NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- In the world of brick-and-mortar retailing, finding the best price is simply a matter of driving to a discount chain store like Costco or Wal-Mart. But in the Web marketplace, hundreds of retailers and mom-and-pop stores are fighting one another and user reviews can offer the best intelligence.
So before you plunk down hard-earned cash on anything, see which stores are offering the best deals, say Money Magazine writers Joe Light, Ismat Mangla and Pat Regnier, who offer three strategies for finding the best price.
When you're on a bargain hunt.
Hit the "Hot deals" forums at FatWallet.com and SlickDeals.net. Though both sites have a particular emphasis on pricey electronics, users regularly uncover and post discounts that run past 50% of the retail price on all sorts of items. The catch: the better the deal, the quicker forum users will wipe out a Web site's inventory.
When you're researching a product.
Check out the reviews at Amazon.com. Pay particular attention to posts written by users who have a badge under their names designating them a "top reviewer." You can be more confident that their reviews are legitimate and not written by a seller. You want a critical mass of reviews -- at least 25 or so. Another good source of customer reviews is Epinions.com.
Once you know what you want.
Start at comparison shopper PriceGrabber.com. Search for your item and you'll get back quotes from major retailers and small outfits. Make sure you disclose your ZIP code, so the site can factor in tax and shipping. Note the two or three lowest listed prices, then go to SlickDeals' coupons section and check to see whether any discounts are available that would cut your price further. And if you're truly industrious, you can even earn a small rebate on your purchase by buying through the Cash Back section of Ebates.com or FatWallet.com. Merchants pay those sites a commission, which they share with you. Expect to save another 1% to 5%, depending on the store.
By Marshall Loeb