How do I get the best deal? This is a question I see often. Sometimes it is directed toward specific retailers. Other times it is more of a general probing. Let’s face it. Getting the best deal can be a lot of work. Have you ever been so proud of yourself for doing your research and locking down an incredible deal only to find out you did not get the best deal available? You are not alone. This has happened to me, too. We live and we learn from overpaying. Then, we get more savvy in the future. There are the tricks everyone knows. Subscribe to the retailer’s updates. Do Google searches for promo codes. Use Rakuten, ShopatHome, Mrrebates, or TopCashBack to get a percentage back on what you order. Of course, you can always visit sites like this one that try to list all known deals in one place. What are you missing though? Can you do anything else?
Join Rewards Programs
My first suggestion is to join any rewards program a company offers. Retailers reward those signed up for rewards programs more than a casual shopper. The idea is to build loyalty. Some companies automatically sign you up for the rewards program when you create an account. Others do not. Make sure you are not creating an account without joining, because you want to start reaping rewards from the first purchase.
Learn How the Rewards Program Works
Learn how the programs work at the different stores. Knowing how it works is the best way to take advantage of it. I have detailed program reviews and tips on how to get the best deal at Sephora, Ulta, Julep, Birchbox, Target, and Walmart. Many have impressive rewards programs. I can go on for days about all the amazing programs. Program descriptions are important to me, and I am constantly editing retailer promo pages as I learn more about their programs or if I learn of a change. When you click on a retailer’s promo page, you will see the most up to date description I know of any rewards program as well as all offers I am aware of. Remember, the front page of this site only lists recent offers. Those are not always the best available or the one that will appeal the most to you. I track codes from a number of places.
Birchbox has an impressive rewards program for shopping in the store that gives 10% back for every $1 spent. You do not have to be a subscription box subscriber to take advantage of special boxes (but you automatically enroll in the rewards program when you shop). Birchbox has enough bonus point promo events that it would be possible to get ACES status without ever subscribing or spending a fortune on full-priced orders. It only takes $300 a year to reach the top-tier.
Ulta has an impressive rewards program as well. It also has a bevy of special offers that seem almost never-ending. Let’s not forget the GWP page that typically spans two pages from the sheer amount of offers. I can highlight many more stores and their programs, but as I mentioned I constantly edit promo pages as I learn more. If you have questions on a specific retailer, check its specific promo page. The easiest way to find it is to type the retailer in the search bar or scroll down the page and locate it in the right column.
Stay Subscribed to Emails
I know it’s hard, because we deal with so much spam. For retailers you shop often, never unsubscribe from mail or emails. Some retailers make it very difficult to resubscribe, so even unsubscribing for a short period can backfire. Many of the best time sensitive offers are only sent via mail or email, and unsubscribing prevents you from getting the offers. Over time, you will learn the retailers who send offers versus the ones who spam you with emails that have no substance. Sadly, there are retailers that email me daily that rarely or never have promo codes in them. After too many days without a promo code, I unsubscribe.
Subscribe to your favorite retailers on more than one email address. Some offers only go out to a select group of subscribers. I was surprised to see that Beauty.com (now defunct) sent offers to one account that I do not get on my other. Yes, you will get a lot of duplicates this way, but you will also see which ones are unique to specific emails and try to pinpoint patterns. Sometimes, there are system flaws. Although I get most of the Sephora emails, I have heard from countless people who do not. Of course, if your main account is VIB or Rouge, opening a Beauty insider account for emails will still limit the offers. Despite many orders from Lancome, I only get order and shipment confirmations. Yes, my settings are listed correctly, so I am unsure why Lancome ignores my main email address.
After two years of missing out on special Lancome direct sales that were not sent to me via postcard, I finally opened an account with my second email address. Even though I have never placed an order on that account, every email on promotions comes in like clockwork. My oldest Birchbox account does not get some offers my two newer ones do. Very recently, I got a code for the best welcome box I have ever seen on my two newer accounts that my oldest (been in Ace status for a long time) account did not get. Then again, one of my three accounts is not yet in Ace status, so it will miss offers I get on the other two.
