MONEY online shopping

New Poll Shows We’re Total Hypocrites When It Comes to Amazon

Amazon corporate office building in Sunnyvale, California
Lisa Werner—Getty Images

America might feel bad for Amazon workers, but they love being Amazon customers

In the wake of a critical New York Times article about Amazon’s work culture, public perception of the company took a major hit. Nonetheless, the true impact of the controversy may be minimal: It appears as if Amazon’s convenience and low prices are a bigger deal to American shoppers than the e-retailer’s work environment, as most consumers say they’ll still buy stuff on Amazon.

A new poll from YouGov BrandIndex finds that Amazon’s so-called “Buzz Index,” a metric that measures consumer perception of brands, plummeted by 60% last week — a significant drop for a company that grabbed the top spot in consumer perception for both 2014 and 2013.

That’s pretty bad, with the company hitting a level on par with where it fell two years ago after it announced that the threshold to get free shipping would rise from $25 to $35.

The Times story about the company’s hyper-competitive corporate culture, in which current and former employees talked about grueling hours and a lack of empathy for unavoidable misfortunes like a worker’s illness, obviously touched a nerve. Back in 2011, when Amazon took (figurative) heat for the (literal) heat its warehouse workers endured while working in un-air-conditioned facilities, YouGov’s polling showed that Americans’ perception of the company was basically unchanged.

“What is so striking about this particular instance with Amazon is it broke through the Teflon armor, for a change,” YouGov BrandIndex spokesman Drew Kerr says of the recent hit taken by the brand. “Their drop has been very significant.”

What hasn’t budged, though, is our collective desire to be able to order everything from doggie shampoo to flash drives with a couple of mouse clicks. The percentage of YouGov BrandIndex respondents who say they’ll continue to consider shopping at the online retailer fell from 72% to 70%, a drop that’s so small and insignificant it’s within the poll’s margin of error.

“It is tough to argue with the convenience, customer friendliness and pricing of shopping at Amazon,” Kerr points out, calling Amazon “a brand that is truly ingrained in the shopping habits of so many Americans.”

And the Amazon habit seems to be one we’re hooked on, if these results are any indication. “It seems no matter what happens to them, the perception hit is either a blip, or they go down quickly and bounce right back up,” Kerr says.

MORE: The Reason You First Started Shopping at Amazon Is Disappearing

MONEY online shopping

The Reason You First Started Shopping at Amazon Is Disappearing

An employee pushes a cart past bays of merchandise as she processes customer orders at the Amazon.com Inc. fulfillment center in Poznan, Poland, on Friday, June 12, 2014.
Bartek Sadowski—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Amazon's reputation for low-price supremacy is called into question.

First and foremost in its rise to the top of retail, Amazon grabbed the attention of consumers simply by undercutting the competition on price. It started in the mid-’90s with books “priced close to cost, in order to increase sales volume,” as an in-depth New Yorker story about the company put it. In lieu of profits on book sales, the business plan was this: “After collecting data on millions of customers, Amazon could figure out how to sell everything else dirt cheap on the Internet.”

And that’s pretty much what Amazon did. The Jeff Bezos aphorism “Your margin is my opportunity” became the unofficial Amazon mantra, and the world’s biggest e-retailer competed ruthlessly on price. The advent of “showrooming”—in which shoppers scoped out merchandise in stores, then whipped out smartphones to see how much they’d save by purchasing it at Amazon—hammered home the idea that saving money was the biggest reason to do business with the world’s largest e-retailer.

Why, then, does it seem that more and more consumers are grumbling that Amazon’s prices aren’t that cheap lately? In a thread on Reddit posted this week that’s gathering a lot of attention, the initial commenter griped about Amazon’s “pricing getting a little ridiculous,” explaining, “Most of the stuff I’m trying to buy, from clothes to food, is way overpriced, sometimes marked up 100%.”

Many of the 400+ comments that followed were in agreement that Amazon’s prices aren’t as cheap as they used to be. What’s especially frustrating is that shoppers routinely see that prices for many items are higher if they qualify for free two-day delivery via Amazon Prime, which costs $99 per year. So in one way or another, consumers are getting the strong impression that shopping at Amazon isn’t quite the savings proposition it once was.

This is hardly the first time that Amazon’s status as the retail world’s low-cost leader has come into question. During the 2014 winter holiday season, Amazon’s online customer satisfaction ratings dropped significantly, and the overwhelming reason cited for the decrease is that pricing didn’t meet up with consumer expectations. In many instances, Walmart had cheaper prices than Amazon.

Research released just after the holidays revealed some of the strategies behind Amazon prices: While the e-commerce giant tended to have the cheapest prices on the most popular items, prices for many other goods were far higher than what shoppers might find at Walmart and other retailers. What Amazon appears to be hoping is that, after seeing low prices on one or two popular items, customers are lulled into believing that the site has the cheapest prices for everything—and this is just not the case.

