Paloma | Edited by Steve N
Updated 15 Dec 2015
Want to find the best deals online? This compendium of cheap online shopping tricks shows you how.
We've 43 top tips, including how to get price-drop emails, compare prices at speed, spot hidden brand sales and much more.
43 online shopping tips, including...
Shopbots, or shopping robots, are geeky tools which trawl through selected e-tailers' products and prices to find the cheapest deal.
They zip through scores of web retailers and compare prices, whether you're searching for clothes, games, gadgets, books, perfumes or owt else.
To push it to the max, our specially-designed MegaShopBot auto-searches the best shopbots for each type of product with just one click.
Build your own Amazon bargain basements
It's the original e-giant, and like any megastore the challenge is to see behind Amazon's shelves to dig out mega-discounts.
Remember though, just because it's discounted doesn't mean it's a bargain. So in the tool you'll also find a box where you can search the CamelCamelCamel site, which lets you instantly check a product's Amazon price history to see if it's ever sold for less. Then use our MegaShopBot to check its price in other stores.
Map hidden local eBay bargains
Whether it's a Playstation or children's books, eBay sellers often specify items must be collected in person. As this often means fewer bids, there are bargains to be had.
You can't normally search collection-only, so we've built a mapping tool. Tell our Local eBay Deals Mapper your postcode and how far you're prepared to schlep, and it pinpoints nearby gems.
It's also available as a free Android app or iPhone app. These map your current location and tell you how far you need to go to pick
up a bargain.
For more help tracking down underpriced goods, our eBay Buying Secrets guide lists tools to exploit speiling mistaykes, auto-bid and more.
Many people are surprised to learn you've EXTRA rights buying online (or by telephone/catalogue) due to the Consumer Contracts Regulations.
These give a legal right to decide to return most goods back within a fortnight for a full refund (including outward delivery costs), even if there's no fault. You'll usually need to pay for the return delivery - you've a further 14 days to actually return them. See the Consumer Rights guide for more.
However, this is balanced by the fact that ordering online means there's a time gap
between ordering and delivering when the company has your money. So if it goes
bust in that time, the cancellation rights don't help.
Buy in-store:You have NO right to return goods unless
they're faulty. Some stores will allow you to return items, but that's their
policy rather than any official
Buy online: Under the Consumer Contracts Regulations, you have a 14-day 'cooling off period' after ordering where you've got a legal right to change your mind. You've then got a further 14 days to return the goods. Note, there doesn't need to be anything wrong with them to get a full refund (including delivery costs, though you may need to pay to send the goods back).
All this means researching offline but buying online can be your best bet. See Martin's blog Mrs MSE's a robo-shopper to learn why many people choose to go to a store to view the product they want to buy, but then seal the deal online - also known as 'robo-shopping'.
Search almost 20 outlets for bargains with the Outlet Discount Finder
Many drive miles to outlet villages to snap up end-of-line bargains. But these days lots of high street and high-end stores have online outlet stores, either via eBay or special websites.
Tell our Outlet Store Discount Finder what you want, the price and discount, and it'll find it for you. You can also drill down to specific stores - big names include Monsoon, Argos, House of Fraser and many more.
Uncover hidden big-brand flash sales
If you're going to stick with brand loyalty and shop upmarket (bah, humbug) then we've tricks to slash costs in our list of Secret Sales.
To hint at exclusivity, a range of branded and designer goods e-tailers run 'membership clubs'. You register for free, then they send alerts for online flash sales lasting two to five days. A bit poncy, but it can mean big discounts such as 70% off brands like Valentino, Louis Vuitton and Chanel.
Get the latest discount codes and hot bargains
This site's chock-a-block with daily-updated, fully checked-out deals, sales and loopholes, but there are plenty of other discount sites that can save you money too.
To get started, see the following pages:
Discount vouchers. Check out MSE's Discount Vouchers Codes page, where we compile the best discounts available.
We only list the very best discounts on offer. So if you can't find what you're looking for, check out other voucher sites such as VoucherCodes*, MyVoucherCodes* and VoucherCloud*. Make sure the deals are valid on the item you want and are open to all.
