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8 Ways to Be a More Empowered Consumer

Make better buying decisions with these shopping tips.

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Set your shopping budget before setting foot in a store, so you're not tempted to spend more.

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When it comes to finding the best prices and latest deals, consumers have more options than ever to make informed buying decisions. Social media, shopping apps and daily deal sites have made it easy for the average consumer to secure great deals on big-ticket items and comparison shop with just a few clicks. 

Whether you’re planning some big purchases or just want to maximize your hard-earned dollars, follow these suggestions to become a more empowered consumer.

1. Ask questions – lots of questions. If a salesperson in a store tells you about a deal, don’t automatically assume it’s the best deal available – after all, these people are paid to sell you products, not save you money. So, ask lots of questions. Is the offer exclusive to the store or also available online? In many cases, the online price is lower than the in-store deal, and you might even qualify for free shipping. Does the store offer price matching? If so, you might be able to do a simple search on your phone to find the product at a lower price, but get the price matched in the store you’re currently standing in. Finally, try to negotiate – depending on the store, you might be able to simply talk your way into a better deal.

2. Seek out Facebook and Twitter deals. Many companies have jumped onto the social media bandwagon to connect with customers. Head over to your favorite brand or company’s Facebook page and Twitter feed, and you might be able to secure special deals and offers available only to social media followers. 

3. Recognize the high-pressure sale. When you’re already in a buyer’s mindset and prepared to make a purchase that day, it can be very easy for a seasoned salesperson to talk you into paying more for something. Set your budget before you even set foot in the store so you aren’t pressured into buying an item – or several items – that you had no intention of bringing home. 

4. Inquire about price-matching services. Many stores offer price-matching services but don’t advertise that fact outright. If you are in the market for a big-ticket item and want to take your time to comparison shop, ask an employee if the store offers any type of price-matching options. Many retailers assume consumers are shopping around and will be happy to match a competitor’s price if it helps secure the sale. 

5. Use shopping apps. Shopping apps are becoming more sophisticated and accurate than ever, so don’t be afraid to use your smartphone to seek out the best price. Shopping apps like RedLaser and PriceGrabber let you scan products to compare prices from online retailers and brick-and-mortar stores nearby. You could also use a browser add-on like InvisibleHand to be automatically notified about lower prices on products, flights, hotels and rental cars. These tools can help you stay current on the latest deals and make better buying decisions – even at the last minute.

6. Review the return policy in detail. When you buy an item, make sure you are aware of the returns process and how long you have to receive a full refund (if you can at all). Keep in mind that some retailers such as electronics stores and high-end boutiques may charge a restocking fee, and some retailers only let you return items for store credit. If there’s a chance that might be a problem, don’t buy the product.

7. Don’t forget about daily deal sites. Many daily deal sites are expanding their options to include goods and products you might find in mail-order catalogs or on infomercials. If you’re shopping for items such as home décor, accessories, beauty tools or small electronics, don’t overlook the deals and specials available on these sites. Just make sure to read the fine print – many retailers that offer deals on these sites have some restrictions on the purchase and may charge separately for shipping.

8. Keep a price list. If there are certain things you buy frequently – for example, grocery items – keep a list (whether written or electronic) of the best price you’ve found for that item, and where you found it. That way, when you see the product on sale, you’ll know whether it’s actually a good price for that item or if it just seems like a good price because it’s on sale.