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Financial planning tips

October 24, 2018

6 tips for shopping online like a pro

The new USMCA trade deal proposes a big duty cut for online shoppers. Until it gets the green light, here’s how to score the best deals and bargains.

Canadians love a good bargain – especially if we don’t have to leave home to get it. By this time next year, online bargain-hunters could have another reason to rejoice. The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), a.k.a. the “new NAFTA,” aims to raise Canada’s duty-free limit from C$20 to C$150 and the sales tax threshold from C$20 to C$40 for all online purchases.

It’s a nice win for Canuck shoppers. But bear in mind: It’ll take several months before the deal is ratified and implemented in all three countries. While you may not be able to reap the benefits of the agreement until next year, there are still plenty of ways to shop like a pro right now.

1. Compare prices before you buy.

Chances are you already browse around for the best deals. But are you taking advantage of comparison shopping engines (CSE) like Google Shopping? CSEs collect product info and pricing from multiple retailers and present the information to you on a single results page, letting you compare prices, shipping options and customer service details in just a few clicks. 

2. Price match or price beat online.

They might not brag about it, but some retailers are willing to match their competitors’ prices and, in some cases, even beat them. For instance, Best Buy will beat a competitor’s online price by up to 10%, so long as it’s not from an online reseller like Amazon or eBay. Meanwhile, Walmart says it will gladly Ad Match identical items online with proof of any local competitor’s digital flyer. Bonus tip for parents or those buying for little ones: Toys “R” Us also price matches online.

Every seller has different rules and guidelines for price matching, so you may have to call customer service or inquire online to find out what their policies allow, if it’s not clear on the website. It’s a little extra legwork, but it might help your wallet in the long run.

3. Keep an eye out for pre- and post-holiday discounts.

Retailers, both online and in-store, are always hoping to boost sales from November through January. Before the week of Black Friday (November 23 in 2018), check your favourite online vendors for any pre-Black Friday discounts. Just as Black Friday deals aren’t exclusive to that Friday, Cyber Monday (November 26 this year) deals aren’t just for that Monday. Many online retailers dish out sales and bargains for the entire week of Cyber Monday. So, you don’t have to scramble to get all your shopping done in one day.

If you don’t mind waiting for the dust to settle on the holiday season, there will be plenty of post-holiday bargains to choose from. After December 26, many stores offer online discounts of up to 50%.

4. Check the return policies before you buy.

It’s a common scenario: An item looks great online, but isn’t up to snuff in real life. So, now what? While the online shopping process can be fast, efficient and convenient, the same can’t always be said for online returns. That’s why it’s important to read a retailer’s online return policies thoroughly before buying something. Sometimes, if you’re sending back items to companies outside Canada, you might have to pay the return postage. You can sidestep this issue by buying from places that allow free online returns, including shipping expenses. For example, stores like Aritzia and Old Navy have free return shipping and provide prepaid return-shipping labels for online purchases. Some places, like Gap, even allow you to return online items to a bricks-and-mortar store near you.

5. Use a secure payment method.

Worried about handing out your credit card info online? It’s an understandable concern, especially if it’s your first time buying from a particular retailer. Apart from making sure you’re buying from secure, reputable sites, you could also consider paying through PayPal. Why? Because PayPal hides your financial information from the seller, which means it’s less likely to end up in the wrong hands. Plus, you’ll come under PayPal’s protection policy, should anything go wrong.

6. Watch out for shipping costs, duty and sales tax.

Even the savviest shopper can’t avoid paying duty and tax on purchases delivered from outside the country. Until the USMCA takes effect, Canadians must pay duty on all purchases over $20 manufactured outside of Canada, the U.S. or Mexico (even if they’re bought from a U.S. store). The amount of duty depends on the kind of item. Along with duty, you also have to cover shipping and handling fees and provincial sales tax. At this point, you might start to wonder if you’re really getting a good deal. Avoid buyer’s remorse by doing your research ahead of time and figuring out the final price. That way, you’ll know whether your purchase is really worth it.

Many stores waive shipping fees during the holiday season, while others offer free shipping for orders over a certain amount – but resist the urge to overspend just so you get free shipping. Unlike shipping, which the seller calculates and charges for, duty and taxes are applied at the buyer’s end. To help you estimate how much you could be paying in duty and tax, the Canada Border Services Agency offers this free-to-use online calculator. If the total price – including shipping, duty and sales tax – suits your budget, then you can congratulate yourself for being a smart shopper.

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