Join Multiple Pay-to-Shop Programs
Do not limit yourself to one Pay-to-Shop program. Sometimes Rakuten has a better offer and other times the better offer comes from Mrrebates. You’re already shopping for the best deal, so why would you accept the first offer you see without checking it against another? If you have not signed up for any pay to shop programs, you are missing out on savings. Do not be afraid of a catch. Pay to shop retailers are affiliates. They post an affiliate link. You click on it. The retailer pays them, and they give you a portion of the sale. It really is that simple. Some people fear the cookies required to give credit for the purchase, but cookies are almost everywhere on the Internet. It is hard to avoid them whilst surfing.
I have not had my accounts with ShopatHome or TopCashBack as long, but I feel each has benefits and drawbacks. Having multiples allows me to use one when another has a lower rate, use one when another has a weakness in that area, or use one when another does not cover my desired retailer. If I am paying with a gift card, I know ShopatHome will not pay me, and Mrrebates may not either. I also know that ShopatHome scrutinizes claims more than Rakuten, so I will not use ShopatHome when I find a deal or link somewhere other than its site. ShopatHome used to award Shop Gold in addition to cash back to redeem toward gift cards, but it no longer does.
Swagbucks and MyPoints award points to use for gift cards. They both offer points for a variety of tasks, including shopping. I mostly only use Swagbucks for surveys and not shopping, because I like getting cold hard cash. There is a start-up bonus for shopping with MyPoints, so a lot of my points came from shopping once. I’ve been able to redeem points for gift cards from Swagbucks and MyPoints.
List your favorite retailers on your pay to shop programs. They will send you special emails tailored to your retailers. Some of the emails will be repeats you’ve received from the retailer but as mentioned above, some will be unique. That can be due to the fact that the retailer chose not to send you the offer or it missed you for another reason. It can also be an Rakuten or Mrrebates specific code. Retailers do give exclusive offers at times to their affiliates.
Get Affiliate Exclusive Promo Codes
Use your pay to shop sites as a source of promo codes. Any known promo codes will be listed on the same page you enter the link from. Remember to look at it before you load you link. Is the offer you’re about to order with better, worse of the same as the one listed there? You should never rely on a single site for all of your promo codes. As Rakuten and Mrrebates are huge affiliates, they are more likely to get exclusive promo codes than a smaller affiliate or sites that have no affiliation with a retailer. They also have a huge staff, so they will be able to hunt down offers that I may not have. Then again, I post some I know they do not have.
Give Retailers Your Birthdate for Birthday Offers
Provide your birthday to every retailer that has a place for it. Many will send you a lovely birthday offer. While I do list and will continue to update birthday offers, some require unique codes or are smart enough to know that your account does not qualify for the general code. Of course, some are completely generic, so feel free to try ones I have on the list if you are in the mood to do a little birthday shopping of your own.
Try Expired Promo Codes
The most important tip of all is never refrain from trying an expired code. Retailers at times recycle codes, meaning it may truly expire now, but it can pop back up soon. Other retailers will extend the expiration date without notifying you or not take it down as soon as they should. Sometimes, the expiration date you read was never really an expiration date at all. Some third-party sites will list a date they predict it will expire, so the computer will automatically remove it. This is generally the case when you review the retailer’s site or email yourself and cannot find an expiration printed. That does not mean it will really expire on that date. I leave offers that do not post an expiration date open-ended until I have personally verified it expired.
I do check in on open-ended offers, also known as “while supplies last” offers. As soon as I verify they no longer work, I remove them. I find this more accurate, albeit time-consuming, than picking a random date to manually remove it. Of course, this means some offers may stay up past the expiration date, but it is better than taking them down before the expiration date. The same holds true for offers with expiration dates. I tend to remove them as I put new offers up. If a new offer does not go up, the expired offer may stay up until something new comes along. If a retailer goes too long without providing a new offer, I will remove the retailer from my site completely.
