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Find out what is the best way to shop online, according to our poll of AstroSoar readers – plus we reveal AstroSoar‘s favourite cashback website, as voted for by you!
These days, shopping online is so much easier than having to tackle the crowds on the high street. Everything you need is in one place, and there’s no need to waste time and energy marching from one shop to the next.
But apart from saving you time and energy, did you know that shopping online can also save you money – or rather make you money? And that’s all thanks to the wonders of cashback websites.
So in an attempt to find out how many of you know what cashback websites are and how many of you use them on a regular basis, we surveyed AstroSoar readers! And here are the results…
Readers of AstroSoar are generally pretty financially savvy. But despite this, 33% of the 1,087 readers surveyed said they hadn’t even heard of “cashback websites”. Of those who had, 40% said they had never used one. When we asked why not, many of you (43%) said you didn’t understand how they worked, while around a quarter of you didn’t think cashback would be available on the products you buy. A further 7% of you didn’t think using a cashback website would save you any money, and just 3% of you didn’t see the benefit.
Well take it from me, cashback websites definitely do save you money if you shop online, because they allow you to earn money back for every purchase you make. All you have to do is use your chosen cashback website website as a gateway to all your online shopping.
How cashback websites work
I explain exactly how cashback websites work in this recent video: Cash in on cashback websites. I really recommend you watch it, as it’s by far the easiest way to get to grips with how they work.
But for the technophobes out there, here’s a written explanation: every time you want to make a purchase, you simply check to see if that particular retailer is listed on the cashback website, and if it is, click on the affiliate link shown. This will take you through to the retailer’s site, where you can make your purchase as usual.
So, you’re not actually buying the item from the cashback website itself, but your purchase will be tracked, using a cookie (which is sort of like a little note your web browser makes), and then linked back to the cashback site.
It’s this tracking cookie that earns you cashback. The retailer pays the cashback site for introducing you as a customer, and the cashback site passes that payment onto you.
If you’ve never looked at one before, have a browse of websites such as Quidco, TopCashBack, GreasyPalm, and Rpoints. All you have to do is choose which one you want to sign up to, register, and start shopping!
What you need to know
When choosing which cashback website to register with, have a good look at the terms and conditions of the site, as membership details can vary. For example, Quidco charges a £5 annual admin fee, which it claims by keeping the first £5 cashback earned. So if you don’t earn any cashback over 12 months, you don’t have to pay this fee.
More straightforwardly, however, TopCashBack, Rpoints, and GreasyPalm are all free to join.
And if you’re worried about whether you’ll be able to get cashback on the things you buy, don’t be! That’s because there’s a whole host of retailers listed on these websites. So whether you’re after CDs, DVDs, books, flowers, a new TV, a mobile phone, or clothes, you’re bound to find that you can earn cashback.
Some cashback websites will also allow you to earn cashback on the high street. Quidco, for example, launched a new scheme last week to allow customers to earn money back when you shop in-store at selected retailers. Stores taking part in the scheme include Austin Reed, Sports Direct, Halfords, and even Little Chef, Greene King Pubs and Cineworld.
All you have to do is register a valid debit or credit card and shop as normal with your registered card. Every time you shop in one of these retailers, you’ll receive cash back!
So for minimal effort, you can enjoy cash back on everything (or most things) you buy.
Your favourite cashback website
Generally speaking, Quidco offers the most competitive deals. And according to our poll, almost half of you (44%) said Quidco was your favourite cashback website. In second place came TopCashBack with just under a quarter of the votes (23%), and in third place came GreasyPalm with just 7% of the votes.
Overall, out of everyone who uses a cashback website, more than three-quarters of you (80%) said you were either very satisfied or fairly satisfied with the cashback service you’ve received. Only 6% of you said you were dissatisfied, and 14% were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.
What’s more, a whopping 66% of you said you would definitely recommend a cashback website to a friend, and 20% of you said you would probably recommend one to a friend. So I think this shows using a cashback website really is worth it.