Based on the recent discussion at Reddit, though, more and more consumers are becoming aware that the competition may be able to beat Amazon on price. This could be a huge problem for Amazon—after all, low prices were what originally attracted most people to the site—but at the same time, it seems as if shoppers’ main reason(s) for using Amazon are shifting.

Instead of always having the rock-bottom cheapest prices, Amazon now reliably has prices that are decent, if not the absolute lowest available. What keeps Amazon’s sales humming along, then, is that it’s convenient. The site that used to be all about saving money is now the Internet shopper’s “prime”—pun intended—resource for saving time.

The importance of Amazon Prime cannot be understated in Amazon’s quest to increase profits. Early on, Amazon discovered that Prime subscribers overwhelmingly made their online purchases via Amazon, and therefore they stopped shopping elsewhere. Naturally, a customer’s Amazon purchases skyrocket once he or she is signed up for Prime. With the assurance of free two-day shipping on most purchases, and the assumptions that Amazon’s prices are at least in the same ballpark as the competition, it might seem unnecessary for a Prime member to bother taking the time to shop around for a better deal.

What seems to be happening is that as more customers automatically, almost unconsciously turn to Amazon out of habit, convenience, and the desire to get the most out of one’s $99 Prime membership, the door has opened and it has become easier for Amazon to raise prices.

When you look at it this way, that “free” shipping that comes with Amazon Prime might not seem quite so free.

Read next: 5 Ways That Amazon Is Still Far Superior to New Upstart Jet.com

MONEY deals

This Week’s Best Deals: Huge Discounts on Toys, Tires, and Shoes

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David Ryder—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Target has some especially amazing deals this week.

The best bargains we’ve found this week can help you prepare your wardrobe and car for the fall and (yikes!) winter ahead, or perhaps simply aid in your enjoyment of the last days of summer.

Get Clearance Sale Toys
Target is cutting up to 70% off a selection of clearance toys right now. Plus, get an extra 20% off via coupon code “TOYS20” at checkout. That’s the biggest discount we’ve seen on these items at Target this year. Shipping starts at $4.99, but orders of $25 or more include free shipping. (Some items qualify for in-store pickup too.) Deal ends August 29.

A few best bets, with prices after the coupon code discount, include the Sofia the First Magical Talking Light-Up Amulet for $4.53 (low by $8), and the Spin Master Air Hogs Sharpshooter R/C Helicopter for $22.38 ($18 off).

Winterize Your Car
Winter’s coming, but that doesn’t have to mean havoc for your car. At TireRack, you can get a set of four General Altimax Arctic or Altimax Arctic LT Tires starting at just $104 total after rebates. Shipping costs extra ($53), and when everything is added up it’s $95 less than the previous best price we’ve ever seen. These tires are designed to provide extra traction at low temperatures and are molded to accommodate the use of optional metal studs. Deal ends September 28.

To get this deal, search for “Altimax Arctic” or “Altimax Arctic LT,” then select your tire size under the “Sizes” tab. Finally, redeem these $50 and $50 mail-in rebates. For more tips on how to maintain your car, check out our guide to simple auto repairs that save money.

Shoes at Target from $6
Need new back-to-school shoes for the little ones, or perhaps some new fall fashions for yourself? Target isn’t just discounting toys this week, but shoes as well, with up to 50% off clearance shoes for men, women, and kids. Even better, take an extra 25% off via coupon code “SHOEBLOWOUT.” Shipping starts at $4.99, but orders of $25 or more include free shipping. (In-store pickup is also available on select items.) Deal ends August 29.

Some choice options include the Mossimo Supply Co. Women’s Tameka Elastic Quarter Strap Sandals for $6.03 ($16 off), and the Black Label by L.B. Evans Men’s Warrick Boots for $36.73 ($33 off). For more apparel and back-to-school sales, check out our guide to what to expect this Labor Day.

12-Piece Knife Set for $18
Anytime is a good time to stock up on kitchen essentials, like this Cuisinart Advantage 12-Piece Knife Set from BuyDig for $19.99. Coupon code “CHEFLABOR10″ cuts the price to $17.99. With free shipping, that’s the lowest total price we could find. The set features some of the most important knives in any chef’s collection, including 8″ chef, slicing, and serrated bread knives, a 7″ Santoku, 6.5″ utility knife, 3.5” paring knife, and six color-matched blade guards. Offer ends September 7.

Amazing bargains pop up at any given moment, so consider signing up for a daily email digest from DealNews to have the best offers sent directly to your inbox.

MONEY deals

This Week’s Best Deals: Huge Discounts on Coffee, Running Shoes

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Joe Raedle—Getty Images

Keurig, Nike, and Samsung have sales that got our attention.