The hottest bargains. For a list of all the latest deals and steals have a gander at MSE's Hot Bargains page.
Online sales. See the MSE High Street Sales diary for a list of all new and ongoing sales that are happening online, plus delivery cost info.
If you're struggling to find a deal, Flubit is a free site that aims to negotiate discounts for you.
You can use the site to see if any of its partner retailers can beat the price listed on Amazon.co.uk. When it receives a demand, it goes to a bank of online retailers selling the exact same item and tries to negotiate a better price. As each offer's unique, Flubit claims many retailers are willing to offer big discounts.
The results from our experiment
When we tested Flubit and made a few demands of our own, we found there were savings to be made compared with the best price on Amazon:
Tefal Bistro 5-piece Cookware Set. Flubit offered £28.76 delivered, (listed as £35.95 on Amazon) - a £7.19 saving/20% discount.
Polaroid IF045 14 Megapixel Waterproof Camera. Flubit offered £59.99 delivered, (listed as £69.99 on Amazon) - a £14 saving/20% discount.
- Braun Oral-B Vitality Precision Clean Rechargeable Toothbrush. Flubit offered £28.26 delivered, (listed as £29.78 on Amazon) - a saving of £1.52/5% discount.
Feedback from forumites suggest good deals are available but as Flubit's a middleman, some say sorting out any problems can be difficult. User alex21 said:
I have been really happy with my savings through Flubit. But beware if you have a problem with an item. Amazon cannot help you as you do not have an Amazon order number." - alex21
How to use it
Flubit competes against Amazon (including Marketplace sellers, the outlet section and those orders fulfilled by Amazon) by undercutting its prices.
So to ensure you're getting the best price, always use the MegaShopBot first to make sure that particular item listed on Amazon is the cheapest around. Then ask Flubit to negotiate a better price than the one listed on Amazon.
Enter the Amazon link to the item along with how many you want (max three). Then enter who and what it's for (eg, female, 25-29, present).
Flubit only lets you have five to 10 requests active at a time. It then creates an offer within 48 hours, which you need to accept or decline. Delivery's included in the offer price.
Flubit takes the money. You pay it via debit or credit card (most are accepted except for American Express) but it says your contract is directly with one of its merchants (you'll be given the details of the merchant before you buy). You can't buy downloads, tickets, travel services or second-hand items.
Also, bear in mind Amazon's prices tend to fluctuate based on supply and demand. If the price of the item falls on Amazon before Flubit makes you an offer, the offer is based on the original price supplied.
How does it cut prices?
Once a demand comes through to Flubit, it sources the exact same item from its bank of thousands of retailers, negotiates a cheaper price and takes a cut as commission for playing the middleman. Flubit says it has access to wholesale prices and as the prices are unique per request, the retailer can be a little more flexible in the offers it makes.
How does it make money?
Flubit says it works by taking a small percentage (1-2) from the saving to the user, after the best price has been found.
This is a relatively untested concept - be careful
While your contract is with the merchant, you pay Flubit via PayPal (or card) and it passes your cash to the retailer. One worry is that if Flubit were to go bust before it handed the money over to the retailer, there could be issues - you would have to go via PayPal's chargeback system (or Section 75 if paying by credit card) to reclaim your money.
Plus if you pay by credit card via PayPal, Section 75 protection won't apply, as technically you're not using the card to buy the goods or services, but to charge a PayPal account. So consider using this for smaller purchases under £100.
This is a very unusual concept, and we’ve little feedback on it as of yet. If you've used it, please let us know how you got on in the Flubit forum discussion thread.
Cashback credit cards pay you every time you spend on 'em. The idea's you grab one and set up a direct debit to repay IN FULL every month so it's interest-free. To boost the gain, use it for all spending instead of cash, cheques or debit cards.
Express's Amex Platinum Everyday* gives new
cardholders 5% cashback (max £100) for three months (and tiered up to 1.25% after).
