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Don’t Get Mauled at the Mall

Black Belt Shopping (featured column)
by Larry Wiener

The book was gorgeous and would make a perfect gift for my niece. She is just getting old enough to enjoy being in the kitchen and this book which I found in a very high end kitchen store would be ideal. But, like just about everything else in the store, it was offered at a price that would make a black belt shopper cringe.

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What to do? Do I splurge? After all, I can afford it and Stephanie is a wonderful girl. Still, I may get better value buying something else.

I went home and did what every black belt shopper knows you can usually do in the New Economy–I checked on prices. In this case, I found that beautiful book for 35% less at buy.com, an online general merchandise site.

If you’ve read about the New Economy, you know that choices, timing, and information are the three key words for thriving in the New Economy. Thanks to the plethora of ways to buy and gain information about purchases, a buyer today has more options, particularly if (s)he is not in a hurry and is flexible about brands, models, etc. I have noticed this is particularly true about major purchases and upscale items.

Some of these options can be confusing, but if you know how to use them, the resources of the New Economy can help you get more value for your dollar. Many mall merchants hope that you see an item you want and just buy it. Black belt shoppers know better.

So what does a black belt shopper do when (s)he sees a great item at a not-so-great price?

Here are some of the tools I use to snag those bargains:

Wait for a Sale  

Michelle Jones once said on this site that if something isn’t on sale today, it probably will be soon. This is particularly true in mall-anchoring department stores. Those stores are so anxious to stay current in fashions that they put their apparel on sale very quickly. They rotate sales on household items and regularly have coupon and percent off sales. Looking in your local newspaper will help you time those sales.

Look Online 

While not every online merchant has low prices, plenty still do. I saved 35% on that child’s cookbook by going online and happened to get in on a free-shipping window. An online consignment store called half.com has an incredible selection of books, movies, software, and the like both new and used. Overstock.com is an online closeout store with very low shipping fees and a wide variety of merchandise. And don’t forget ebay and other auction sites. Biz-rate.com and mysimon.com are two sites that will help you compare prices and rate websites and items currently sold online. Epinions.com will also help you price shop online.

Check out the Closeout Stores

They’re not beautifully decorated and sometimes you really have to look to find things, but closeout stores can really get you some bargains on surprisingly attractive merchandise. Stores like Big Lots specialize in everyday merchandise while outlets such as TJ Maxx and Marshall’s attempt to emulate the higher end department stores in their offerings.

Consider an Alternative Item

Many mall merchants are dead set on having you crave certain designer brands. We have designer clothing and cookware. Certain tools are touted to be better than any other. Sometimes certain brands have the reputation because they actually deserve them. Other times, however, the "must have" brand may not actually be the best for your use. Sometimes the most expensive brand isn’t even the most durable. Checking with professional ratings at Consumer Reports and the people’s ratings at sites such as epinions.com or amazon.com can help you see how people who have actually used the items have responded to them.

When in Doubt, Wait

Mall stores are designed to make the merchandise so attractive that you feel that you have to have it that moment. If you’re not sure if you want or need an item you see, step back a little. Walk around. Go home. Talk with someone to see if the purchase you are considering really will add value to your life.

Try to Forecast Your Needs and Plan Ahead

When I first saw that cookbook, my niece’s birthday was three months away. I had time to order online and even wait while the book was back-ordered. The same is true when you buy groceries ahead, you can combine a sale and a coupon. If you can think ahead enough to buy at the best time, you’ll get value.

Malls can be dangerous places in more ways than one. The presence of security officers reminds us of the physical danger. I’m here to remind you that the clever placement of high-profit items to attract your attention can be dangerous to your financial well-being if you are not careful.

The New Economy, however, provides so many options for wise shopping that stepping back a little and being a little more methodical will help you get so much more for your dollar. Don’t get mauled at the mall.

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Copyright © 2003 by Larry Wiener. All rights reserved.

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