Finally, we asked you whether you’d be more likely to shop with a retailer if it was offering a deal on a cashback website. And 37% of you said that yes, you definitely would, while 40% of you said yes you probably would.
So overall, it’s pretty clear that cashback websites can certainly influence how people shop. And they can also make shopping online much more rewarding.
If you do decide to join up to a cashback website, the following tips might come in handy:
- When buying an item, use a price comparison site such as Kelkoo or Sccope to find the best price. Then use your cashback website to see whether your chosen retailer is listed.
- Clear your cookies, as this one of the main reasons why cashback transactions fail to track. Quidco offers a step by step guideto ensure you don’t lose out on your cashback.
- Don’t navigate away from the page while you shop, or type in other addresses in your browser window. Cashback websites have special affiliate links which enable them to track your purchase. So if you break this chain, the trail will be lost.
- Bear in mind that cashback websites can take two to three months to pay out once you’ve completed a transaction.
- Don’t forget, you can find out more ways to make some extra moneyby adopting this goal.
- Have a wander over to Q&Aand ask other AstroSoar members for tips about using cashback websites and which ones have worked best for them.
- Use a cashback credit cardto pay for your purchase and you’ll increase your cashback rate even further.
Well what are you waiting for? Going on my dear friends!!!
Smarter Ways to Shop Online
Use these tools and tactics to find the best deals.
By Geoff Williams
Smarter Ways to Shop Online
Buying through a third party and comparison shopping can help you find the best deals. (AstroSoar)
Online shopping is basically 20 years old. When Pizza Hut allowed customers to order pizza online back in 1994, it was considered revolutionary; the same goes for when Amazon.com first went live in 1995.
Depending on your age, you may see online shopping in one of three ways:
- As something that’s been around since the dawn of time
- As a still relatively unusual way to pay for items
- As a new idea that just may catch on one of these days
However you feel about online shopping, it is probably more complicated than you think. If you want to save money and find the best deals, you’ll need to do a lot more than punch in your credit card number. Try some of these tactics:
Check out sale aggregators and cash-back sites. If you spend serious money online, you’ll likely want to do more than just go to your favorite website and shop. Consider buying through a third party. Astrosoar.com, for example, gives a small percentage of the sale back to you later in cash form; FatWallet.com also gives cash back and has coupons and various deals.
Other big names include Rakuten.com, Dealnews.com, TechBargains.com and Yipit.com, the latter of which specializes in local deals.
Jennifer Spoerri, a publicist in San Francisco, calls herself a serious online shopper who subscribes to Racked.com and SheFinds.com. “Both aggregate the best sales online,” says Spoerri, who doesn’t have client relationships with either company. “Through a Racked email, I found out about an amazing Lululemon sale that wasn’t even being advertised on their site.”
Use a website designed to improve the online experience. Online shopping has caught on for many reasons – not having to leave the house or wait in line are biggies. But it isn’t always ideal. Sometimes you just want to touch and feel the stuff you’re buying.
“It’s easier to trust yourself in making a smart shopping decision when you can use all of your senses – instead of just sight and sound – to evaluate and make the purchase decision,” says Roger Beahm, executive director of the Center for Retail Innovation at Wake Forest University School of Business in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
That’s why some websites try to minimize certain disadvantages of online shopping. You may want to check out:
- com. This site partners with 20 retailers, including Macy’s and Guess, and is slated to add another 15 or so stores soon. All you have to do is answer a few body-related questions – height, weight, body shape and the likes – then, whenever you shop for a product from a store that’s partnered with TrueFit.com, you’ll get a recommendation on what size you need.
- com. Here, you can comparison shop at multiple online stores for your exact inseam.
- com. Have you noticed how sometimes you might be a size 8, and other times an 8 1/2 works better? Apparently, many footwear companies can’t quite agree on standard shoe-size definitions. If you answer a few questions about your feet, this website claims to get you into the right shoe the first time.
- me.Ever wanted to rip your hair out at the sight of another store email in your inbox? Unroll.me can show you all of the subscriptions you’re receiving, and then – voilà! – unsubscribe you from all or some of them. If you like your subscriptions minus the constant email barrage, it also allows you to receive them all in one daily message, meaning less clutter in your inbox.