Whether you want to cool your house on a budget, purchase some new footwear on the cheap, or score the latest tech, here are the best bargains this week:

Clearance Sales on A/C Units

The weather might still be sweltering, but now that August is coming to a close, end-of-season clearance sales are springing up. And that means it’s time to save big on seasonal items that stores want to unload, like air conditioners. This Quirky + GE 8,000-BTU air conditioner, for instance, costs $149 with free shipping. That’s a savings of $50 and one of the cheapest AC units around. The unit isn’t just cheap, but also technologically advanced. The “smart” unit can be controlled by a smartphone app, and can even power-on based on your proximity to your home.

Keurig’s Best Sale of the Year

Keep caffeinated at the lowest price possible while Keurig slashes 40% off select K-Cups via coupon code “40DEAL.” (Eligible K-Cups are marked at the bottom of the product page.) Plus, the “CAREFREE” coupon code bags free shipping, saving you an additional $7. Combined, these are the best discounts of the year from Keurig, making it easy to stock up on coffee, or to just buy one or two packages since you don’t have to worry about delivery fees. Deal ends September 26.

First Deal on Samsung’s New Flagship Phones

The latest and greatest phones from Samsung might not be on shelves just yet, but you can already get an amazing deal on both the Samsung Galaxy Note5 and the Samsung Galaxy S6. If you preorder these phones at Best Buy, you’ll receive a free Samsung wireless charger, which is a $39 value. If you also trade in a working phone at the same time, you’ll get a $200 Best Buy gift card as well. (Click here for details.) These phones are due for release on August 21, but the deal lasts through August 29.

Up to 55% Off Nike and Sperry

Whether you want to relax or be active, there’s a clearance shoe sale this week that will work for you. Fans of Sperry Top-Sider’s casual, preppy styles can rejoice while the store takes an extra 30% off clearance items via coupon code “EXTRA30.” Since items are already marked up to 50% off and include free shipping, it’s one of the best sales we’ve ever seen from Sperry. This deal ends August 23.

If boat shoes are a little too country club for your taste, then dig into Nike’s sale instead! The athletic brand takes up to 55% off both shoes and clothing in its clearance section, and now coupon code “BACK2SPORT” cuts an extra 20% off. Plus, Nike+ members get free shipping, no minimum purchase required. (Not a member? It’s free to sign up.) This is also one of the best sales we’ve seen from Nike, too. Not sure what sneakers to get? Check out this guide to find the right athletic shoes for you.

Amazing bargains pop up at any given moment, so consider signing up for a daily email digest from DealNews to have the best offers sent directly to your inbox.

MONEY Tech

Should I Get a Loan to Pay for My New Computer?

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Tetra Images—Getty Images

You could wind up paying more than twice the value of the computer if you pick the wrong financing plan.

A new computer, for as low as $24 a month! That might sound like a steal, but — as with any type of financing — make sure you do the math, and research your options.

It may be tempting to buy a new PC in August, particularly with back-to-school sales. Even if you don’t need a new laptop for the college classroom, there’s the new version of Windows 10 to consider, along with a host of thinner, faster and more powerful machines.

The latest technology can cost you, however. Maybe you don’t have $1,000-$2,500 to plunk down on a tricked-out machine. But you probably won’t be surprised that many PC sellers will front the money so you can get the gadget of your dreams.

Borrowing money for a new computer can be a challenging, however. There are literally dozens of options, but if you aren’t careful, you could end up paying two or three times the value of the machine by the time you’re done with payments — and you might be making those payments long after your new machine becomes old and out of date. So here’s a look at some laptop financing offers, and how much they can cost you over time.

Crunching the Numbers

At Dell, all purchases come with an offer for Dell financing. Here’s one example: An $800 desktop comes with the option “or as low as $24 a month.” Take a closer look, using Dell’s payment chart, and you’ll see that $24 monthly payments mean that $800 PC will take nine years to pay off and ultimately cost $2,170. Why? The interest rate is 29.99%. In another example, a $3,000 PC, with a $90 monthly payment, would take 30 years to pay off and cost $14,734. Pay a little extra each month — just $50 more — and that $3,000 PC will cost $4,886 and be paid off in five years. The mathematics of a minimum payment can be eye-opening. (You can crunch the numbers with this payoff calculator.)

Apple Macbook buyers have two financing options, each with their own drawbacks and benefits. A shopper who picks a $1,200 Macbook Air will also see the message, “From only $57.57 for 24 months.” Getting that deal involves applying for PayPal Credit, which comes with a 12.99% interest rate. (Note that if you use PayPal Credit for any other purchases, the rate is 19.99%.) Buyers can pay $57.57 per month for a total of $1,381. Or $210 a month for a total of $1,257. Those terms aren’t bad at all, but remember, you’ll now have a PayPal Credit account you may or may not want.

