-- Coupon-dot-this and deal-dot-that.
There will be no shortage of places for shoppers to find purported bargains on products that are allegedly stellar this holiday season. But how many are the lowest price or a good deal at any price?
If that's not the million-dollar question this holiday season, it will at least be the $499.99 one.
Coupons are king already this holiday season: Searches using coupon-related terms were up 119% last week when compared with the same week last year, says Web-tracking company Experian Hitwise.
There are more than 10,000 "deals" being touted online by retailers every day, says Dan de Grandpre, CEO of the electronics-focused website DealNews. While some are from stores that offer a different mediocre discount every day, some are on products that are deeply discounted.
Comparing prices should always be part of the process. But it's better to start by deciding on a few products or brand names than to pick based on price.
Once you decide, however, you'll need to leave some wiggle room. Sometimes you can find a great bargain on a product you never considered. And it's never been easier to find out if that unbelievable price really is a great deal. So, keep your smartphone handy.
How to make sure you're getting a good price:
•Check price-comparison sites, such as PriceGrabber and Shopzilla, to get a more manageable number of prices on products than you'll get with a Google Product Search.
But comparison sites are probably not casting as wide a net as you'd think: You typically get prices only from stores they have contracts with. They make money on a "pay per click" model — the more people check out a company's product, the more money they make — and by selling stores the right to have their merchandise displayed.
•Consider sites that aggregate all available deals and then edit them down to the best. DealNews and BradsDeals.com call themselves deal curators because their computers and staff members decide what are the best prices on good products at reputable retailers. PriceGrabber says it includes merchant ratings to help consumers weed out potentially sketchy stores.
•Remember to ask for a price match. Several major retailers, including Walmart, Target, Home Depot and Staples, now offer price matching. Joanie Demer, aka The Krazy Coupon Lady, recommends shopping with newspaper ad circulars so you have proof.
•Find online coupon codes that apply discounts when you check out. Demer likes RetailMeNot.com for ones that haven't expired.
Now that consumers are doing comparison shopping on price — whether at home or in stores with their mobile devices — retailers are making it more difficult.
What to watch out for:
•Discounters and electronics stores will certainly have some incredible prices on TVs this season, especially on Black Friday. Some of the sale prices, including at Walmart and Fry's, will be on TVs or other electronics with brand or model names that aren't even listed in ads.
"Steer clear" of such promotions, says Paul Reynolds, electronics editor for Consumer Reports. You need to know it's a good-quality TV before you fall for the price, he says.
•The world's largest retailer is also starting to get its own unique model number for the same-brand TVs with the same specifications and sizes as those sold at other retailers. Brad Wilson, founder of BradsDeals, notes, "You can't find a better price because, in reality, Walmart is the only one that has that model number."
•Other prices at big-box discounters will likely be on models or at retailers you'd be hard-pressed to find a good review on. Look for both store and product ratings.
"The challenge increasingly isn't 'Am I getting a deal?' It's 'Am I getting the best deal, in the shortest amount of time, and do I trust the process?'" Wilson says.