4 Online Shopping Hacks To Beat Retailers at Their Own Game

Retailers know the value of a visitor. Do you know how much you’re worth? When you understand the techniques retailers use to promote their brands and drive sales, you can flip them upside-down and score big savings. Here are 4 sales strategies retailers use to maximize the user value of each visitor to their site –  and how you can beat the system.

1) Refer a Friend

What it is:

Some retailers will award you store credit when you refer a friend who makes a purchase. Though you might not like the idea of sending a store referral to friends, you can still take advantage of these programs.

Why they do it:

Retailers are essentially paying their customers a bounty to send them potential customers. Since they only give you a reward when you refer new customers who make a purchase, brands can safely assume they will make more off the purchase than they pay you. Even if no one you refer makes a purchase, you are still giving the store free marketing by sending their email to your friends. What’s more – this strategy targets the marketing Holy Grail: new customers.

How you beat it:

All you have to do is refer yourself instead of friends. This works especially well at stores that you shop at regularly. Here’s what to do:

  1. Set up a few free email addresses.

  2. From your your store account, send invites to your new email addresses.

  3. Every time you make a purchase from the store, set up a new account with one of your new email addresses. Over time, your original account will earn credit.

Too slow? Speed it up a little by breaking each purchase of multiple items you make into separate orders.

Or, search for items that cost less than the referral you’ll earn and buy them. For example, I recently bought $8 socks with several new accounts at a store where I earned $10 for each referral. It took a bit of time, but I earned $2 with each transaction and got a new sock drawer! The only downside is that it takes time and requires finding a purchase that costs less than you earn after considering price, tax, and shipping.

You’d think retailers would cross reference all the information associated with their accounts (addresses, credit cards, etc) to make duplicates do not exist, but actually this is less common than you’d think. Until retailers catch on, take advantage of the system!

2) Let Time Expire

What it is:

After placing items in your cart, a timer pops up giving you a limited time to make a purchase.

Why they do it:

Stores use countdowns to encourage shoppers to complete their transaction. Cart abandonment, or leaving a shopping cart after filling it with items, is a huge problem for retailers and this technique aims to get customers to complete the sale.

How you beat it:

Let time expire!

Okay, I admit it, I figured this one out by accident. When purchasing a jacket at Jackthreads (which has one of the slickest shopping experiences and carts that I have seen), I triggered a 15 minute timer to make my purchase after adding it to my cart.

Despite the perceived rush, I decided to look for a discount on their social media pages, which has saved me big in the past. One click led to another, and by the time I made it back to my cart, the time had expired. Only a notice reading “This item is no longer reserved” remained.

A little concerned that I may have missed my opportunity to make my purchase, I decided to look for the jacket again. Not only was it still in stock – it was now 30% off!

Waiting for your cart to expire may not work every time. Each retailer approaches their cart experience differently. But it’s worth a try when you can’t find a coupon for an item that’s just out of your price range.

Of course, if a store does not have a timer in their cart, you can always leave items in your shopping cart and wait for an offer to pop up.

Warning: Don’t try letting a cart expire concert or event tickets, or genuinely scarce and sought-after items. There is no incentive for retailers to drop the price on items that will sell out. Don’t get left without something you truly want by waiting for a price drop that isn’t coming. 

3) Promote and Earn

What it is:

Nothing beats word-of-mouth advertising, and there’s no better place to get the word out than on social media. To encourage you to recommend their site to friends, some stores incentivize you with special discounts or rewards to just share their message.

Why they do it:

Unlike referrals, where new users must make a purchase in order for you to earn credit, these programs pay for a one-time action. Stores value the exposure you provide to friends and followers. Additionally, they know you have to make another purchase in order to cash in on your reward. On top of the advertising you give them, they’ll probably make money on your next purchase.

promote and earn

How you beat it:

Personally, I don’t like to flood my Twitter or Facebook accounts with promotional messages. But just because you have to share a message doesn’t mean your recommendation has to stay online forever. Do this instead:

  1. Share the post as instructed by the retailer to claim the offer.

  2. Head to your social media profile where you posted the message and delete the post.

The store will never know the difference, you won’t spam your media social feed, and you get to reap the rewards. Win-win-win.

4) Utilize Live-Chat to Ask For A Discount

What it is:

Have a question about your purchase? Not to worry, many stores offer a “Live Chat” function to answer customers questions.

Why they do it:

In addition to being trained to answer your questions, online chat representatives specialize in closing deals and upselling you on additional products. They’ll answer your questions and convince you to make the purchase (and more!). Stores make more from the added sales than it costs them to bring on the extra support.

How you beat it:

This technique works especially well when you can't find a coupon for a store. As I wrote for Three Thrifty Guys and was referenced by Lifehacker, you can utilize the live chat function to ask for a discount. Most sales representatives come armed with coupons and other incentives to encourage you to make your purchase. Here’s how to take advantage of the system:

  1. Activate the live chat function to connect with a store representative.

  2. Demonstrate your interest in making a purchase, knowledge of the product(s), familiarity with where else they are sold, and concerns about the price (You want them to know you’re knowledgeable and close to making the purchase, but still on the fence).

  3. Ask if they can provide any discounts or coupons to give you a lower price.

Stay firm in your commitment to needing a deal to be able to afford the purchase. I have found it particularly effective to have a list of other stores that sell the same item you’re looking to reference in the chat. Do your best to keep from being pushy or demanding – let the representative “make a sale” by giving you a discount that convinces you to buy.

Bonus tip:

This strategy works well offline, as well. You’d be surprised how many deals you can get by asking cashiers if they have any coupons applicable to your purchase.

Go Beat the System

As more and more money is spent online, marketers are continuing to invest in ways to get your dollars. Pay attention and look for loopholes in the system. Once you realize your true value to a store, you can start to get it back.

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