Before you buy, look for more deals. If you haven’t comparison shopped, you could be leaving decent money on the table.
Spoerri says she often goes to Amazon and eBay to see if either site has the item she wants before she buys it.
“I sometimes even deliberately misspell a designer’s name to find the best deals,” Spoerri says, since online sellers may not always proofread their listings.
“Honestly, nine times out of 10, it is cheaper on eBay. Of course, I always make sure I am dealing with a reputable seller who has more than 300 transactions and a rating of 99 or higher,” she says.
Spoerri also always checks for current coupon or discount codes before making a purchase. As experienced shoppers know, sites like RetailMeNot.com and CouponCodes.com often have coupons for products or services just waiting for you to click them.
Prepare for the return process beforehand. Hopefully whatever you’re buying will be exactly what you want. But if you’re unhappy with it, especially if it wasn’t all that expensive and you’d rather live with the money lost than spend time returning it, it’s probably destined to sit on a shelf or in a junk drawer for millennia. Before you buy, think about your merchandise’s exit plan, should you need one.
“If you aren’t proactive about making that return, you’ll never end up saving money by shopping online,” says Lindsay Sakraida, features director at DealNews.com.
“Shop only at retailers that make returns easy,” Sakraida adds. “Some will even include a return shipping label with the original shipment for scheduling a home pickup online.”
There is even an app called Shyp that will retrieve your item and ship it back on your behalf for $5. But unless you live in New York, San Francisco and Miami, you can’t take advantage of it yet.
Whether you return items yourself or have an app do it for you, you’ll want to do some homework before pulling the trigger on any online purchase, says Jessica Foth, product marketing manager at Endicia, an online postage and shipping solutions company headquartered in Palo Alto, California. She recommends the following:
Read the return policy before completing the purchase. “It’s good to be aware whether the vendor has a time limit for returns, if there is a restocking fee or other charges and whether or not returning to a retail location is an option,” Foth says.
Hang onto the paperwork that comes in the package. Do so at least until you’re positive you’re keeping it, Foth says.
Find out your Return Material Authorization number. In most cases, you’ll have to get this number from the seller. Write it down, Foth says, so if there are problems with the return, customer service can easily pull up your RMA number for reference. “This will help the vendor easily locate the processed return in case of any follow-ups,” Foth says. She also recommends putting the RMA number on the package or shipping label as well as inside the package.
Keep a roll of packing tape on hand. “Consumers often aren’t aware that they can use the original shipment box to conduct their return,” Foth says. “Plus, if they’ve gotten a USPS return label from the vendor, packing tape is really the only thing needed to get that package out the door.”
At some point, you’ll need to take a leap of faith that you’re prepared to make your online purchase. Of course if you overdo it, finding the perfect deal online can be just as time-consuming and annoying as driving to the store, fighting the crowds and buying what you need in person.
Online retail has made shopping easier than ever, but it has also increased the likelihood of your private information ending up in the hands of the wrong person. The security of online purchases has advanced with the pace of online sales. However, you will need to do a bit of due diligence to protect your personal information.
Part 1 Keeping Your Information Safe
1 Use a credit card with online fraud protection. Many cards will return your money if you are defrauded. Contact your bank or credit card provider to determine if your card has such protections. If not, try to find one that does offer insurance for online purchases.
- Credit cards are more likely to offer fraud protection than debit cards.
- Some banks offer “single-use” credit card numbers. These can be used for only one purchase so that, even if your information is compromised, it can’t be used again. Ask your bank if this is an option
2 Record purchase details. After making a purchase, always record the details of the time, date, receipt number, and order confirmation. If you cannot print one off, take a screenshot as proof of purchase.
3 Check your statements regularly. When shopping online, check your credit and debit card statements frequently. Watch for suspicious charges and check charges against your records. Call your bank or credit card company immediately if you see anything suspicious.
