1. Research rules
Whether or not you shop online, do your research on the web by reading professional (and customer) reviews so you don't buy a lemon. There are thousands of columnists, bloggers and organizations that critically evaluate products, but also read feedback from people who actually bought the products. Or use social networks like Twitter and Facebook to ask if anyone has the such-and-such and if it's any good.
ConsumerReports.org (professional reviews)
CNET.com and Sync.ca (for tech reviews)
Amazon.ca (for customer reviews)
2. Compare prices, social 'coupon' services
Speaking of the web, there are a few handy websites that can cross-reference a product for you — say, a Garmin Nuvi GPS navigation unit — and find the best price across 25 or so online and brick-and-mortar retailers. And in some cases, these sites can even figure out shipping costs and other fees if coming from the U.S., and so on. Check out RedFlagDeals.com and DealGenius.ca(formerly Wishabi.ca), and on a related note, signing up for services like Groupon, DealFind, LivingSocial and WagJag can also help you save cash.
3. Auction sites, classifieds
Consider online marketplaces, such as eBay, or online classifieds sites like Kijiji and Craigslist. Contrary to popular belief, not all goods on eBay are "previously enjoyed" (about half are brand new, says eBay) and if you don't want to bid for something, many items can be purchased outright. But if you're buying from another country, be sure to factor in shipping costs and currency exchanges. If you prefer to buy local (and avoid shipping charges altogether), try visiting the aforementioned classifieds sites.
4. App it up
If you're tech savvy enough to have a smartphone, there are a number of shopping-based applications that let you take a picture of the product (or its bar code). These apps will find you the best price online or near you (using the phone's built-in GPS). SnapTell, for example, is great for entertainment-based media (video games, movies, books and music CDs) while RedLaser can snap bar codes. All the major app stores — such as those for iPhone, Android devices and BlackBerry — all offer these free apps you can use to sniff out great deals, while you're on the go. A new Toronto-based app, ShopCatch, taps into your smartphone's GPS to establish your location, and then shows you deals within a few kilometres. Also the iPhone 4S "Siri" feature, you can ask the smartphone to recommend a good restaurant, say Japanese food, in Miami, and you’ll hear a female voice reply with some information based on rating
5. Let's get digital
While many still prefer media that's tangible — such as a video game, DVD, Blu-ray disc, book or music CD — remember prices are generally better if you buy that media digitally. Therefore, if you're shopping for a murder-mystery lover who owns an e-book reader, gift a digital best-seller they can download via a code. Or what about an iTunes gift card to download the latest Pixar animated flick instead of buying it on disc?
There are also great online deals to buy your favourite books, films or games.
Check out iTunes, Kobobooks.com & Amazon.ca