How to Shop Online Like an Expert

The head of explains how to get the best deals -- and free shipping.

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More shoppers are turning to comparison websites to help them locate the best deals before making any purchases. Ron LaPierre, president of the site, spoke to me just as the first numbers from Black Friday were coming in. He shared the season's hottest trends as well as his tips.

What have you noticed so far in terms of how people are shopping this year?
The first trend is not a surprise. 71 percent of people responding to our survey said they would be spending less this season. But of those people, 55 percent said they would be spending a majority of their budgets online. Last year, it was 45 percent, so that’s a big shift.

What explains that shift?

It has to do with $4.50 gas. People started to examine their routines. Also, people are more aware of the comparison shopping sites. If 71 percent of people are spending less money, then it’s more important than ever to get every ounce of value they can. We’ve seen people doing more research on our site this year and spending more time on the consumer-generated product reviews. People are doing their homework and making sure each purchase is the one they want. What kinds of products are people shopping for?

Historically, consumer electronics like flat screens and digital cameras have been our sweet spot, and they still are our most popular products, but we did see demand for practical items, too. About 42 percent of our survey respondents said they’d be traveling less, and 34 percent said they’d be spending more time together in their home. Two-thirds said they be giving more practical gifts, defined as money, gift cards, and other necessities.

We’re seeing the biggest increases in traffic in games and puzzles, which is about 226 percent, arts and craft supplies, toasters and other small appliances, and fireplaces and accessories -- all things used around the house. It’s about what we need this year, as opposed to what we want.

What were the most popular products on Black Friday?

We saw a resurgence in tech and electronic products -- in the top 20 products, everything except for two pairs of women’s Ugg boots were in that core category -- digital cameras, flat screen televisions, GPS units, laptops, video game consoles. Manufacturers have been aggressive in marking down those items. Are retailers also pricing aggressively?

It does seem like they are. For Blu-Ray DVD players, on Wednesday, the average price for products clicked on was $285. On Friday, it was $221. That’s 22 percent price change in two days. Digital cameras were similar -- the average price was $518 on Wednesday and $443 on Friday, so a 14 percent decrease. It’s a combination of retailers being more aggressive and also what consumers are searching for -- on Friday, consumers were interested in lower-priced digital cameras and Blu-Ray players. Where can people get the best deals now?

It’s important for consumers to know they’ve got a great deal on consumer electronic products, because so many merchants are selling the same camera. For other things, like a black oxford, it’s totally different at different stores. In our research, we found that 45 percent of people who responded indicated they would only purchase online this year if the product had free shipping. That made us go back and look at how many free shipping offers we have. We found we had free shipping on 6 million products, so to make it easier, we created a separate section on our site so consumers can go directly to a page of products with free shipping. also provided the following information:

The top five products searched for on on Black Friday:

  • Nintendo Wii Console
  • Ugg Australia 'Classic Short' Boot
  • Sony BDP-S350 1080p Blu-Ray Disc Player
  • Samsung LN52A650 52" LCD TV
  • Nintendo Wii Fit
  • The top five categories for growth over last year:

    • Women's Boots – 203%
    • Watches – 202%
    • Blu-ray/HD-DVD Players – 147%
    • Women's Sleep & Lounge Wear – 415%
    • Games & Puzzles -- 151%