There's no annual fee but the representative APR is
If your credit score ain't great, Aqua Reward* accepts some with older CCJs/defaults and pays 0.5% cashback on all spending. If you fail to fully repay though, it's a monstrous 34.9% representative APR.
For full help and best buys, see the Top Cashback Cards guide.
Don't just check for discount codes with the store you want - sometimes brands operate their own online stores AND have concessions (a mini-store for their products, if you like) within department stores' sites.
First check the price on the brand's own site (say Oasis, Office, or Diesel) and see if a sale or discount voucher's available (see the Discount Vouchers page). But then check the price of the branded item on a department store's site too, factoring in hot codes and sales (and make sure the brand you want is included in the offer). You're still getting the same item from the same brand.
For example, most Debenhams* stores include Oasis items and it regularly has 20% off branded fashion departments (concessions). Likewise, Clarks* shoes are stocked at Brantano*, which often offers blanket discounts. Previously we found Clarks Orinoco boots were £60 at Clarks, yet just £36 from Brantano using its 40% off everything code.
Here's our top 10 list of stores which offer this kind of multi-brand discount - check the MSE pages below to see what codes are available and some of the brands:
- Asos – Abercrombie & Fitch, Nike, River Island
- Brantano – Clarks, Caterpillar, Hi-Tec, Vans
- Tesco – Crocs, Regatta, Trespass, Ultimo
- Debenhams – B by Ted Baker, Converse, Diesel, Levi's
- House of Fraser – Coast, Dune, Hugo Boss, Hunter
- John Lewis – All Saints, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren
- M&M Direct – Asics, French Connection, Skechers
- Next – Faith, Havaianas, Karen Millen, Puma
- Office – Birkenstock, Dr Martens, New Balance, Toms
- Cloggs – Fit Flop, Hunter, UGG boots
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Wait for bargains - particularly at Christmas
When it comes to online shopping, timing is often everything, and that's particularly the case in the run-up to Christmas.
We've been running the snazzy Christmas Deals Predictor for the past two years to help you plan for pre-Christmas sales.
Based on previous marketing calendars, it's a good way to guess when you can nab discounts from big retailers.
Of course, it's seasonal but if you're Christmas shopping then it's the ideal way to pick up a high street bargain. Check our tool, wait, then pounce when it's cheapest. Simple!
Sign up to retailers' newsletters for big discounts
E-tailers try to reel you in by offering incentives to shop online when you sign up to their marketing emails.
It can mean a percentage discount code, or a straight discount off your first shop. Our top ongoing picks include:
Bag big online store discounts using Tesco Clubcard points
Check if you can Reclaim Tesco Vouchers online.
Many people find big cash, often £100+, but don't save them for food or other shopping in-store. Instead, check ways of getting 3x or even 4x their value (£10 becomes £30 or £40). They can then be used on a whole load of things like meals at Pizza Express and Cafe Rouge, Odeon cinema tickets and Goldsmiths jewellery. See the Loyalty Scheme Tricks guide.
The Section 75 law means if you pay directly on a credit card (ie, not via Paypal, or with a debit card, cheque or cash) for even part of something costing between £100 and £30,000, the card company's jointly liable if anything goes wrong.
Better still, even if you only pay a deposit on the card, if the goods cost over £100, the card company's liable for the ENTIRE amount.
If the firm goes bust, you can get redress from the credit card provider instead, giving you valuable extra protection. Only do this if you can clear the card IN FULL each month to avoid interest though.
Section 75 doesn't apply to purchases under £100, but there's still some protection if you use a Visa, Mastercard or Amex credit card, or any debit or charge card.
If the goods don't appear or are faulty, you can ask your bank/card provider to reclaim the cash from the seller's bank, if you start the chargeback process within 120 days of realising there's a problem. See the Chargeback guide for full details.
You're not covered by Section 75 if you pay for goods using PayPal - see our Don't Use PayPal to Pay on a Credit Card guide for more info.
Make £100s from cashback sites
With cashback sites, you sign up for free, then click through them to buy something. They get paid for sending traffic and give some of this cash to you. Some people make £100s a year.
