How To Spot a Genuinely Great Online Offer

Don't get ripped off. Train yourself to identify things that will actually save you money.
January 15, 2021
9 mins read

Unsurprisingly, 2020’s festive season was particularly hectic for ecommerce businesses. People who’d been dealing with lockdowns for most of the year were eager to make Christmas feel special somehow, and many weren’t able to meet up with their relatives as they normally would. Stuck at home, what else could they do with their additional free time and resources but buy?

Pitted against sparse competition, retail therapy is even more enticing — and while the classic shopping experience wasn’t on the table, the internet marketplace presented a solid alternative. Every retailer touted incredible deals that could deliver some much-needed cheer, and shoppers were all too happy to seize them.

Isn’t this a win-win? You can argue that rampant materialism is environmentally irresponsible, yet it’s true that all parties involved were happy with their decisions. But were those decisions rational? Many factors motivate our decisions to buy, and value is just one of them. When we’re in the mood to spend money, we’re remarkably easy to fool.

Consider just how many of the incredible deals you see mentioned online are nothing of the sort. Reductions said to be unprecedented are actually very common. Products said to be in short supply are widely available, the scarcity being wholly artificial.

So how do you spot an online offer that’s genuinely compelling? In this post, we’re going to set out some handy tips. Let’s get started.

For services, look at trustworthy independent reviews

Because no two services are exactly the same, it’s difficult to focus on directly comparing two service providers. You won’t have enough knowledge or context to figure out which claims should be believed, which elements are important and which brands are the most reliable. Instead, you should take advantage of the existence of independent industry experts.

If you’ve ever happened upon a service roundup, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Someone with a comprehensive understanding of a specific niche will offer extensive breakdowns of the brands in that niche, making it easier for people lacking that understanding to check that the offers they’re finding so tempting are actually worthy of their attention.

The more costly a niche can prove, the more important it is to delve into the specifics. Take a business that falls into the YMYL category (your money or your life) like gambling. The best slot sites all make extravagant claims about what they bring to the table, but there’s so much on the line that you can’t just trust them. A comprehensive overview of popular slot sites from a trusted third party like Online Casinos, on the other hand, can provide you with relevant context.

And then there’s health care, an industry that’s changed radically in the last year. With hospitals full of COVID-19 sufferers and pharmacies struggling to operate as usual, many people need to buy their medical treatments online — but the threat there is even higher. Buy from a sketchy pharmacy and you can risk your life, not just your finances. If you see a treatment you need for a bargain price, do some research first. Sites like Verywell Health rate various pharmacies; you can use their insight to figure out what sets the best options apart.

For products, look at current and historic price tracking

When you’re shopping for products, it’s much easier to figure out how good offers are — or at least that’s the case when you’re looking at known quantities. If you’re looking for an iPad, for instance, then every new tablet is going to be the same. The main difference will be in the pricing, so you need to know if a given discount is actually notable.

The first thing you should do is look at other sellers that don’t currently have live offers on what you’re looking at. How big is the difference? If it’s only marginal, then the significance depends on the type of product. Some items have nearly-fixed prices, while others vary massively from month to month (often in predictable ways).

The next step is to look at price trackers to see how the cost of the product you’re looking at has changed over time. There are plenty of these services around, more geared toward Amazon in particular (such as Keepa) but some looking at retail sites in general. Is the offer that great? If the price was substantially lower at a fairly recent point, then it’s clearly not particularly special.

Read the fine print and consider all relevant factors

The words “free shipping” reliably attract shoppers, but the cost of the shipping is often absorbed into the cost of the item. This is why you can’t just go by way in which an offer is framed. Sometimes sellers will pointedly omit sales taxes or VAT to make something sound cheaper than it really will be, or tack on extra costs elsewhere.

Look very closely at the product description before you buy something and review the shipping costs. You might find that the “free shipping” takes far too long, and you’ll need to pay a substantial price to get decent shipping that would be much cheaper on another site.

You should also think about compatibility, because this is something that holds a lot of importance when you’re looking at products like DIY tools. A cordless drill might seem like a great buy, but it might use an awkward proprietary battery system that will cost you heavily if you invest in it — and what if you need a part replaced? One of the reasons why people generally choose familiar brands is that getting replacement parts is easier for tools from top companies because the demand is so much higher.

Think about ROI and/or value retention over time

How much are you going to use whatever you’re looking to buy? We’re all prone to making bad choices and buying things we quickly forget about. You might decide to grab an air fryer because it’s on offer, for instance, but never actually bother using it. In that scenario, it wasn’t a good offer for you because it ultimately lost you value.

You also need to think about value retention, particularly if you’re buying something that you might want to resell one day. This is a big deal for laptops. It’s often worth spending a little more to get a laptop with great build quality so you can get more for it when you trade up. Even if an item on offer looks great, there’s no guarantee it won’t break down just after the warranty period.

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