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After yet another record-breaking Black Friday online, retailers are looking to keep the momentum going this week with a flurry of new Cyber Monday deals.
The notion of an e-commerce counterpart to the post-Thanksgiving shopping spree has become somewhat antiquated at a time when more consumers than ever now do their shopping online anyway.
Nevertheless, stores will take whatever excuse they can get to drum up a shopping holiday. And with businesses from small online boutiques to big-box stores looking to get a piece of the action, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
Overall convenience aside, shopping online can sometimes make it harder to evaluate barrages of bargains without the intuitive store displays and fixed prices of physical retail spaces. Algorithms skew the products you see. Prices fluctuate. Dozens of competing sites are always a click away.
Never fear, though. Here’s a quick guide to navigating the sea of sales this Cyber Monday:
Price comparison tools
Don’t let sometimes-misleading markdowns lure you into assuming that the price being slashed is the going rate elsewhere. Browser extensions and websites like Shoptimate, PriceBlink, and dozens of others will pull prices on a given product from major retailers around the web to stack up deals against one another.
These tools are especially important for hot holiday gift items that stores are keen to discount. An Instant Pot pressure cooker, for instance, was one of the top sellers on Amazon this Black Friday, according to Wikibuy. But certain models of the appliance had dropped even lower in price on Ebay Monday, thanks to the site’s own promotions.
Always check price history
Another essential tool in assessing whether a deal is everything it’s advertised to be is price history data. Retailers usually advertise discounts around list prices supplied by the vendor of a given item. But in some cases, the store hasn’t actually charged that price in months or even years and the item’s average going price is much lower.
Amazon and other retailers have even landed in hot water with government regulators for this practice.
But programs like Wikibuy and CamelCamelCamel can cut through that noise with information on how a given product’s price has fluctuated on the site in the past. They can also let you tag certain items to get alerts when the price drops.
While Amazon has maintained that it doesn’t employ demand-based surge pricing, it does use an opaque pricing algorithm that factors in all kinds of attributes to adjust price tags. Reports from Wikibuy and others have found that Amazon prices tend to vary across location and throughout different times of day.
Automatic coupon clippers
Cyber Monday savings are sometimes reliant on coupons meant to incentivize customer loyalty. Tools like Honey and Wikibuy will ensure you don’t miss this potential by automatically supplying promo codes that have been used on a particular site and testing them on a product page.
The codes may be expired or specific to another product — the success rate is relatively low on many sites — but on the off-chance that it does provide an extra discount, the minimal effort required is worth it.
Beware of bundles
Some retail pricing algorithms have been found to drop prices on certain items during big rush periods only to raise those of products commonly bought alongside the discounted item—for instance, an HDMI cord and a television.
Sometimes the convenience factor of buying these items in the same haul can outweigh price considerations, but comparing prices on every piece of a package deal can sometimes save a few extra dollars.
Customer reviews are not always what they seem
It’s a well-known fact that businesses have tried to game customer review systems with phony entries and other fraudulent means, but there are also perfectly above-board ways in which customer reviews might be skewed.
Some positive testimonials are syndicated across multiple sites, others are sponsored by the seller to appear more prominently, and more are solicited through discount or rebate incentives. Retailers are usually required to disclose these types of practices, but the labels can be easy to miss.
Sites like ReviewMeta and Fakespot can help filter out suspicious reviews and adjust a product’s overall rating accordingly.