Never let the cashback dictate where you spend or what you buy. It's never 100% guaranteed, either. Focus on the cheapest or best deal, then see if cashback's available on it. Full explanation in the Top Cashback Sites guide.
Also, if you've money squirrelled away in your Topcashback* account, you can boost your Tesco points stash by trading in every £10 of cashback for 1,050 Tesco Clubcard points. See the Boost Tesco Points guide for ways to make the most of your Clubcard vouchers.
Price-drop alert site LoveSales allows you to add items from online retailers to your 'Love Sales list' and name the price you're willing to pay. It then sends you an alert when the item hits your target price.
You need to register first, then when you're browsing a particular item from one retailer, you pop it on your list. After that, the wait is on for the price to fall and the email to land in your inbox.
When we tested LoveSales, a couple of items hit our target price:
- La Redoute dress priced at £39, target price £31, bought for £27.30 - a 30% saving.
- De'Longhi filter coffee machine from John Lewis priced at £29.95, target price £25, bought for £22.50 - a 25%
How to do it
- Register with LoveSales.
- Download the toolbar for your browser, which allows you to quickly add items to your list.
When there's an item you want to buy for a
lower price, click the LoveSales toolbar to add it to your list.
Wait for alerts to land in your inbox.
- Then check out the Discount Vouchers page to cut the cost further.
What to watch for
LoveSales prices are checked on a daily basis. The price may have changed from the point you were alerted to the actual time you click through to buy.
While it's good to see your wishlist from every retailer in one place, it's a fairly new concept and we have little feedback as yet. If you've used LoveSales, please let us know how you got on in the Online shopping tricks forum thread.
Use Martin's Money Mantras
It's easy to get swept up in online shopping as payment can be taken in just a click. To keep you disciplined, use Martin's Money Mantras.
E-tailers target specific groups of people with discounts - see below for the best:
Student discounts. If you're in full-time education, many e-tailers often give students discounts ranging from 10%-55% off. See the NUS website for a full list and check the MSE Student MoneySaving forum discussion thread for more discounts and advice.
Health service discounts. If you're a nurse, doctor, dentist or even a hospital volunteer, you can net discounts for your online purchases at stores such as Dorothy Perkins. See the Health Service Discounts site.
Armed Forces personnel. The Defence Privilege card is available to serving and reserve armed forces personnel, MoD civil servants, partners of those serving, bereaved family members and more. It costs £4.99, is valid for five years and gets discounts both in-store and online with Buyagift, Austin Reed, Joules, Cloggs and more. See the UK Armed Forces MoneySaving forum thread for more.
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Check if you can grab goods cheaper from overseas retailers
If you're looking to buy higher-value goods, then consider taking advantage of the world wide web by clicking to foreign retailers. You may be able to pick up bargains, especially when the pound is strong.
See the Cheap Travel Money guide on the best cards to get near-perfect exchange rates every time you use an overseas site.
What to watch for
There are a few things to consider when buying from abroad:
Customs duty becomes payable on postal imports from outside the EU when goods are over £135. If the duty totals less than £9 though, you won't have to pay anything.
Value added tax of 20% applies to commercial goods £15+ in value and on gifts £36+ from outside the EU.
Consider buying on a credit card for extra Section 75 protection. See the Section 75 guide for full info.
Will it work in the UK? You need to think about the voltage, DVD regions and if TVs are compatible. If not, then factor in the cost of converting.
Is the site safe? Make sure the site's legitimate before parting with cash - see the Check it's legitimate section in this guide.
Delivery cost and time. Think whether higher shipping and delivery costs still make the item cheaper. Factor in any time differences for the date and time of the delivery. Remember, if the item's not for you, return postage fees could be hefty.
Any customs duty or VAT is paid to Royal Mail/Parcelforce in advance of delivery and they pass it on to HMRC for you.
An easy rule of thumb is that the charges for delivery, customs and VAT can add around 30% to the list price, so unless it's over 30% cheaper, it may be best to stick with shopping in the UK. Check the HMRC site for full details.
