Beginner’s Guide to Online Shopping & Rewards Programs

October 19, 2001

Updated, 11/06.
Welcome to Compare Rewards’ Beginner’s Guide to Online Shopping!
For most of us, online shopping is the core reason we use rewards programs…to get the rebates! If you’re new to shopping online, or maybe you’ve shopped online before but have never used a rebate site before, here I’m going to explain how these rebate programs will help you save money! Let’s get started!
What are we buying?
If you know the type of purchase you want to make but aren’t sure about which brand is best, there are some tools online that can help. ZDnet and Cnet have very good electronics products reviews. Epinions offers reviews of many different products by actual consumers. ConsumerGuide is an excellent site offering reviews of a variety of products.
If you’re not sure exactly what you’re looking for but you want to buy something cheap (like for a birthday or Christmas gift) the “deals boards” (message boards on deal-finding websites) are a great place to go for ideas. Check out especially the forums on,,, and And remember when you find an outstanding deal to go back to those forums and post about it!
If you just want to browse through the sales, I can recommend a site called Here you can browse through sale items at all of the stores in their database, or narrow it down by store. You can view sale items by percent off or by price. Just remember to not get carried away and buy it yet — we haven’t gone through our rewards program yet and we want to earn our rebate!
Where are we buying?
Once you have a specific item in mind that you want to buy, your next stop is the shopbots — the comparison shopping engines. These are services that scour the internet to find the price for your product at various stores. Be sure to sort your options by price, including shipping and tax!
Three good general-purpose shopbots are MySimon,, and PriceGrabber. If you’re looking for computer stuff, go to PriceWatch. Check out AllBookStores for book prices including shipping.
Here’s where a little research is important. If you’ve never heard of the merchant with the cheapest price, or you’ve heard of them but don’t know their reputation, it’s a good idea to spend a few minutes checking them out. Usually the shopbot has store ratings, so you can see how they’ve treated other buyers. You can also see merchant ratings on, Epinions (type the store name, like, into the Search For box and click Search), and ResellerRatings.
Be sure you look at the price AFTER shipping! Many times the store with the lowest price for the item will end up being a poor buy when you add in their shipping cost. If the shopbot doesn’t tell you (sometimes it’ll say, “See Site,”) visit the site to get the details on shipping. But again, remember — it’s not time to buy yet! The next thing to consider is how you can get paid back by shopping with a reward program. That’s what this site is about!
How do Rewards Programs fit in?
After you’ve got an idea of a couple of stores that sell the item you want for a good price, the next thing you’ll want to find out is whether there’s a rewards program that will pay you to shop there.
You can use my 2006 Shopping Rate Comparison Chart, or there are a few helpful sites that allow you to look up, by store name, which rewards programs will pay you and how much. (My favorite is This helps you save even more money — you may find that no one offers rebates for the store offering your home theater system for $95, but you can get a 20% rebate at the store with the $100 system… so the more expensive store, after the reward, really offers the cheapest buy!
In addition to earning rebates by shopping through rewards programs, you can use coupon codes to get your purchase even cheaper!
About Coupon Codes
Coupon codes, or promotional codes, are generally in the form of percent off or a certain dollar amount off a minimum purchase. There are other codes that can give you free shipping or a free product with purchase. Coupon codes can usually be combined with sales, depending on the restrictions of the code. In addition, some merchants (like Staples) that offer free shipping with a specified minimum purchase, will consider your total before the coupon in determining your eligibility.
Coupon codes are widely available on the internet; see our Helpful Links section for coupon sites. But be forewarned: sometimes if you use a code found on a deal site or on a competing reward program, you won’t get credit for the rebate. The coupon could be coded to give you the discount, but to give the commission on your sale to the site where the coupon originated (the deal site, or the other rebate program). If YOUR rebate program doesn’t get the commission on your purchase, they can’t pay you.
To ensure that you get credit for both a coupon code and the online rebate:
1. Only use coupon codes that come from the rebate site through which you’re shopping. Many rewards programs now offer coupon codes for their merchants.
2. If you find a good code on a competing site, and you’re not in a big hurry, try emailing YOUR rewards program to ask if they have access to their version of the code: “I saw a coupon code for 12% off at ProFlowers on another website; can you get me a similar code to use here?”
3. If you are in a hurry, and sometimes I am, you need to decide whether to take the chance or not. If the rebate would pay you more than the coupon discount, just go through the rewards program without the coupon. If the coupon’s value exceeds the discount, TRY using the coupon when shopping through the rewards program. You may not get your rebate, but you definitely will get the discount (it’ll show up at checkout)…and you may luck up and get both!
Sales Tax
Most online merchants don’t charge sales tax unless they maintain a physical, “bricks-and-mortar” presence in your state. Check with each store for its policies. I’ve found that when a store does charge sales tax, it’s often much less than I would pay shopping locally (maybe they charge the state portion of sales tax but not the local portion?). I don’t know what the sales tax is where you live, but here it’s pushing 10%, so just shopping from an online store that doesn’t charge sales tax, I’m getting a 10% discount right there!
How’s all this stuff fit together?
Let’s say for example that you use Pricegrabber to find your favorite model of photo printer for the cheapest price, at a store called PrinterWorld. (You check out their store ratings and they’re good.) Then you check my rebate chart as well as and find that FatWallet has the best cashback rate. They have a coupon code, too! Here’s what your final price would be:
Cost of Printer
Minus Coupon Code
Plus Shipping and Tax (if any)
= Order Total
Minus Cashback Rebate (calculated on the order total before shipping and tax)
= Final Cost
Next section in Rewards Program Basics: Dollar Value of a Point
Return to CompareRewards Home.
Updated, 11/06.

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