Searching the web for legitimate shopping sites can be a daunting experience. There are literally millions of websites trying to sell you stuff. Furthermore, the keywords you use to search the various engines are vital to your browsing success. The right word choice will automatically narrow the results to be more specific to what you are looking for. This will save you much clicking time on sites that don’t offer what you need.

Keywords should be short, concise and as specific as possible. If you know exactly what you are looking for you not only need to use that word, but also provide other parameters to the search engine. For example, using the industry I work in which is promotional advertising, if you are searching the web for tote bags for an upcoming trade show you cannot simply plug in “tote bags”. Tote bags are not only sold in bulk or wholesale, but also sold individually by retailers of all kinds. Tote bags purchased for retail purposes can be bought individually and are not meant to be purchased by the same consumer en mass. Conversely, if you are buying tote bags as a give-away at a trade show or event, you most definitely want your company logo or brand imprinted on that item!

When I google the keywords “tote bags” I get not only hits for ecommerce distributors selling imprinted bags in bulk, but also get hits on the same page from popular retailers like Coach, LL Bean, Amazon.com and Overstock.com. Add a few more descriptives like “imprinted” “custom” and “trade show”, and now I have pages of websites to search from that will print my company logo on 5000 tote bags for my upcoming trade show in Vegas.

Once you have found a good selection of web stores to shop on you will find that most promotional product sites will sell you essentially the same items. Your next challenge is to narrow down the sites you will focus on. This is important as it will save you time and help you be more organized with all the information you want to gather.

Here are some tips on choosing which web sites to concentrate on: 1. Sites that you feel comfortable with because aesthetically they appear professional and well organized; 2. Sites that are user-friendly; 3. Sites that allow you to search using multiple criteria such as category, brand and price range; 4. Sites that tell you a little something about the company or owner; 5. Sites that make their contact information readily available; 6. Sites that display some sort of official security seal that tells you their website is secure and safe to use.

Now that you have narrowed your search down even further, here are some tips on how to discern which web businesses will most likely deliver once you have placed an order:

1. Did you contact the business by phone or email and get a response in an acceptable time frame? 2. How was the customer service you received? Did the respondent answer your questions or concerns satisfactorily? Did he or she go out of their way to address everything you are confused or concerned about? 3. If you asked for a sample was one sent to you? 4. Once the order was placed did you receive some sort of acknowledgement in a timely fashion? 5. Did the products for sale have good product descriptions and layout other important information like imprinting information, production time and pricing?

With the exception of few items such as “memory items” (i.e. media players and USB flash drives) the browser should be able to see the item price at the very moment you are online shopping. If no pricing is available and you contact the company for this information, make sure you note the name of the person you spoke to, the date and time the communication took place, and confirm whether the pricing provided has an expiration date.

The promotional products industry is as competitive as any other so you may often find sales or claims for lowest pricing or meet and beat pricing. Many times this is NOT a gimmick! A smart online shopper will identify an item he or she is interested in and find that exact item on a few competing sites. It is definitely O.K. to contact each company and let them know that you have found their item on another site for less money. Give the competitors a chance to win your business! However, you must be honest and you must tell them exactly where you found the better price so they can verify the information. As a courtesy you only want to take up somebody’s time if you are serious about purchasing that item. And don’t forget…most companies offer incentives for re-orders and repeat customers such as discounted set-up charges or willingness to honor a previous price from a past order or cut you a good deal to retain your business.

Even though the World Wide Web feels like a huge black hole of anonymity, we are all out there using this amazing vehicle to buy and sell stuff and to promote and grow our businesses. I hope the tips I have shared here will help make your online shopping experience more effective and enjoyable!

The author Stephany Mushonga works in her families small promotional products business. Her family has been selling promotional products for 30 years and currently owns and operates three websites: http://www.buypromosonline.com, http://www.2manytotes.com and http://www.technologypromos.com

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