By Louis DeNicola, Cheapism.com
Online bargain hunting is both frustrating and exciting. You're out to find a deal on something you love or need and you're determined to stick to your budget. Make price alerts your new best friend. With the power of price alerts by your side, you can easily monitor the changing prices on an item and know with confidence whether that "bargain" really is a steal.Learn how to use price alerts to score the best deals online.
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Know the Past. CamelCamelCamel has three sister sites that let you set price alerts for products on Amazon, BestBuy.com and Newegg.com. You don't need to register or give your email address to benefit from the site's tracking capabilities; it generates a unique URL you can visit to check for changes. If you do register, price alerts for all your tracked products can be sent to your email or Twitter account or show up in an RSS feed.
The real power of the site comes from its price history charts, which allow you to compare a product's current price with its historical price. Some items have charts that go back years, making trend spotting and comparison price shopping easy. You can see a product's price chart on the CamelCamelCamel website or, by using the Camelizer extension for Chrome and Firefox, you can pull up price history without leaving the product page. When testing we found that price history was available on most, but not every, product on Amazon. There was also a surprise revelation: A monitor listed in the "Top 10 Deals" section of Best Buy the week we did our research was actually $10 cheaper the previous month.
Track the Price. All the sites discussed here let you arrange for price alerts, but Price!Pinx, Clipix, and Hukkster are right on top of the matter. These three sites use "bookmarklets" that enable consumers to set up product tracking without limiting the pool of merchants. Users receive an email when the price of an item drops to a predetermined point or when it falls by a certain percentage. Price!Pinx is the oldest of the three; although it lacks a slick look, its price alert system is simple and reliable. Clipix is new, stylish, and supports an app to go along with its website; the price alert system had a few bugs to work out the day we tested it. Hukkster is brand new, invite-only in fact, and it will be interesting to watch how their services expand.
Comparison Shop. PriceGrabber also features a price alert function and checks historical pricing, but its primary contribution comes in the form of comparison price shopping. Pulling data from more than 13,000 large and small retailers, as well as individuals selling products on their own sites, PriceGrabber gives buying recommendations based on reviews and a "bottom line price" that includes tax and shipping. PriceGrabber is a data source for sites such as ShopAdvisor, CNET, AOL Shopping, and About.com. This is a good site to turn to for research before buying, as well as an outlet to sell something you no longer need.Use price alerts to grab bargains when comparison shopping.
Know the Future. Decide.com is a relatively new service that approaches the price-alert field from a new angle. Instead of simply letting you see historical prices or monitor a product's price (although the site does that, too), Decide.com crunches the numbers and recommends whether you should click the "buy" button today or wait. The site's developers are so sure they've got it right that when you buy something and email the receipt, the site will monitor the price across thousands of retailers and if the price drops over the next 14 days, you will receive the difference. There are limitations, of course: the site will not refund more than $200 per item, the purchase must have been made through the retailer with the lowest price, and the guarantee only covers select items -- the list, however, is growing.
Decide.com also provides a "decide score" that helps guide your buying decision. The score is determined by price, reviews from a variety of sources, information gathered on blogs, and reviews of prior models. Additionally, the site warns if a new model is likely to be released. Apps for the iPhone, iPad, and Android smartphones give you access to this information while you're out shopping, as well. Membership fees will be coming in the future, so sign up now to take advantage of this free service while the offer lasts.
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Final Tip. Much like Decide.com's price-drop guarantee, many credit cards offer price protection. The terms and conditions vary depending on the card -- if the service is offered at all -- so call the issuer or check online for details. If your card does offer price protection, set price alerts on items you've purchased to know if you'll be eligible for reimbursement.
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