When most people think of online shopping, two names usually spring to mind: Amazon and eBay. While these websites are by no means the only places to shop online, they are two of the most utilized shopping sources on the web. However, there are a handful of ways to maximize the number of items you can purchase while minimizing the impact on your checking account.
Compare prices on Amazon and take advantage of free shipping offers. See what will cost you less: a used copy of an item from an independent seller (including shipping), or the new copy directly from Amazon with the free shipping offer? There are loads of titles (in various types of media) available for sale there for a single penny. Sounds awesome, right? The thing is that Amazon will charge you at least $3.99 for shipping per item (which is garbage because Media Mail is only about $2.00-$3.00 per item) unless you meet their minimum price requirement for free shipping. This is even if you arrange for your items to be sent out in as few shipments as possible.
Don't immediately rule out newer items either, as many of them carry a free shipping offer. You could get a copy of your favorite movie on DVD for four dollars in "acceptable" condition with an additional $3.99 shipping charge, or you could get a brand new copy for five dollars and possibly not have to pay shipping costs if you decide to buy a few more goodies.
Currently, Amazon requires buyers to have $49.00 worth of eligible items in their shopping carts in order to qualify for free shipping (or $25.00 for just books). So if you only want one or two low-cost items, getting the second-hand items and paying the shipping would likely be the wiser choice. But if you intend to buy a bunch of stuff, like say for the holidays, that free shipping option can be a major money saver. A $3.99 shipping cost might not seem like a big deal, but when it's applied to every single item you want to buy and you've got ten items in your cart, that's nearly 40 dollars you're throwing away just on getting your items to your door. As said, $3.99 is the minimum shipping cost for each Amazon item. It can easily be higher depending on what you're ordering.
Be sure to read the conditions and descriptions of items on Amazon to determine if the condition justifies the cost, or if you could get something better for a similar, slightly higher or even *lower* price. There are many items on Amazon where a used copy is more expensive than a new copy, for some reason. The exact same book could be available in "acceptable" condition and "like new" condition from different sellers and be priced the same. If you're okay with second-hand items, make sure you take a moment or two to find out which one is right for your preferences and your wallet.
Amazon isn't the only place you can get books or movies from. Check eBay too, as both item prices and shipping costs can be lower.
If you purchase more than one item from the same seller, ask them if they would be willing to combine shipping so you don't need to pay to ship your orders separately (most sellers will ship everything in a single parcel).
Don't limit yourself to just eBay either. Use Google Shopping to compare prices from several sites (which can include Amazon and eBay) and you may easily find what you need at an even lower price on another less-popular website.
As a small aside, do take a moment to ensure that any lesser-known sites you're perusing have a good reputation. Places like Dhgate.com are known to sell knock-offs and refuse to offer refunds. Look for user reviews from buyers on lesser-known sites to make sure you aren't going to be throwing your money away.
When shopping on eBay, you can sort your search results from lowest-priced to highest-priced, which will include the shipping costs. The default search setting is "Best Match," meaning the items closest to the top of the results are the most relevant to your search criteria, which can also mean they're more expensive. Sort items by price range (lowest price + shipping) and you might find a better deal. For example, let's say you want to buy a particular scarf, and when you search for it on eBay, you get one result that costs $20.00 and has free shipping, but another result for the exact same item has a price tag of $18.00 with a $3.99 shipping charge. The actual price of the first one is higher, but the total cost is lower compared to the second option, which will add an additional four dollars onto your invoice. If you sort results from lowest-priced to highest-priced, the $20 one would be closer to the top of the results page because shipping is factored in for you.
Also, eBay lets you sort search results by location, condition and size/brand (if applicable) for an even more specific shopping experience.
Unless you need an item in a big hurry, you can always save money by choosing cheaper shipping methods. Sometimes, there may not be a choice and you have to pick Priority shipping for a heavy item. If a cheaper way to ship your order is a possibility, contact the seller and ask if they'd be willing to offer it. This being said, please note that economy shipping options usually mean a longer delivery time. Nobody really wants to wait too long for their orders, but in this case, a little patience can save you a few bucks. If you need your item right this second, then consider Priority or Express shipping options.
Place bids on eBay instead of making immediate purchases. Depending on what item you're looking for, you may be able to get it at a lower price via auction. Enter the amount of money you're willing to pay for the item and let the auction run its course. However, if the cost gets close to or over that of another listing for the same item with a Buy It Now option, you'll be better off just buying it immediately. Generally speaking, eBay sellers will put items they know will attract a lot of attention up for auction with low starting prices. This way, buyers can fight over the item via bidding and potentially make the seller more money than if they just sold the item directly.
Check for coupons or promotional codes online, regardless of what site you're shopping on. Unfortunately, Amazon and eBay don't offer too many discount codes, but you may have better luck using them on other sites. Be sure to compare Amazon/eBay prices with those from other sites that offer discounts. If you're wondering where to get these codes from, RetailMeNot.com is a great online source of deals, coupons and promo codes for hundreds of thousands of stores.
Some of the tips listed above will make at least a few people go, "Well, duhhhh!", but you'd be surprised how many folks will just buy the item they want from the very first link they click on. Shopping around like this is like coupon clipping: yes, it can be a little time-consuming to crunch prices from several stores or sites, but it can save you money if you're willing to be patient.