Apple’s other offer involves opening a Visa credit card offered by Barclays. The benefits are obvious. There’s a deferred interest option — you’d have 18 months to pay off the purchase and pay no interest. And you also earn points that can be used toward Apple product purchases. But this offer has a few potential “gotchas.” Like most credit cards, the interest rate can range from 13.99% to 26.99% — consumers won’t know which rate they’ll get until they apply. And if you fail to pay the entire balance within the promotional period, or make a single late payment, all that interest will be applied to your account. In other words, a no-interest deal could quickly cost you $100 or $200 in interest if you don’t follow the rules.

Retailers like Best Buy have their own credit deals you can use to fund laptop purchases. Amazon.com offers its own deferred interest plan — 12 months long, if your purchase exceeds $599. The rate on Amazon’s card was 25.99% at the end of July.

Finally, you can rent computers, too, or rent to buy them. Rent-A-Center offers many makes and models, and here’s how they pencil out. A Toshiba 2-in-1 laptop that’s for sale at Best Buy for $249 cost $26 per week (not per month) at Rent-A-Center when I checked. Renters have the option of buying the gadget for a total of 65 payments — $1,689 — or $844 if purchased within 90 days.

How to Decide

Bottom line: As with all credit, it is possible to use funding from Dell, Apple or other sellers and get a decent deal, as long as you pay the loan off early and make much more than the minimum payment. Some people use deferred interest responsibly and it works for them. But know that one payment misstep can cost you a whole lot of money.

A personal loan is another option, but do your research and make sure you understand the terms and can meet the obligation. The same goes for low-interest credit cards. Or, you may be better off using your own credit card if you don’t have the cash to buy a computer, and you really need a new one, but the same rules apply there, too. Carry a balance for two or three months? No big deal. Make a habit out of it, and the costs can add up.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

More from Credit.com

MONEY deals

5 Ways Coupons Trick You Into Buying More

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Patti Mcconville—Getty Images

Consider the BOGO dilemma.

Everybody loves to score a deal. Retailers are keenly aware of this phenomenon and have become very good at tricking your brain into thinking you’re getting a deal, even when you may be spending more than you should. Here are some clever ways retailers use coupons to get you to open your wallet wide, along with some timely tips to fight back.

1. Online Coupons Aren’t Always a Deal

Online shoppers love a good coupon code. But did you know that many online retailers are notorious for releasing a coupon only after jacking all of their prices up to full-retail? Suddenly your 25% off coupon code doesn’t look so good, especially when you consider the fact that you could have actually saved more money the week prior, for example, when the website had everything in their new fall collection for 30% off, no coupon needed.

A few of the online retailers notorious for releasing a coupon when prices are high include Ann Taylor, American Eagle, Old Navy, and Macy’s to name a few. It’s always in your best interest to keep track of the pricing schemes of the online retailers you frequent on a regular basis. Pay attention to when they release coupons and when they offer sitewide sales and only make your purchases when the price is actually the lowest. Also, if you can time your purchase when you have a coupon code in hand and the retailer is having a sitewide sale, you’ll definitely maximize your savings.

2. The BOGO Dilemma

Another commonly used trick retailers use to get you to open your wallets wide is “Buy one, get one for 50% off,” also known as BOGO. Be aware that unless it is “Buy one, get one free,” you’re rarely getting a good deal. Buy one, get one for 50% off is the equivalent of a 25% off coupon — which is an okay deal, but only if you actually need two of the particular item. Keep in mind that many retailers, especially clothing and shoe stores, often have coupons that exceed 25% off, making the BOGO offer nothing more than a spending trap. Kohl’s, Lands’ End, JCPenney, and Gap are a few retailers that fit this bill and immediately jump to mind.

3. Free Shipping… With a Catch

When it comes to shopping online, there is nothing worse than finishing your shopping at a website only to discover you’re $10 short of qualifying for free shipping. Many online retailers will set a minimum threshold requirement for free delivery at $25, $50, $75, or even $100 to encourage shoppers to add items to their purchase and thus pad their profits.

The next time this happens to you, hit up Google and do a search for “[store name] free shipping coupon” and see if you can dig up a coupon code for free delivery. If that doesn’t work, many websites employ live chat operators who have a select number of coupons to hand out if you politely ask. Just start a chat session, explain your situation, and tell the operator how you’d like to complete your purchase but can’t justify the shipping charge since you’re so close to the minimum order threshold. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with your result and stand a great chance of scoring a free shipping coupon without adding something to your cart that you don’t need.