Trigger Welcome Offers
If you’re new to a retailer, some of them will give you a bonus offer for creating an account or subscribing to emails. This is usually anywhere from 10-20% off. Some are advertised on the retailer’s main page, and some are not. Do not be afraid to subscribe even if you’re not ready to place your order. The retailer may send you an offer down the road. Even if you do not get a specific welcome offer, you already know they will send you general, non-targeted offers. Whenever the offer is generic, I will list it on the retailer’s page. Most generic offers are open-ended, so I will periodically check them and remove them if I verify they no longer work.
Leave Your Cart Loaded
Unless you have a great offer code in hand, the item you want could sell out, or you need the item quickly, load your cart and leave it loaded. Some retailers will send you an offer code to come back and complete your purchase. These offer codes are usually in the 10% range or for free shipping, so do not leave an offer that is superior on the table in hopes of getting this. You will occasionally see a 15%, 20% or special GWP offer, but these are a little less common.
Find Hidden Offers in Emails
Read your emails thoroughly before placing an order. Some retailers hide great offers in seemingly unimportant emails. I’ve seen everything from point multipliers, to new promo codes, to sale advertisements, to upcoming offers, to completely free with no purchase required offers hiding in small detail. Retailers send us on little easter egg hunts, and they are fruitful at times.
Check GWP sections before Checking Out
Always check the brand specific gift with purchase section for each site that has one before placing an order. Larger department stores and many other sites have generous offerings. Any site I am aware of that has a nice offering will have a note stating so on its retailer promo page. Sites with a large volume of offers make it nearly impossible for any third-party site, including mine, to list them all. I try to stay on top of large offers from the GWP Kings: Clinique GWP offers, Estee Lauder GWP offers, and Lancome GWP offers. There are times when I am not on top of these, so if my page is not updated, check a few department stores before placing your order. That incredible offer you found could be better at another store. These companies almost always have great offers.
Get Targeted Offers
Take advantage of targeted offers. Although you can find great general deals at a number of places, targeted offers, which are unique to you, are usually the best. What is a targeted offer, and how do you it? It is a unique code or link only sent to you (and select other shoppers who qualify). There is usually a complex system in place that looks at past orders to determine what deal will trigger you to make a purchase. Deal shoppers tend to get better offers in the future, because the retailer can see you purchase when a great offer is available. I’ve received targeted offers from many retailers, including but not limited to: Ulta, Neiman Marcus, SAKS Fifth Avenue, and more. If for any reason you do not use your targeted promo code, they can easily be transferred to a friend (as long as there is no fine print excluding it). As such, I will list ones I do not plan on using on this site. Targeted links are sometimes tied to your specific account and cannot be transferred. Other times, they are not.
Track Trends and Patterns
Learn event patterns for your selected retailers. Should you buy shampoo at Ulta in June when they have a Gorgeous Hair event every May and a liter sale every July? Knowing when your favorite stores run their events can save you a lot of money. It also helps when you know what to expect. You can expect gift cards with a purchase minimum from Sephora before Christmas, so do not place an order for the last thing you need before the year is over on December 1st. If you wait a couple of days, you can use the gift card and get money off that order. Those are use or lose gift cards, so they will not work if you wait until the following year to make the purchase. I track major events for the ones I love on my retailer pages, but you can start a spreadsheet for ones you love.
As always, if you’re feeling lucky, enter retailers’ sweepstakes. I ‘ve actually won a few of these, so I no longer believe they’re all a phishing scheme.
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Disclosure: Referral and Affiliate Links
I'm Kimberly. Shopping is always more fun when I've found the best deal available, so I am always on the hunt. My father instilled that in me, and I love that I carry a piece of him. Sometimes, my husband and sons (12 and 7) let me shop for them, too. They do not use as many beauty products as I do. We can all benefit from nice products, even though their routine ends with moisturizer. That is when I can convince my 12-year-old to apply it.