Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Web sites can help spot deals

Online: Product comparisons, reviews available

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service

Christmas and Hanukkah are over, but the shopping season is just starting for bargain-hunters waiting for after-holiday sales - not to mention folks who received gift certificates, gift cards or cash. Some of the best deals on high-tech gear are available online, according to PriceGrabber.com (www.pricegrabber.com) and Shopping.com (www.shopping.com), two comparison-shopping sites.

"Merchants want to unload their year-end inventory and keep the consumers spending into the new year," so they're marking down many popular gadgets, says Rob Smahl, spokesman for PriceGrabber.com, which is visited by more than 8 million people per month.

"Now is the time to buy something you really wanted, but didn't get," adds Sarah Leary, vice president of marketing at Shopping.com (formerly DealTime.com). "It's also a great time to buy presents for birthdays and other holidays."

PriceGrabber.com and Shopping.com are smart places to start shopping for discounts because they compare prices among competing e-tailers as well as list product reviews and merchant ratings. Both sites automatically update their prices whenever a merchant makes a change, sometimes several times each day.

The shopping gurus at PriceGrabber.com identified four technology categories in which after-holiday shoppers can expect to find the biggest savings, plus advice on getting the best deal.

Bargains galore

• Five-megapixel digital cameras. These high-end consumer cameras can take pictures with enough detail to create poster-sized prints. Prices have dropped considerably over the past year and can be found for as low as $350 to $400.

Look for a higher-quality 2X or 3X "optical" zoom rather than "digital" zoom. Another tip: if the camera offers video recording (a convenient feature), make sure it can capture video with sound.

• Big-screen televisions. Plasma and liquid crystal display (LCD) high-definition televisions (HDTVs) may be the thinnest and best-looking options, but they're expensive. Instead, the best bargains can be found on projection TVs. For example, a 50-inch Panasonic plasma television is $5,640, compared to $1,329 for a 53-inch Panasonic projection set. If you want to view HDTV programming, make sure the projection television supports it.

Digital Light Processing (DLP) is a new and increasingly popular technology to consider - with prices in between projection and plasma/LCD televisions. HDTV-compatible DLP televisions can be found for as low as $3,000 for a 50-inch model.

• Digital camcorders. Direct-to-DVD camcorders are the latest trend, pushing prices lower on MiniDV models that record onto small digital tapes. Some models from Sharp, RCA and Samsung are selling for less than $300. Look for a camcorder with a 10X optical zoom and the capability to take one-megapixel or higher still images if you also plan to use it as a digital camera.

Even though they're bargain-priced, MiniDV cameras offer the same or better quality as their DVD counterparts, and the their tapes are often less expensive and easier to find than DVD recording media.

• Portable digital music jukeboxes. Models in the $400 to $500 range such as Apple's 40-gigabyte iPod and Creative's 60GB Nomad Zen boast large hard disks that may be overkill unless you're planning to store tens of thousand of songs.

Instead, consider 10GB or 15GB players, such as those from iRiver, Archos, Philips and others, that can store as many as 3,000 songs but are priced in the $200 to $300 range.

Comparison shop

Once you've decided what type of gear to buy, comparison-shopping sites can help you find the lowest price by showing prices at dozens of retailers on one screen.

"Compare this to a shopping mall that may only have two or three electronics retailers and isn't open 24/7," says Smahl.

Comparison-shopping sites also include professional and customer reviews. www.Shopping.com, for example, has 1.5 million product reviews from www.Epinions.com.

Beyond the tools offered by shopping sites, here are some common sense tech bargain-hunting tips:

• Look for the bottom-line price, which includes shipping costs and any applicable taxes.

Some merchants entice customers to their Web site by posting the lowest prices, but they may inflate the shipping costs. In addition, check the merchant's return policy.

• Caveat emptor. Check out the merchant ratings at comparison-shopping sites.

If a merchant with lower ratings has the best price, consider paying a few dollars more and buying from one with a better reputation.

• Look for rebate and coupon information because it can add up to more savings.

Be sure to read the conditions and expiration dates.

Also, plan on it taking as long as several months to receive a rebate check.

• Sign up for e-mail alert services. PriceGrabber.com and some auction sites can send you an e-mail when the price of a product you want to buy falls below the price you want to pay.

The good steward
Float theme: Gift of sight
Smucker rated sweetest employer
Tower Place stores closing
IHI, GE team for Chinese engines
Beef testing under scrutiny
Beef futures fall the limit in mad cow aftermath
Dollar sinks as euro hits new high
Nasdaq hits 2000, keeps going
Parmalat founder may have to stay in custody
Retail boosted by last-minute buying
Stewart judge rules on records
Chinese tariff cutoff raises U.S. steel stocks

Web sites can help spot deals
Tech products: What's new
Video game junkie turns pro, cashes in