Personal Finance

3 Online Shopping Tools to Help You Save

This year, according to research firm Deloitte, consumers are expected to do a majority of their holiday shopping online, with online spending expected to rise by as much as 21%.

Over the past few years, the continuing rise in online shopping has sparked the launch of new browser extensions to help you find the best prices online, or to shave a few extra dollars off the total at the checkout.

These plug-ins can be rapidly downloaded to such browsers as Chrome, where they run in the background until you’re researching or actually making an online purchase; then they compare prices, seek discounts and sometimes more to help optimize your impending purchase. Their results typically appear in a pop-up window that appears to the side of the page from which you’re buying.

In other words, these browser extensions don't require any expertise. Just install them, shop as you normally do, and the apps will do the saving for you. Here are three we think are worth considering for this year’s holiday season.

Honey

Honey began as a coupon-finding browser extension that helps you uncover the best deals and highest discounts when shopping at online vendors like Amazon. It’s still that, but now the extension also automatically scans the internet for identical products being sold for a lower price by other vendors. It will also show you a product's price history, so you can know if it's a good time to buy, and it allows you to add items to a watchlist to track price drops and buy at the optimal time.

When you go to the checkout on a purchase, Honey will automatically apply coupon codes in order to get you the highest possible discount. In addition, certain products give you the opportunity to claim Honey Gold, a rewards program. Honey Gold acts as credit that can be used toward future purchases through Honey, and soon you'll be able to claim it as actual cash back via Paypal.

Currently, Honey only works for a few big vendors, but it appears their team is developing the extension for broader use. Honey runs on Google Chrome, Firefox, and Opera, and the company says support for other browsers and a mobile app are forthcoming.

Wikibuy

Like Honey, Wikibuy is a coupon-finding and price-comparison extension that finds great deals. And like Honey, Wikibuy also charts a product's price history and allows you to add it to a watchlist for future price drops. Also, when you go to the checkout, Wikibuy applies coupon codes other buyers have used successfully, to get you additional discounts.

Also, as with Honey, the extension has a rewards program but, currently, the credits you earn can only be used toward future Wikibuy purchases.

Unlike Honey, too, Wikibuy currently only works on Google Chrome, but it does offer a free mobile app that you can use to scan barcodes and immediately see comparative prices.

Ebates

Ebates takes a simpler, if less immediate, approach to savings. Like Honey and Wikibuy, when you make a purchase from one of its many retail partners, Ebates will give you a discount (of between 1% and 10%, typically).

But unlike those competitors, Ebates doesn’t give in-app credit. Instead, your savings accumulate in an account that, every quarter, rebates you cash back from your discounts in the form of a personal check or your choice of dozens of gift cards. In other words, you have to wait a bit for your savings, but they invariably come in the form of cash, not credits or other less liquid forms. Plus, when you initially sign up, you get a free $10 gift card to either Target, Walmart, Macy's or Kohl's.

The Ebates extension works with Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, and Edge, and you can also use its service by going to Ebates.com and beginning your shopping from there. Ebates also offers a mobile app, for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices, that allows you to scan barcodes to compare prices and receive coupon codes in stores.

Which should you use? All of them.

Each of these businesses operate by earning a small commission from the vendors you purchase from, so the extensions themselves are free for you to use. It's truly a win-win situation. But with so many overlapping services, which program should you use?

Currently, among the three services, Ebates works for the most vendors and is the simplest to use. However, the savviest online shopper will tell you to use them all. True, Wikibuy and Honey will often offer the same results (and no, you can't earn cash back from both at the same time, since earnings depend on the cookies that vendors find in your browser at the time of checkout). However, certain vendors may work with one, but not the other, so it's smart to activate both extensions. Additionally, Ebates can often be used to earn additional cash back on the total purchase after you've applied a coupon code that Wikibuy or Honey has found, which alone makes using all of these tools worthwhile.

The typical 2 or 3% savings might not sound like much, but with online shopping likely to exceed $129 billion this holiday season, those savings could really add up.

Daniel Caughill

Daniel is a former Staff Writer at ValuePenguin, covering insurance, retirement and other personal finance topics. He previously wrote about compliance and best practices for K-12 school districts at Frontline Education.