4. Percent Off Coupon With Minimum Order Size

Another retail trick is to release “percent off” or “dollar off” coupons with a minimum dollar amount required to score the discount. Whether you need to spend $49, $75, or $99 to get the discount, it’s important to realize that retailers are attempting to get you to spend more in order to “save” some money. This is often a bad proposition for consumers and can easily lead to overspending. A smart workaround is to never walk into a store with one of these coupons unless you’re sure you’ll meet the minimum. If you do walk in and are determined to redeem the coupon, make sure you’re buying items that you actually need or can use as a gift down the road.

5. Coupons You Buy Can Expire

Popular websites like Groupon and LivingSocial allow you to buy deals and coupons for experiences like golfing, sky diving, cooking classes, yoga classes, and the like. But what many consumers don’t know is that many of these deals have expiration dates. They’re banking on you buying the offer and forgetting to use it, or deciding later that it’s not your cup of tea.

Avoid this expiration trick by instituting a “30-day” policy. If you know you’ll use the coupon within 30 days, then go ahead and purchase it. If you’re on the fence in the slightest, pass on the offer as it’ll probably go unused. Once you buy the experience or class, book it right away and get it on your calendar to make sure it gets used and doesn’t end up in your desk drawer for all eternity.

By being aware of why retailers release certain coupons and deals, and how they can make you overspend, you stand a great chance of actually saving money on the things you need.

More From Wise Bread:

 

MONEY Tech

How to Pick a Back-to-School Computer

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Greg Friedler—Getty Images

Nearly 1 in 5 parents plans to buy back-to-school electronics this year.

Looking to buy your kid a computer this back-to-school season?

Keep in mind that a teen getting a new computer today can expect it to be just one of 20 or so they can expect to go through in a lifetime. That means the price you pay now will affect your long-term budget: Choose unwisely and you could add thousands of dollars to your bottom line.

Most people upgrade their computers every three to five years, according to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), a trade group. The average replacement cycle for computers among younger people is roughly double the 18 to 24 months that they change phones, says Steve Koenig, senior director, industry analysis at CEA.

“Most people don’t want to trash a computer in three years, they want to get closer to five,” says Laurie Duncan, owner of MacSamurai Consulting in New York.

Over a lifetime of computer buying, an extra two years of use could shave off eight or more computer purchases – saving you anywhere from $3,000 for budget machines to more than $16,000, if you are partial to high-end Apple products.

Focus on Specs

This year, 18% of U.S. adults are planning a back-to-school electronics purchase, CEA says.

To get the most bang for your buck, shoppers should concentrate on the specs that mean the most to them and not skimp, suggests Louis Ramirez, senior feature writer for DealNews, a deal aggregation website. Top concerns are weight, screen size, memory and the hard drive’s capacity.

For example, memory is not something you can easily upgrade anymore. If you are choosing between two models and one has significantly more RAM for just a little more money, that is the one to go for.

The caveat, however, is that you can only go as high as your budget allows, says CEA’s Koenig. After all, you may end up upgrading your computer after three years anyway, if there is some exciting new feature you have to have.

And, of course, your needs may change. You might buy a perfectly good general machine for a college freshman, serviceable for writing papers and streaming YouTube videos. But if that student ends up majoring in engineering or any field that involves video editing, you will be back at the computer store before you know it.

In fact, many college students will no longer make it all the way through school without needing to upgrade, especially if they start with a laptop that is not brand new on day one.

Fabian De Jesus, an IT specialist in New York, just bought his stepdaughter a new high-end Mac for her senior year of college to replace the PC she got right after she graduated high school.

“I had planned on getting her a new machine for graduation, but I believe that current college kids put an enormous stress on laptops these days,” says De Jesus. “I have seen more wear and tear on laptops of college students than laptops of constant travelers in my office.”

Pick Your Ecosystem

Are you a Mac or a PC person? It will help you save money if you decide upfront and stay in the same ecosystem with all devices, says DealNews’ Ramirez.

Transitioning between format types could cost you money down the line if you need professional help, and you may need to rebuy software.

The upfront cost of becoming a Microsoft Windows user is usually less, since you can get low-cost machines like Chromebooks for under $200. Mid-range machines run around $350.

The low end for Macs start at $750 or $850, says Ramirez. But if you consider resale value, you can make 60% back, he says. You can also get great deals on refurbished models from Apple, which come with one-year warranties. You may even be able to sell your refurb on a site like eBay.

Avoid the urge to upgrade every year, experts say. It typically takes more than two years before you notice any difference in performance.

The best advice for longevity of your computer purchase: “Take care of your system and be careful what you install on it,” Ramirez says.

MONEY online shopping

A Thrifty Mom’s Guide to Back-to-School Deals

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Augustine Aranas—Getty Images

Mom blogger Tara Kuczykowski shares her top deal-finding secrets.