4 Never give out excessive information. An online purchase should only require credit card information, address, and phone number. If the website is also asking for your social security number, you should be suspicious. This information can be used to steal your identity and should be unnecessary for an online purchase.
5 Scan for malware. Malware programs that are downloaded online can monitor your keystrokes and pick up your account information even from secure websites. Download programs like Ad-Aware to scan for malware. Don’t download information from sites you aren’t familiar with. Be wary about clicking on links in viral emails.
- Also, update your operating system frequently. Sometimes operating system updates will provide important protection from security threats.
6 Use difficult passwords. If your passwords aren’t well designed, a hacker can guess them and use saved account information to order products. Try to use different passwords for each website and avoid common words.
- Refrain from using common words as passwords or information that has personal significance a hacker could figure out, including a birthplaces or anniversaries.
- This also applies to start up passwords for your computer and cellphone. If your information is saved on your hardware, someone who takes your phone or computer can use them to make purchases. Be sure that all your hardware is password protected and will go to a security screen if left unattended for a few minutes.
7 Avoid making purchases in public. Do not buy anything on public computers, including those available at libraries. If you do, your private information will be saved where others can access it. You should even be careful about making a purchase with your own laptop in a public place. Someone might see you input your data or be able to get information from a shared Wi-Fi connection.
- If you must make a purchase in public, using cellphone data is more secure than a public Wi-Fi connection. Consider downloading the retailers’ app to make the purchase.
Part 2 Finding a Secure Website
1 Shop with established companies. Establish that the website you are working with is real. An easy way to do this is to shop with well-known businesses that you are familiar with. Some scams will pretend to be big box stores, so check the domain names carefully to ensure that it is the correct website.
- Check the web address to verify that there are no misspellings, like “Equifacks” instead of “Equifax.”
- Fake websites will also replace a “.com” with a “.net.” Check the website carefully for these errors.
- Today most major chains with physical locations have parallel websites. These retailers should be reliable.
2 Research the identity, location, and contact details of less familiar retailers. It is important to establish the identity of online retailers that you are not familiar with. Search the website for an email address, postal address, and telephone number. You should be suspicious if this information is not readily available.
- Scams artists are unlikely to publish their addresses or phone numbers, because it makes them easier to trace. Any reputable company should at least have a helpline. If you are uncertain about a website, call the helpline and see if you get a response.
3 Research the company’s reputation. Research the company’s ranking through the Better Business Bureau. Look online for reviews of the website, but be suspicious if the reviews are too glowing; some frauds promote fake reviews to lure in unsuspecting victims.
4 Avoid purchases with unclear terms and conditions. The retailer should be able to provide a clear price for the product you are purchasing, including shipping. The retailer should also be able to tell you what exactly you will get in return.
- Avoid, for example, online deals that promise a chance to win something if you make repeated subscription payments.
- Even most legitimate online retailers will use your information to “spam” you with advertisements. You need to decide for yourself whether that is something you are willing to live with.
6 Only make purchases on secure websites. Do not make purchases on websites that don’t have Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption. To check that your website has SSL:
- Look for a padlock symbol in your browser address bar. A closed padlock should appear when you enter into a website with SSL.
- The first letters in the address bar should change from “http” to “https.” Typically this will not happen until you reach the payment stageAn unbroken key may also be present on a secure website.
7 Install a phishing filter. If you are having trouble distinguishing bad and good websites, use an online phishing filter. There are various phishing filters, like SmartScreen Filter in Internet Explorer, that will warn you when they detect a questionable website. SmartScreen comes standard with most new Microsoft computers.
8 Keep yourself informed about scams. Emails and social network notifications, some of which appear to be from well-known companies, are circulated around the internet to “phish” for your private information. Legitimate companies, including banks, will never send you an email with a link requesting your login, password, or credit card details.
- Be suspicious of any unsolicited advertisements that seem to promise too much. If someone, for example, is offering you a free tablet, chances are that they are not legitimate.
- If the deal is supposedly offered through a major retailer, go directly through the retailers’ website rather than following the link in the advertisement.
- Popular scams will often be discussed on the news. Watch the news to keep abreast of current security threats.