Bad economy or not, smart shoppers are always looking for an easy way to save a buck or two. If you’ve heard of this thing called the Internet (and you must have because you’re reading this blog), then you probably know one of the best ways to save money (and time) is to make your product purchases online. Online shopping makes it easy and simple to find exactly what you want, and to get it for a cheaper price.
Why does online shopping save you so much money? One of the major reasons is because it’s so easy to search for the same item offered by different merchants: stores can no longer expect that once you’re there, you’ll buy from them; so they have to sell items at highly competitive prices or employ other sales tactics such as price matching to keep you from purchasing elsewhere.
You can take advantage of this new climate of transparent, competitive pricing by using online price comparison shopping services. As you can see from the list below, a large number of sites offer an interface and search engine that allow you to search hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of different merchants at once, finding you the best price in town or the entire galactic. Some sites even leverage the power of the crowds (crowdsourcing) to find you the best price around (a.k.a. “social shopping”).
So to make the most of your money, we recommend that use one of the price-comparison sites below next time you go to buy something. And pass the word along to the self-anointed shopping genius in your family that he or she doesn’t need to waste time driving around to 15 different stores to find the best price anymore. Just fire up the Internet instead.
AllBookStores.com — Need a new or used book or college textbook? Self-proclaimed as the “world’s greatest place to buy books,” this site compares prices at 34 different online book retailers, including Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, to get you the best deal.
BeatThat.com — Community-driven site where users are paid to find better deals. The site guarantees the lowest prices for its products (camcorders, digital cameras, GPS devices, printers, TVs, and MP3 players), or it’ll pay you for alerting the site to a better deal. Product stores are rated green/yellow/red based on their customer service and track record of delivering what they promise, so try to buy from only the green-rated stores.
Become.com — Allows you to shop from over 25 million products and 5,000 stores, and to conduct product research (product reviews, buying guides, and other shopping advice) from 5.6 billion shopping-related web pages. This site is a complete portal to search, decide, and purchase what you want. Here are some shopping categories in which you can search for cheap prices on this site: automotive; electronics; baby; flowers & gifts; books, music & movies; health & beauty; business & office; home & garden; clothing & accessories; jewelry & watches; cameras; sports & outdoors; computers & software; and toys & video games.
BestBuyAll.com — This site offers a software download that searches other price-comparison sites (such as mySimon, DealTime, CNET, Pricewatch, Walmart, Yahoo, Google, Amazon.com, MSN, PriceSCAN, and others) simultaneously so you can find the cheapest price. There are two versions of this software: a free version and a Pro version for $29.95.
BizRate.com — One of the most popular sites on this list, BizRate is known for its merchant review services: search for a merchant (such as Amazon.com) and see what users have to say about the company. The site also offers price-comparison shopping, among other shopping tools. Here are some shopping categories in which you can search for cheap prices on this site: babies & kids; clothing & accessories; computers & software; electronics; health & beauty supplies; home & garden; furniture; jewelry & watches; sports & outdoors; toys & games; automotive; gifts, flowers & food; musical instruments & accessories; pet supplies; and video games.
BookFinder.com — Allows you to compare prices on over 150 million books (seriously?) for sale — new, used, rare, out-of-print, international, textbook, and signed — from booksellers in 50+ countries.
BookHQ.com — Obtains and compares book prices from multiple stores, and includes sales tax and shipping cost in the final price.
BottomDollar.com — This site aggregates a lot product items, and allows you to compare prices, rate products, and read reviews.
Bountii.com — Allows you to subscribe to a daily newsletter containing the best deals of the day. This site has an excellent design, and lets you know exactly how much you’re saving.
Calibex.com — Member of the NexTag family, this site allows you to search for items in hundreds of different categories: computers; electronics; video games; office products; books; baby; clothing & accessories; collectibles & art; flowers & plants; food & wine; gifts; health & beauty; home & garden; jewelry & watches; magazines; musical instruments; sports & outdoors; toys; accessories; parts; hotels; and more.
Ciao.com — Offering product reviews and price comparisons, this popular site has portals to different countries around the world.
Citibay.com — This site is more of a general Internet search engine than it is a product search engine; nevertheless, it does allow you to search for prices and tons of other categorical things.
Dealighted.com — This site has a powerful, customizable search engine that allows you to compare prices. (The site’s look and feel is very similar to Kayak.com). Dealighted also shows you the hottest deals around, which are either posted by site users (who can earn up to $300/mo. posting deals) or through a search filter that discovers the best deals from over 25 deal forums such as FatWallet.com.