With back-to-school supply promotions starting soon after school lets out, and not stopping till the yellow buses start rolling again, it can be challenging figuring out where the real deals are.

Reuters asked Tara Kuczykowski, a mother of five in Columbus, Ohio, and author of the popular DealSeekingMom blog, for her best tips on shuffling through these deals, figuring out when to buy online, or when spending more could make sense.

Timing the Deal Shopping

“The earlier you start, the more you’re going to save,” Kuczykowski says. “Buy a little bit here and there. Maybe you don’t need as many as the limit, but if it’s a deal, get it anyway. Stock up.”

For instance, she notes that if you can get ten notebooks for a dollar now, it makes sense to buy as many as you can. You will always be able to use a notebook, and the extras could be donated to the school to benefit less privileged children.

Figuring Out the Real Deals

“It really pays to look at all the ads in a given week and see who has the best prices,” Kuczykowski says. “Take the ads with you. You can also check online. But get the Sunday newspaper ads.”

Just sitting down for a few minutes and glancing at these will allow you to see what one store is charging for, say, pencils, compared to another. That could help you avoid paying more for a product at one store if you can get it cheaper elsewhere, she notes.

Items to Find the Best Penny Deals For

“Index cards, ballpoint pens, and school glue,” Kuczykowski says.

Office supply stores are the best place to find such deals, she says, and they may be priced better than online options, especially if bought in larger quantities.

“They’re trying to draw the crowds in there. Buy the limit. For a penny or a few cents it makes sense,” she says.

Look for big discounts as well on other items, she says, like Ziploc bags, hand sanitizer, garbage bags, paper towels, and office supplies that would be good for anyone to stock up on, including small businesses.

On Backpacks and the Occasional Splurge

“It’s usually better to spend a little more on a quality backpack that’s going to last, than on a very inexpensive backpack advertised to get you in the store,” Kuczykowski says.

A cheap backpack she bought for one of her kids fell apart in short order, after which Kuczykowski splurged four or five times that price for Lands End backpacks that lasted through all of elementary school.

“It’s one of the times that quality wins out over price.”

On Clothing

“Take advantage of the end-of-summer clearance sales. All the short sleeves, all the shorts,” Kuczykowski says.

“It’s easier to stretch those items than to buy the big fall wardrobe they’re not even going to wear for a few months.”

On Lunch Kits

“Rubbermaid LunchBlox comes with an ice pack and containers that all snap together. The ice packs are durable. You can fill the little cups,” she says.

The kits sell for about $15 but can be purchased at many retailers for $10 or less. They can be configured to fit a variety of different shaped lunch bags or boxes.

MONEY online shopping

5 Companies That Happily Lose Money to Get Your Business

Business models might be brilliant, crazy, or both—and can save you big money.

Handy workery
courtesy Handy

Losing money, it seems, is a great business model. In 2011, it was reported that Amazon lost $11 per customer on the annual shipping charges incurred by each Amazon Prime subscriber. For that matter, Amazon has famously lost money for much of its existence through exceptionally low prices, fast and (often) free shipping, and constantly expanding the business into new spheres. Yet experiments like Prime, which has come to be seen as a huge, all-powerful moneymaker, have paid off handsomely: The e-retailer is now worth more than Walmart.

Naturally, the cult of Amazon and its lose-money-to-make-money model has inspired legions of followers. As New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo put it, “giving away real money is a key part of business” for startups like Jet.com, which is using hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to defray the costs involved with marketing a new business and offering the lowest prices on the web.

Of course, one hopes the plan isn’t to simply keep losing money indefinitely. The long-term goal of losing money is to make money by attracting bajillions of customers and perhaps easing back a bit on the discounts once a critical mass has been converted as fans of the company.

At least in the early days, when these businesses are desperate to attract new customers and the discounts remain extraordinary, “consumers could be in for a boon,” according to Manjoo. “After all, from the perspective of customers, what’s so bad about companies giving away their venture-funneled cash?”

We’re certainly not going to complain. Here are five businesses that’ll essentially pass along some of their funding cash to you, in the form of cheap prices on goods and services, so long as you become a customer.

Read next: 10 Things Millennials Buy More Often Than Other Generations

 

  • Jet

    Jet.com
    David Solodukho

    The new all-purpose members-only shopping site is being presented to the masses as a mashup of Amazon Prime and Costco, and a competitor to both as well. Jet promises prices that are 10% to 15% cheaper than anywhere else online, and it boosts shopper orders by using a unique algorithm that offers deeper discounts with every purchase. To get these great prices, customers must pay Jet’s annual $50 membership fee—which is where the company plans on making its money.

    But Jet admits it won’t make a profit for at least five years. In the meantime, it loses money on each order placed by many—if not most—members, who have likely signed up for three-month free trial subscriptions. As the Wall Street Journal noted, in some cases Jet is actually purchasing items from other retailers (like Walmart) to complete orders placed by Jet members. And it’s losing a ton of cash in the process.

