Retailers have been hit hard by the slower economy, with sales still sluggish as the country works toward a recovery. Online retailers are bucking this trend, however, with online sales up 13.6% since last year. Without the overhead that brick-and-mortar stores have, online retailers are able to offer bigger discounts and lower prices in general. Bargain shoppers have figured out the best deals are on the web. Here are six ways you too can save big by shopping online. (For more background, read Profiting From A Consumerless Recovery.)
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  1. Compare Prices and Reviews
    In the past, price comparing meant spending the day driving all over town, looking for the best deal going store to store. When shopping online, you can compare prices from the comfort of your home and even get websites to compare prices for you. Search engines like Smarter.com, Pricegrabber.com, Amazon.com and Bizrate.com will not only give you the best price, they'll often tell you how much shipping will set you back, and how the vendor is rated in customer service. You can even get customer reviews on the product you're considering; for reviews by professionals, try ConsumerReports.org, and CNET.com for your electronics purchases.

  2. Find Discount Codes
    Are you getting the best deal possible? Before you buy that product, do a quick search for discount code; a simple search with your vendor name, like "Target coupon code," will get you the results you need. If you're just browsing for deals, try sites like Couponcraze.com, Couponmountain.com or Currentcodes.com; most allow you to search alphabetically or by category. Many vendors will offer you a one-time, first-time customer discount if you sign up for their email list - a great way to save, if you don't mind the emails. (Find out more, in Coupon Shopping: Clip Your Way To Savings.)

  3. Look for Free Shipping
    Consider all of that gas you're burning, driving to buy that item you want. You can save the fuel and the time by shopping online - plus, many vendors offer free shipping to sweeten the deal. For some items, like furniture and other bulky things that you would otherwise have to pay your brick-and-mortar retailer to deliver, this can mean big savings. Just make sure that the price of the item isn't inflated to accommodate the shipping cost.

  4. Unite and Save
    Larger groups of people are often offered discounts. Now, there's a way to do this online: Groupon.com sends out daily (local) deals for anything from restaurant gift cards at half the price, to entertainment and lodging deals. If enough people sign up for the deal, you get a substantial group discount.

  5. Auction
    Most people are familiar with eBay, and how you can bid on items to get a lower price. But there are many other auction sites, like Ubid.com and Overstock.com, where you can get a bargain by bidding online. One word of caution: it's very easy to get caught up in the bidding process and overpay. To make sure you don't get lost in the frenzy; make sure you're bidding on an item you truly want, and set a price limit beforehand.

  6. Print Coupons
    The Sunday paper isn't the only place to get coupons anymore. You can now print them on your computer, and bring them in to the store. Sites like Coupons.com will let you print coupons with barcodes to cut your grocery bill; just check with your grocery store to make sure they accept printed coupons. Signing up at your favorite store's website will often get you coupons, too - World Market, for instance, has an extensive customer loyalty plan, sending discount coupons right to your email inbox. (Learn how to live within your means, in 6 Months To A Better Budget.)

The Bottom Line
Still hesitant to shop online? Even if you're not buying on the net, web browsing is a smart way to do your research, from comparing prices to checking if your local store has the item you want in stock. Sometimes the website of your local store has your purchase at a lower price than advertised in the store, in which case they'll likely match the price. Whether you're buying online or not, with these tips, the web is your superhighway to big savings.

Catch up on your financial news; read Water Cooler Finance: A Diving Dow And Rotting Eggs.

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