Dealio.com — Offers a great list of coupons, deals, and price comparisons. Dealio also offers a toolbar to make bargain hunting a breeze.
DealTime.com — Displays most popular items of the day, and offers product reviews, store directory, and price comparisons.
DVDPriceSearch.com — Price-comparison site aimed specifically at DVD movies. Also offers coupons for DVD-related purchases.
Ebates.com — Different stores pay Ebates a finder’s fee commission, and Ebates shares that commission with you. In addition, Ebates gives you a gift just for signing up — a $10 gift certificate or $5 cash.
Expedia.com — Popular website destination for price-hunting travelers looking for the best prices on airfare, car rentals, hotel reservations, and more.
Froogle.Google.com — Froogle, which is Google’s search portal, provides a very simple and easy-to-use interface to find cheap prices on items all over the web.
Frucall.com — Frucall is an online price comparison shopping service for mobile phones. With Frucall, you can compare prices while you’re physically in stores by either: calling 1-888-DO-FRUCALL and entering the product’s barcode or ISBN; texting FRU11 with the product’s barcode, ISBN, or brand and model; or visiting www.frucall.com /m via your mobile browser. This site also includes social-networking features such as “buddy lists” and various shopping tools such as “price alerts.” Frucall’s service has potential uses, but I don’t recommend doing your price-comparison shopping while you’re actually at the store; do it beforehand so you know exactly which store offers the best price, thereby avoiding unnecessary travel.
Hawkee.com — Self-described as a “technology social network,” this site offers deals on technology-related items (computers, electronics, software, and video games). Also offers access to programming code and technology resources.
Hotels.com — Popular for its hotel reviews, Hotels.com allows you to find and compare hotel prices.
Hotwire.com — Allows you to price-hunt for the best travel deals, and to compare its prices with other sites like Expedia.
Jellyfish.com — Social-shopping service that allows users to set the selling price on items and try to bid on the purchase price. Check it out — it’s a unique way to shop.
Kayak.com — This well-known site allows you to compare airline ticket, hotel room, vacation package, cruise, and rental car prices using a robust search engine and intuitive interface. Kayak mines price data from over 100 travel sites. Sure beats visiting each one.
LendingTree.com — Allows you to solicit and compare the prices of financial products — such as personal and home loans — offered by a multitude of competing lenders.
Like.com — Visual-search engine that allows you to find and compare shoes, handbags, and more.
LivePersonalShoppers.com — This site provides free, live online shopping help. While it doesn’t offer a price-comparison search engine like the other sites on this list, Live Personal Shoppers does connect you with expert shoppers who can offer deal advice. Interesting.
MonsterMarketplace.com — This site offers a shopping search engine that features over 2.5 million products in a variety of shopping categories. It also provides shoppers valuable product details and price-comparison indexes, so you can effectively comparison shop in one, convenient location.
Mpire.com — This site allows you to shop, compare, research, and find the best prices and deals online from “the world’s best auction and retail sites” such as eBay, Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and more. It provides a handy price trend graph so you can see whether a product’s price is trending up or down, indicating when it’s a good or bad time to buy. The site also uses price graphs to show you whether you’re over- or under-paying for an item. (Coupons are available on the site as well.)
mySimon.com — One of the granddaddy’s of price-comparison sites, mySimon searches through thousands of vendors to find you the cheapest price possible.
NexTag.com — NexTag takes price-comparison shopping to the next level. In addition to allowing searches for different consumer products, you can also search for the best prices on mortgages, travel, degree programs, real estate, and more.
Octopart.com — This site offers a search engine for electronic parts. If you need a resistor or a capacitor, here’s the place to find it.
Orbitz.com — Orbitz compares hotel room, airline ticket, vacation package, cruise, and car rental prices.
Price.com — This site allows you to compare the best prices on the web, and also provides a vast repository of vendor ratings.
PriceAdvance.com — PriceAdvance is a toolbar for your web browser that automatically searches for cheaper prices on items while you’re shopping online. Whenever you’re looking at an item on any shopping site, PriceAdvance will let you know if the same item can be found cheaper at a different store.
PricingCentral.com — According to the site’s description, PricingCentral is a portal that indexes all the best price search engines and online shopping bots into a comprehensive directory to help you find the right price comparison shopping agents each time you shop. This allows you to quickly compare prices and find the lowest prices on anything, no matter what you’re looking for each time you shop.