  • Groupon

    Papa John's Pizza in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
    Betty LaRue—Alamy

    Groupon helped bring the concept of loss leaders to Main Street businesses all over America. Restaurants, spas, and what have you were encouraged to offer dirt-cheap daily deals that might lose money when the customer redeems the promotion, but theoretically help the business in the long run when the customer comes back later and pays full price. Groupon fired founder and CEO Andrew Mason in 2013, and as the company’s business model has evolved, its market value has gone from $6 billion to $1 billion and back up to $5 billion. And over the years, Groupon has spent a fortune in marketing and subsidies to acquire and keep subscribers.

    Groupon’s latest discount product is Groupon To Go, a food takeout and delivery service that just launched in Chicago and will expand to Boston and Austin this fall. To attract customers in the space already crowded with food-order specialists like Seamless and Eat24, Groupon To Go is indefinitely giving a flat 10% off orders at chains like Papa John’s, Subway, and Quiznos. These and all restaurants have pretty small profit margins to begin with, so a flat 10% off is substantial. Groupon gets a commission for each order placed, but it’s hard to see how the daily deal purveyor or the restaurants wind up actually making money in the big picture.

  • Postmates

    A bag of food from McDonald's ordered through the Postmates service next to a Postmates delivery bag.
    Chandice Choi—AP

    The courier service, which uses independent workers to offer ultra-fast same-day delivery on everything from hamburgers to sneakers, normally charges at least $5 for a pickup and dropoff, and a $20 delivery fee isn’t unheard of. To make its service an even better value, Postmates is planning on offering delivery for just $1 on some orders. How can it pull that off? Well, the firm recently raised $80 million more in funding, and it’ll use some of that money to subsidize the cost of $1 deliveries.

  • Luxe

    Luxe App on iphone
    courtesy Luxe

    Offered in seven big cities around the U.S., Luxe is a valet service that’ll meet you at a specified location, take the keys, and park your car for you. Not only does it eliminate the hassle of finding a parking spot, but using Luxe or a similar services like Zirx usually costs less than putting the vehicle in a private lot. Again, it’s funding, like the $30 million raised by Zirx, that allows these startups to charge about $15 per day for their services—and to not have to worry about making profits for quite some time.

  • Handy

    Handy workery
    courtesy Handy

    In addition to cleaning services, Handy allows customers to order someone over to fix a faucet, paint a room, and even change a light bulb. Its core product, home cleaning, usually costs $54 for a two-hour booking. But to attract new customers, Handy rolls out discounts that bring the rate down to $29 or even $19. Still, Handy is quick to point out that it has been easing off heavy discounting, and that in most instances the business model works even if a customer books only once.

    “You’re absolutely right that we don’t make money on certain customers on Day 1, but on the average customer, on Day 1, we make money,” Oisin Hanrahan, the co-founder and chief executive of Handy, explained to the New York Times.

MONEY Shopping

10 Things Millennials Buy Far More Often Than Everyone Else

For real, snakes?

Roughly a year ago, we at MONEY rounded up a fun list of 10 things millennials won’t spend money on—at least not to the same degree as older generations. Cars, cable TV, and Costco were all on the list, as were houses. A freshly released Pew Research Center study indicates that a larger-than-expected percentage of young people are still living with their parents rather than moving out and perhaps buying a place of their own.

Yes, millennials are stingy when it comes to spending in certain categories. Yet even as they aren’t following in the footsteps of their consumer forebears in terms of embracing big-ticket items like houses and cars, millennials spend far more freely on certain other items compared to older generations. Here are 10 things they buy more often—sometimes a lot more often—than Gen Xers or Baby Boomers, including a few big surprises.

  • Gas Station Food

    Customers line up for their free Slurpees in a 7-Eleven store in New York
    Richard Levine—Alamy

    Millennials have been referred to as the grab-and-go generation, with 29% saying that they often purchase food and drink while on the run, compared with 19% of consumers overall. You might think that Chipotle or perhaps Starbucks would be the biggest beneficiary of this habit. But according to the NPD Group, Gen Y restaurant visits are actually on the decline, particularly among older millennials who are more likely to have families. What’s more, in terms of drawing millennial food and beverage visits, the fast-casual segment is handily beaten by an under-the-radar retail category: the gas station.

    Whereas fast-casual accounted for 6.1% of millennial food and beverage stops in 2014, NPD researchers point out that 11.4% of such visits took place at convenience stores like 7-Eleven, Wawa, Cumberland Farms, and Sheetz, where the hot to-go offerings include salads, wraps, healthy(ish) sandwiches, pizza, and wings alongside old standards like hot dogs and microwaveable burritos. Some even have espresso and smoothie bars, which is probably news to most older folks. “If you’re 50 or over, you still think the convenience store is primarily a gas station,” the NPD Group’s Harry Balzer explained to USA Today.