Stay on top of the MSE forum's hottest bargains
These are posted by users so aren't official MSE content. They're normally fine, but take care and double-check before using them.
Pick up corking wine and bubbly deals
We've created a way to dig behind online wine sellers' virtual shelves for hidden mega-discounts.
Whether you've a country or grape in mind or are just after a decent red or white - or champers - we've a way of helping you bag a bargain.
Check out our Wine Discount Finder to find the biggest discount or cheapest crate at Tesco Wine, M&S, Majestic and Slurp. We also list codes to save you more.
Sniff out cheap perfumes and smell-a-likes
Forget department stores for perfume. A whole bunch of specialist online sellers offer it for a fraction of the price.
Better still, buy the even cheaper unboxed bottles, then get a pretty box and wrapping for a couple of quid. This way, gift recipients think you went to extra effort, but actually you saved extra cash. Read the Cheap Perfumes guide for full help.
Also see the Great 'smell-a-like perfumes' hunt, where MoneySavers have sniffed out some dirt-cheap dead ringers for posh perfumes available to buy online and in-store. They say Next's Just Pink smells like Ralph Lauren Romance, while M&S True Red is similar to Hugo Boss Deep Red.
Check out the Health and Beauty MoneySaving board for other forumites' suggestions to bag goods at bargain prices.
Know your rights with online glitches
Mistakes can and do happen, especially in the fast-paced internet world, and there can be some right whoppers online. If a £50 brand new iPad seems too good to be true, it usually is. See Martin's blog: Tesco scores second own goal.
With these kind of offers where items are listed well below their RRP, you can't force retailers to sell them to you at that price. Retailers don't have to sell anything to you if they don't want to. (Deliberately misleading you is criminal though and Trading Standards can investigate.)
If you spot a mis-priced mistake, you can try your luck. E-tailers will sometimes honour it if the price difference isn't too big.
Just be aware that if you do order a glitchy item, it can get cancelled, can run out of stock or at the worst, you'll be charged full-price, so weigh up these factors before going for it.
Planning to buy something at Boots? Wait for bonus points weekends
With Boots, it's all about the timing. The Advantage card gives four points for every pound you spend (worth 4p). It doesn't always make Boots* the cheapest, but there are times to take advantage of your Advantage card.
Boots often runs bonus points weekends giving, for example, 1,000 extra points on a £50 spend in-store and online, especially around Christmas. So look out for these if you're doing a big shop.
If Boots advertises extra points when you buy any product from a particular range, the points' value is sometimes worth more than the cost of the product. In fact, sometimes the store even PAYS YOU to take it away.
For example, it once advertised 500 points (worth £5) with selected fragrances. As cologne water cost £4.39, you could have got it free and made a 61p PROFIT.
Always spend gift cards as soon as possible
If you've received gift cards or vouchers, use them as soon as possible to avoid losing out.
There are three reasons you should use them as soon as you can:
Sometimes retailers go bust. A host of big-name retailers have gone into administration in recent years (including HMV, Comet and Jessops). When this happens, they stop accepting gift cards altogether. See our Gift Voucher Warning.
Gift cards have expiry dates. Most gift cards must be redeemed within a certain amount of time, so make sure you spend them before time runs out.
You could forget or lose 'em. There's also a chance you may forget to use them if you don't do it as soon as possible. Or you could lose them, or accidentally run them through the wash if you happen to leave them in your pocket. For more info see our Gift Card and Vouchers guide .
Scan barcodes in shops, then order online
The eBay barcode scanner app RedLaser is great if you're out and about and spot a potential purchase. We're not fans of impulse buys, but if there's something that catches your eye, it'll help make sure you get it at the cheapest price possible.
Harnessing the power of the web on your phone, you scan the barcode of the items and it'll tell you straightaway if you can get the same product cheaper online.
Beat Amazon's delivery charges
In May, Amazon doubled the min spend for free delivery so you've now got to fork out £20 to qualify. It's double the effort, but you can still beat it...
