Before you spend, read reviews and seek others' opinions on whatever you're buying. My favourite two sites: 1. Google 2. Whirlpool
If you Google the product name followed by "review", the results will normally turn up a good range of opinions. And if it doesn't, then usually you typed it wrong or nobody else bought the product.
For gadget freaks like me, Whirlpool is full of like minded people. If it's not talked about on Whirlpool then it may not be such a good idea to buy.
Of course, if you are looking a collectible stamp, you may not find much on the site. Find an online forum relevant to what you are buying, and hit the search button to get more information.
Tips for specific items
It's important to get a rough idea of the actual current sale price first. In a buyers market nobody is sticking to the RRP, so try Googling the full equipment model number first. For example Google "Canon Ixus 115 HS". If the top search results include other things that you aren't looking for, try including the quote marks as shown above.
Usually somewhere near the top of the search results will be aggregating shopping sites like Getprice. By "aggregating" I mean that they troll other stores websites for prices, then collect them all to display on one site. Another similar site is Shopbot.
The results you find will rarely include any bargains, but they do tell you what the typical range of retail prices is. Once you have those figures, you will then know when you do find a bargain.
Computers and accessories
If you are in a hurry to buy a cheap computer thingy, you could do worse than heading to MSY.
They are usually among the cheapest in Australia, but don't expect advice or any frills. They make their money with quick turnover, so you need to know what you want before you go there. And take a magnifying glass to read their catalogue, it's printed so small to enable listing everything on the page.
For larger computer type items Staticice is an excellent price search engine. Staticice quickly tell you what is pretty much the rock bottom price. It's great for computer stuff and some other gear like cameras, but if your item isn't listed then try another method.
Ausprices is another similar price search engine, but I would check its results elsewhere. When I searched for the Canon Ixus 115 HS the prices were far higher than on Staticice.
Antiques and collectibles
Try to find a cluster of stores with a similar range of goods. If you're looking for a wind up gramophone it's much easier to walk between a few stores and play them off against one another. For example in S.A Strathalbyn has a heap of antique stores conveniently grouped on the old High St.
Many car websites add value by providing more information about the car you're looking for, and also can tell you how much to expect for your trade-in. They also may offer tips about how to buy a car, and what to look for.
Then there are also the sale websites like Gumtree and Trading post (see below under Online auctions and sales)
New or secondhand?
If you're looking for plants or a party costume then it doesn't really matter if it's pre-owned. Cars, glassware, retro items, some building materials - there's a whole range of things where you can save a bundle by buying second hand rather than new.
Search specials in catalogues
Weekly specials are a great source of bargains, and you can either go through your junk mail every week or save time and use a catalogue website like Lasoo. Just enter your postcode (to make sure you access the right catalogue) and then the product name to search all the current specials.
The foremost bargain hunting website in Australia bar none is Ozbargain. The place is infested with scrooges like me who NEVER pay full price, and can't resist a bargain when they see one. Perhaps that's why I'm always short of money.
Ozbargain lists the current bargains around Australia as voted by their members. Sometimes retailers submit offers that get savaged horribly by Ozbargainers, and deservedly so. Because this site is full of people who know exactly how much they should pay.
Just as importantly at Ozbargain you will find advice whether the product actually performs as promised, with recommendations for alternatives. This is just sooo important to know before you buy. Bookmark the site and check it daily - you will be glad you did.
Of course there are alternatives such as Buckscoop. But I prefer to use the best. If you want to get the best of both, try an aggregating site like Dealdump that searches several sites and displays them on one page.
If you're buying second hand or from a market, then it's pretty much expected that you will negotiate with the seller. But don't be confrontational. Be polite, friendly, and use humour to achieve a win-win for both parties.
The same principles apply if you are dealing with a salesman at Harvey Norman. If you're rude to the sales person, they have little motivation to help you.
When negotiating with retail sales people, other factors come into play:
1. Know the cheapest price elsewhere and use it to bring them down. Note that you have to compare like for like - bricks and mortar stores generally don't match prices against online retailers. If you can't find it cheaper somewhere else, then you have a harder task.
2. Is the item available on interest free terms (IFT)? If so, you need to understand that IFT costs the retailer money. So if you don't plan yo buy with IFT then they have an extra margin they can drop. Use it!
A few of the larger retailers do price matching. Bunnings and Officeworks are good examples, but do find out what conditions apply.
An example of price matching:
I saw on Ozbargain that a high pressure cleaner was advertised on special at Bunnings interstate. The price in Adelaide was far higher, but with the help of a copy of the interstate ad my local Bunnings matched the special price then added a further 10% discount.
This website has excellent reviews on a range of markets around Australia. Just go to your city's page, and click on "Markets". You can often pick up great bargains at Markets.
Many newspapers have their classifieds online and the biggest range nationally is probably the News group. Browse these to see if what you want is available.
Online auctions and sales Ebay is by far the biggest and most popular auction site worldwide, with international vendors competing to sell goods into Australia.
There are a few golden rules when making a purchase on Ebay or a similar website:
1. Be sure the product is what you think it is
Ebay sellers have been known to offer counterfeit goods.
2. If it looks too good to be true, then it almost certainly is
3. Watch out for inflated shipping charges
It's quite common for shipping charges to exceed price of goods. Be aware.
4. Using Paypal offers some protection over depositing money into the seller's account.
5. Understand thet grey market (ie overseas) imports don't come with an Australian warranty.
For example if you buy a Fujitsu Scansnap scanner from the USA, you will get no warranty from Fujitsu in Australia.
There are a few similar auction sites but I wouldn't recommend them, particularly if you're new to the Net.
Amazon is another of my favourite places to buy from overseas. The same caveats as above apply.
In Australia Gumtree offers a plethora of new and secondhand goods. I have used it successfully many times for all sorts of goods. It suffers from some scams, but they are more often aimed at sellers than buyers.
The Trading Post is an alternative, but seems to have a much smaller range.
But keep in mind the golden rules above.
Lastly for gadget and computer stuff, DealExtreme in China
has a range of stuff at bargain prices, with the additional incentive of free shipping. But it is only for a patient purchaser, as sometimes goods take forever to arrive.
You can still get good deals there, but the quality is not always great. I've gone off DX lately as their prices seem to have increased in proportion to their success.
For some items, you could do a lot worse than Freecycle. Head over towww.freecycle.org and have a look. Please note that to use Freecycle, you need a Yahoo! account, as Freecycle works in a Yahoo! Groups format. It's a great way to pick up a few bits and pieces for free, as well as passing on other things you don't need any more but are too much hassle to sell.
Hello, you forgot to mention coupon sites. You can get even more off your shopping using a coupon site. Once you've found the best deal, check to see if there's a discount code - sometimes you can get $10 off, or free shipping. I usewww.flipit.com/au
In terms of deal hunting, I actually find Buckscoop quite useful. Sure, there's some overlap with Ozbargain but there are also deals going up daily that you don't find anywhere else. Not so strong on the freebies side though.