By Christian Cortes

Published: October 9, 2009

Buying a new product can be as simple as getting into your car, driving to the store, picking out the product, swiping your credit card, and leaving. It's fast. It's easy. It immediately rewards the impulse buyer in all of us. If you value time above money, then this article will be of no use to you|. However, if your aim is to strike deal possible, especially when you're buying a specific product on a budget, read on for a savvy, research approach to shopping.

People who work in sales are masters of intimidation. They make the first move towards you to ask if you have any questions, therefore causing you to believe that you have a responsibility to use his or her time and "expertise." Even if you are just looking, any question you have about a product will indicate to the salesperson that you are not aware of the product's specifications. But how can you learn more about a product than someone whose job is to know everything about it?

By conducting initial internet research before buying a product, whether it is a new LCD television, a car, a computer, or a just set of razor replacement cartridges, you can save yourself money, stress, and buyer's remorse. The internet is an invaluable source of information, and by using a few basic strategies, you can access virtually limitless information about almost any product available. Developing smart shopping skills only takes a small amount of effort, such as keeping receipts, honing your search skills, and resisting shopping when you are in an impulsive mood, but the payoff for refining these skills can amount to huge savings.

Finding The Right Product

One of the key skills you will need for finding product reviews is knowing how to refine an internet search. Google is a great start, but to gather relevant research information, you need to search for specifics.

Let's say you want to buy a laptop without spending more than $1,000. You want at least a 15-inch screen. Try "best 15-inch laptops under $1,000." If you aren't as concerned with price or screen size, and instead you just want to get the best laptop available, just type "best laptops" into your search and select the search suggestion (these appear below the search box) that best suits your needs.

Usually, the best results and resources appear in the top ten search results. If you find that your search results only include one or two of the words that you search for, try surrounding your search criteria with quotation marks, which asks Google to find results that specifically match your search terms in word order. If you aren't receiving relevant results, try broadening your search. Likewise, if your results aren't specific enough, add another word to your search that will narrow the result criteria.

If you already know what specific product you want, type in the brand and product/model number (if applicable) into the search criteria, followed by the word "review." This should yield hundreds of thousands of results, but fortunately, the most relevant and useful information is usually at the top. If you want to compare two similar products, such as two different digital cameras or two different coffee machines, just type in each brand and model and separate them with "vs."

Consumer Product Reviews and Using Amazon.com

Consumer product reviews are great sources for relatively unbiased opinions on products. One excellent resource for these reviews is Amazon.com (www.amazon.com), which allows for anyone to write a review on a product and rate it on a 5-star scale. Amazon lists reviews below the product information for every item available on the website and also creates a tally of the reviews so that buyers can compare the number of four or five star reviews to the one or two star reviews.

Additionally, once you have decided what to buy, Amazon is almost always going to offer the best prices available, free of tax (and oftentimes with free shipping as well). Checking Amazon's prices on virtually any product before buying is crucial to ensure that you find the best deal available.

The Benefits of Buying in Stores

Sometimes, there's no time to buy online or to even do any research before making a purchase. One of the main advantages to buying many products in stores is having the liberty to make shipping-free returns if you are dissatisfied with the product. When buying from brick and mortar stores, particularly large chains, remember to always save your receipts. A smart shopper might even be defined as the consumer who saves receipts. How many times have you found yourself cringing because you discarded a receipt that you needed? Some stores do not even accept returns without a receipt, and others allow you to return a product for any reason you see fit as long as you still have the packaging.

Always know your return options before making a purchase. Return policies are often located at customer service areas, including any exceptions to those policies.

Price-Match Guarantees: Make Them Work for You

Many large chains also offer price-match guarantees (e.g. Best buy and Walmart), but keep in mind that they only abide by this policy if you ask. These guarantees can be especially useful for well-informed consumers, but be aware that it is not an uncommon practice for store representatives to do everything in their power to avoid having to fulfill these guarantees. In most situations, a store's biggest protection against fulfilling these guarantees is stipulating that the product must be in stock at the competing store or arguing that the competitor is out of their "marketing area."

If you happen to find that a product you are planning to purchase, or have recently purchased, is advertised at a lower price at another store than the one you shop it, you are in the position to use a price match guarantee. However, there are some things you need to do before hand. First, if you find the competing price in a printed ad, take it with you to the store with the higher price. Also, before you go for your price refund, call the store with the lower price and make sure that the product is in stock, as the other store will likely do this before issuing you the price difference. Since most chain stores allow for exchanges to be made at any store with the receipt, also make sure that you go to the store nearest to the competing store.

If for some reason the customer service desk doesn't want to issue you the price difference, demand a valid reason that can be supported by their written policy. If none can be produced, ask to speak with the supervisor.

Knowing your rights as a consumer is the best map for finding your way through the maze of advertising and gimmicks that surrounds product marketing and retail. Now when you buy in stores, you will be able to smugly tell sales associate that you're "just looking" because you've already found it cheaper online, and that you just want to see it in person before making the purchase.