An Amazon Prime trial* (usually £79/year) gets Prime newbies a month's pass for free delivery (though a few previous triallists may also be offered another trial). To check, log into your account, follow the link and see if it says "try Amazon Prime free". See the Cheap Amazon guide for the full info.
Make sure you cancel before the month's up or
you'll be automatically be charged £79/year. We've heard load of complaints from people who've been charged for Amazon Prime without knowing why. For more, see the Been charged for unwanted Amazon Prime? MSE news story.
Another tip is if you don’t need the items desperately, consider waiting until you want to order enough to get the free delivery.
Reclaim costs for failed delivery
It's enough to make you fume. You've been told you need to be in for a delivery and take a day off work but end up twiddling your thumbs because they're either hours late or don't bother turning up at all.
Yet you CAN fight back if you know your rights. You may even be able to force compensation for the lost time.
See the Delivery Rights guide to make sure you're armed with the full info.
Bogus websites are often set up to cash in on popular products such as iPads and Tiffany necklaces, so be wary if you're shopping on an unfamiliar site. And don't think that because it appears on a reputable search engine, that makes it a reputable site - always check.
Nothing is perfect, and there are flaws in all of the methods below, but in general it helps if you follow these quick tips:
Look for a padlock sign and "https". Most folks know to look for a security padlock on a website's bottom right, but that doesn't mean the site's legit, just that payment's secure. When making a payment, the "http" should appear as "https" so you know it's secure.
Is it a registered UK company? To find out who registered a UK site and when, search the Whois database. Reputable limited firms (not sole traders) should also appear on the Companies House site, the UK Government's official companies register. Be very wary of businesses with just a PO Box or email address.
Google for feedback. The internet's a powerful way to hunt out other consumers' experiences. Easiest of all, do a quick Google search for the company name next to the word 'complaints', eg, "Delboy Ltd complaints" and look for trends and feedback.
Press releases, newspapers & comparison sites. Again Googling the product or site could bring up press releases on its launch, plus online newspaper stories could give you a good indication whether it's safe to use. When using comparison sites, does it appear in searches?
- Is its web ranking decent? Study the site's worldwide web ranking on Alexa. Anything in the top 100,000 means it's reasonably big - a good, though not foolproof, indication of legitimacy.
Understand sometimes there's no protection. Ultimately, there's always a risk that a company can go bust and sometimes you have to make a judgement call on whether you're willing to take the risk of parting with your cash.
Don't be overly scared by all this. Every day we all make transactions based on trust, and this is part of that.
Always read the terms and conditions
We're not denying they're boring, long or full of convoluted business-speak, but the T&Cs are important - that little tick-box confirming you've read, understood and accepted them could be a deal-breaker later if things go awry.
See MSE Wendy's blog, I read the T&Cs and was pleasantly surprised, which highlights the importance of reading through the small print.
Even if you don't read the legalese, always at least read the standard terms and conditions before you pay to know exactly what is included and excluded in the exchange. Plus, always ask questions beforehand if there's anything you don't understand, in writing or by email if possible, before you seal the deal.
Buy the cheapest Kindles, iPads and more
MSE is a massive site giving you tips and tricks to cut your shopping costs, and that includes special deals on big brand items.
E-readers The Cheap Kindles and e-book readers guide features a rundown of the cheapest electronic reading gadgets, plus lists how you can get a stash of books for free..
iPads Top of the gadget wishlist, iPads aren't MoneySaving by anyone's definition. But if you must have one, our Cheap iPads guide lists the best and cheapest ways to get your hands on one.
Perfumes The Cheap Perfume guide shows the best deals currently available on big name fragrances, plus tips for finding the best value even when they're not on sale.
Haggle online via online chats & more shopping secrets
Spot a window offering a live chat with a help person? Don't dismiss it - you can haggle via online chat to reduce the price.
Our 13 Tricks Shops Don't Want You To Know guide features this and other insider tricks from the retail world to help you slice down the cost of clothes, electricals and much, much more.
Score £30 in online vouchers by playing credit card freebies
You can perform a legal smash and grab raid on credit card companies.