TECH COLUMN | Online shopping requires more careful price research

How do you usually buy your technology? Today, the answer is increasingly becoming “online.”

Online retailers such as Amazon.com have become some of the top vendors of consumer technology. From cell phones to TVs to video game consoles, today’s consumer is turning to the Internet for easy and comprehensive fact-gathering, for the convenience of staying at home, for more freedom when comparing similar products, and, often, for cheaper prices. Brick-and-mortar stores like Best Buy are slowly becoming used as test drive facilities, where consumers can try the products before ultimately buying them for less online.

But with the aggressive price cuts for which consumer technology is known, how do you know you’re getting the best price online? Traditionally, one would pour over competing stores’ circulars to find the best price for the product one is most interested in purchasing. The online marketplace, however, has dozens and dozens of retailers. It is often impossible to check them all to find the best deal. Often, after choosing a product, the average consumer will just buy in on the manufacturer’s Web site, which may not offer the best price.

For example, those interested in purchasing a Macintosh computer may decide to take advantage of the Apple education discount at Apple.com, which offers as much as $200 off. But Amazon.com and MacMall.com may offer better prices. For example, the cheapest aluminum 13-inch MacBook is $1,249.00 at Apple.com, with the education discount. However, after tax, the price jumps up to $1,323.94. At MacMall.com, the exact same computer is over a hundred dollars cheaper: $1,215.99 after shipping costs and a mail-in rebate. If mail-in rebates aren’t your thing, Amazon.com offers the same model for $1,268.98 and free shipping, a $55 discount on the final Apple.com price.

Again, with the appropriate research, it’s possible to find much cheaper prices online. But the MacBook example isn’t truly indicative of the process. Apple strictly controls the retail price of its hardware, so there are only a few sellers to research. For products like hard drives and RAM, it’s much more difficult to find the best deal online due to the wide variety of both manufacturers and retailers.

Google Shopping is a great place to start. The ability to sort by price allows the consumer a way to compare prices instantly for a given product. Often, this allows you to decide which specific product is the cheapest in its family. But Google Shopping frequently fails to report the key to finding the best deal: rebates.

That’s where BensBargains.net comes into play. One of many similar sites that feature links user-submitted deals, it takes advantage of its community of Internet users to provide a comprehensive, up-to-date list of the cheapest technology available. Recent bargains include three 4 GB SD cards for $9 and an Acer netbook for $242. By taking advantage of its community, BensBargains.net essentially crowd-sources the process of researching for the best price. All you have to do, as the end user, is click and purchase.

The bottom line is this: There is no reason to buy any piece of technology for the manufacturer’s suggested price. Almost every gadget or computer hardware on the market is available for a lower price online — it’s just a matter of finding it.

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