click on a photograph to get a bigger view, some items, sometimes the items you covet, have a tag on it, which then shows on the bottom of the page specific make and model and alternative choices shown. On the bottom left of the HOUZZ large photograph page, there is a link, “Learn More.” It leads you to more photos of the project, and to questions and answers.  Yes, persons like you might ask the make and manufacturer of an item in the photograph.  If you love the exact one in the photograph and someone has not yet asked the manufacturer and model, you can email the question (link on the bottom right of the page for “email”), and, if it is a more recent posting, the contractor or company does and you see “reply” to your question more often than not.

When you have found the inspiration item you think is perfect, and want to spend less, the next task is to find one nearly like it within your budget.

THE NARROWED SEARCH TO DUPLICATE THE INSPIRATION ITEM OR AN ALTERNATIVE AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE AT THE BEST PRICE

I keep a picture of the inspiration item I found on HOUZZ on my I Phone in front of me while I search on my I Pad or computer.   I sometimes put the item in HOUZZ under products, but more often put the item or search term into GOOGLE where I find more inexpensive alternatives.  Remember that GOOGLE also wants to keep their advertisers happy and sell you product, so they direct you to the ads first on top.  Ignore these.  Click images.  When you find one similar, you are directed to the selling website.  I go to several websites for comparisons. Most items are sold on several sites which each just have the item shipped directly from the manufacturer.

Then I go to the special discount websites, such as Wayfair or Overstock and compare reviews, availability, and especially price.  I keep a list of these, prices, delivery cost and time, and many times keep screen shots so I know where to go back, if I desire to.

THE REVIEWS

I want to know several different reviews on the items, in addition to the reviews on the selling website.  After the reviews on the websites I have viewed, I put the item make and model first into GOOGLE, and look at those reviews, which leads to other reviews on websites selling the items.  Note on date of the review as more recent reviews show that the site is actively used and may be more helpful.  I do not buy from a site that only has reviews a year or more old. There are specific review sites to check as well.  New York Times Wirecutter has new product reviews, as does Consumer Reports.  If you are redoing a house, or buying appliances for example, and want to know more about choosing a quality product, joining Consumer Reports is worth it, but newer models may be in the marketplace as it takes time to publish a review after their investigation.  There are many websites where they claim they are professional reviewers of products, but many get money when you click to purchase on their website, so the reviews should be considered in that light.

Remember to also check the quality and customer service comments about the websites themselves.  As there are many websites selling the same item, and you want to know if you are going to have an issue with customer service, delivery from the seller, cancellation, returns, restocking fees, and product problems.

I keep a folder of final contenders that have survived the review process.  Again, I cull the choice down to three or less that are closest to the inspiration. After years of doing this personal shopping, my daughters, more often than not, find one they choose.

SAMPLE

On line shopping means not being able to touch and feel an item before purchase, but you can by asking for a sample first, especially for a large purchase.  Many websites will give a free fabric sample, or a sample of the material of the item you are purchasing, or there is just a small fee for a sample or swatch. If it does not, try using the chat to see if that is a possibility. It makes sense, if you are able, to get a sample, see it and the color in your home and in the light in your home.  If you are looking to buy a rug, for example, buy the smallest size and actually see it and feel it, and it is easier to return than a 9’ x 12’ rug. If you are buying many of an item, such as kitchen pulls, buy one of the item to see if you will really like it.

NEGOTIATING THE BEST PRICE, AVAILABILITY, AND OTHER CHARGES AND COSTS

There are many websites that tell you what to buy on sale every month of the year.  Some specifically tell you the best time to buy an item on line.  Bedding, linens, electronics and TVs are discounted in January, for example. For major purchases and expensive purchases, these should be checked.  There are holiday weekend sales as well.  Unless you need an item immediately, you can wait for a sale, especially during COVID-19 when much is discounted.

If I frequent a brick and mortar store, I get to know one salesperson that has been there a while.  I always ask for and try to buy from the same salesperson if I can in a brick and mortar store, even in department stores, furniture and décor stores.  I get the salesperson’s card with their telephone number and email and put the information in my contacts on my phone under the store name.  I ask if there are set sale times.  I ask when the item I desire is going on sale, and give them my name, telephone number and email, and ask them to text me or call me when it is discounted or goes on sale.  I have found that they always do, even months later.

On line, you can do the same with the chat feature, which can serve several functions. There is someone to ask if and when it is going on sale or if the website has set sale times.  If you intend to purchase additional items in the future, it is helpful to have a real person for assistance, and tell them that. Chat persons on line may give their email address for future direct purchases and customer service issues. I screen shot that information. If an item shows out of stock on line, whether it has a brick or mortar store or not, I ask the chat person to check when it will be back in stock or, if brick and mortar also, check the stores to see if the item is in stock anywhere.  I get locations and telephone numbers to purchase directly from an individual brick and mortar store.

Check www.retailmenot.com for discounts or free shipping before you buy.  Sign up for emails and you might get a discount as a first time buyer.  If you leave items in the on line cart for a while, you may get an email with a discount code if you go through with your purchase.  I prioritize purchases from the websites that have brick and mortar stores as set forth below for ease of returns. Using the chat feature, you can have such a website match a price that is less on another website that does not have a brick and mortar store.

Check if there is a shipping charge, and how long it will take to ship.  Amazon does not necessarily have the best price but may have the best shipping time.  Walmart, Target, and Home Depot are shipping faster than before, and their prices are competitive.  If an item has a shipping charge on the website and the same item is available on another website without the shipping charge, you can chat on line, and sometimes websites will waive the shipping charge.  Sometimes calling the local brick and mortar store directly to order something you found on line there is no shipping charge.

Unless it is one of a kind or something you must have immediately, you may be able to obtain a better price, especially during this time when most everything is being discounted.

RETURN POLICY

Where you buy is as important as what you buy.  There are many websites selling the same thing. I have found that the brick and mortar store websites have the best ability to return, as you can return in the store what you buy on line, and get an immediate refund.  Some websites are just middlemen, send the order to the manufacturer, and even if you want to cancel immediately, or within a day, you cannot until they hear back from the manufacturer which can take days.  Returns might be cumbersome and difficult.  You might have to wait many days or weeks for a refund to your credit card.  Check out the return policy on line and if not clear, use the Chat feature and communicate with a live person before you buy.

Before COVID-19, I always got exercise walking malls and window shopping. Unfortunately, malls may no longer exist by the time we can shop in person again.  Enjoy the shopping journey on line, as we might have that as our primary option in the near future.

 

Joy,

 

Mema

 

 

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