PriceGrabber.com — In addition to price comparisons, this site offers reviews & ratings, rebates, and merchant coupons.
Priceline.com — Travel service that allows you to dictate your exact flights and times for substantial savings or “Name Your Own Price,” which can potentially save you even more.
PriceRunner.com — PriceRunner’s intuitive interface allows you to price-compare products easily. It also offers other shopping resources such as buying guides, coupons, and merchant rebates.
PriceSCAN.com — In addition to its price-comparison search, PriceSCAN allows you to view price trends, vendor ratings, and product ratings.
PriceSpider.com — This site provides a powerful search engine that constantly crawls over 100 online merchants to keep prices updated on a near real-time basis (no more than 30 minutes old).
Pricewatch.com — Focusing largely on technology products, this site has been providing a price-comparison service since 1995. In addition to your desktop browser, you can also access Pricewatch via your mobile phone.
PriceTool.com — Owned and operated by Epinions, PriceTool provides a comprehensive price-comparison service.
PriceV.com — PriceV offers an “unbiased” price-comparison service that helps you get the best and least expensive products and where to buy them.
Progressive.com — Allows you to compare auto insurance price quotes.
Pronto.com — This social-shopping site lets you search for items by navigating through different shopping categories. Pronto also allows you to create, maintain, and share your shopping lists.
Retrevo.com — This search aggregator provides consumer electronics reviews, manuals, guides, and prices.
SaveCrazy.com — This company’s singular mission is to save you money. Its price-comparison search engine and intuitive shopping-category navigation allows you to find the best prices on products from hundreds of online merchants. SaveCrazy.com also provides several other useful shopping tools, including a browser toolbar, coupon list, and article directory.
Search.Live.com/Cashback — Microsoft’s search portal offers a powerful search engine for prices and has a proprietary “cashback” program that lets you actually earn money by shopping through the site.
ShopLocal.com — This site allows you to search for products in specific cities. If you’re looking for deals and prices on items, but you want to be able to enter the store before making a decision, try this site out.
Shopper.CNET.com — CNET’s shopping portal allows you to run price-comparison searches for electronic and computer products.
Shopping.AOL.com — AOL’s shopping portal allows you to compare prices and provides oft-updated articles about shopping.
Shopping.com — Owned by eBay, Shopping.com offers price comparisons, product reviews (provided by Epinions), and online store reviews as well as a list of “hot” shopping items.
Shopping.Yahoo.com — Yahoo’s shopping portal lets you search by merchant or by brand and shows a specific deal of the day.
ShoppingAisles.com — Offers a basic interface, allowing you to compare prices from hundreds of different merchants.
ShoppingSpot.com — This site doesn’t offer a price-comparison search engine of its own, but it links to several others that do. Similarly, it links to sites that provide consumer opinions, product reviews, store ratings, and other shopping-related resources.
ShopWiki.com — Allows individual users to edit the results of searches, so much of the content is user-generated. I had some trouble with the search feature, however, so your mileage may vary.
Shopzilla.com — This site has been saving shoppers on prices since 1996. It receives over 10 million unique visitors per month. Shopzilla allows you to search for prices by keyword, popularity, and shopping category.
SmartCarFinder.com — This site helps you find the cheapest prices and best deals on new and used cars and trucks.
Smarter.com — In addition to price comparisons, this site also offers reviews, featured merchants, product videos, and deals on all sorts of items all over the web.
SmartHealthBuyer.com — Price comparison engine for health services — acupuncture, chiropractic, cosmetic surgery, dental, hypnotism, massage therapy, naturopathy, optical, and skin care — that allows you to read doctor reviews and compare treatments and prices. Covers over 300 metro areas in the U.S, including New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, Dallas, San Jose, Detroit, Indianapolis, and San Francisco. So if you need a good Botox price, give this site a spin.
Sortprice.com — Allows you to search products and compare prices from thousands of stores. You can search for prices by keyword, shopping category, or featured merchant.
StreetPrices.com — Lets you leave notes to yourself on your searches, so you can keep track of items you found and make a decision later.
TheFind.com — Offers a price-comparison search of online merchants, but also allows you to search for items from stores near you. Additionally, it shows a list of the most recent searches by other users on the site.
Travelocity.com — This popular site for bargain-hunting travelers allows you to get the best prices on airfare, car rentals, hotel reservations, and more.
Image credit: alexsl / iStockphoto
Chris Cairns contributed to this post.