  • Same-Day Delivery

    FedEx Same Day delivery truck
    courtesy FedEx

    Patience is not exactly a virtue among consumers who grew up with smartphones and social media. Consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow sums up this mindset as “I want what I want, when I want it,” and points to a Shop.org survey indicating that millennials have been twice as likely as other generations to pay extra for same-day delivery of online purchases.

    Earlier this year, the New York Times took note of a surge in same-day delivery, in particular among services supplying alcohol directly to the customer’s door. “It has not hurt that millennials, who are used to ordering food for delivery on their smartphones, have come of legal drinking age,” the Times noted.

  • Hot Sauce

    Sriracha bottles on shelf
    Patti McConville—Alamy

    Sriracha is everywhere. It is spicing up potato chips and croutons, adding some extra kick to Heinz ketchup, and offering a strange twist at Pizza Hut. Heck, it’s even in beer. And the overwhelming reason Sriracha is ubiquitous is that it’s evolved into the go-to condiment of the all-important millennial demographic. More than half of American households now have hot sauce on hand. Sriracha specifically is stocked in 9% of them—and in 16% of households headed by someone under age 35.

    The hot sauce craze has translated to a constantly changing roster of ultra-spicy items on fast food menus. Part of the reason that millennials prefer spicier foods is that they were exposed to different tastes at fairly young ages. “Millennials like hot, spicy foods because of their experience with more ethnic foods, like Hispanic and Asian,” said Kelly Weikel, senior consumer research manager at Technomic.

  • Snakes

    snake collar
    Luca Gavagna—Getty Images/iStockphoto

    This past spring, an odd extension for Google Chrome was desisnged to allow users to sub the phrase “snake people” in the place of “millennials” on screens. It was a fun goof that now seems like ancient history. But it turns out that millennials really are snake people, in the sense that they have more interest than other generations in buying and keeping snakes—and all reptiles—as pets.

    “This age group, 15-35 years old, is the generation that is most active in reptile keeping and searching for related material online,” Keith Morris, national sales manager for the reptile product site ZooMed.com, told Pet Age last summer. Data collected by Pet Age also indicates millennials are more willing to splurge on their pets with luxuries like custom beds: 76% said they’d be likely to splurge on pets rather than themselves, compared with just 50% of Baby Boomers. Yet another survey indicated that millennials are far more interested than Boomers and Gen Xers in pet healthcare as a job benefit. So the big takeaway is: Millennials really love pets in all shapes, sizes, and species.

  • Athleisure

    Yoga Pants
    Kirsten Dayton—Alamy

    The demographic that overwhelmingly gets the credit for yoga pants replacing jeans as the mainstream go-to casual bottom of choice (and even coming to be seen as legitimate work clothes at the office) is of course the millennial generation. Yoga pants, hoodies, sweatpants, and other leggings are lumped into the “athleisure” or “leisurewear” clothing category, which has been most warmly embraced by millennials—and in turn inspired retailers ranging from Ann Taylor to the Gap to Dick’s Sporting Goods to ramp up their selections of women’s exercise wear that’s not necessarily for exercise.

    “When I look at athleisure bottom business—the yoga pant, sweat pant, sweat short—it has displaced the jean business one to one,” NPD Group retail analyst Marshal Cohen said recently. Sales of such clothing rose 13% during a recent 12-month span, and now represent roughly 17% of the entire clothing market, according to the market research firm. “For every jean we are not selling or used to sell we are selling an athleisure bottom. It has become as important to the market as denim would be.”

    Side note: Yoga pants aren’t the only skin-tight garment getting a boost from millennials. During the 12-month period that ended in May, spending on women’s tights was up 24% among millennials, who now account for 45% of all sales in the category.

  • Organic Food

    Organic produce sections in The Whole Foods Market in Willowbrook, Illinois
    Jeff Haynes—AFP/Getty Images

    According to a Gallup poll conducted last summer, 45% of Americans actively seek out organic foods to include in their diets. Millennials are a lot more likely than average to feel that it’s important to go organic, however, so the preferences of younger consumers skew the overall average up. Whereas only 33% of Americans age 65 and older actively try to include organic foods in their diets, 53% of Americans ages 18 to 29 do so.

  • Tattoos & Piercings

    Millennial with the words "Hustle" and "Money" tattooed on each leg using his iPhone
    Petri Artturi Asikainen—Getty Images

    It’s been estimated that 20% of Americans—and nearly 40% of millennials—have at least one tattoo. Surveys conducted for Pew Research several years ago indicated that about 30% of millennials had piercings somewhere other than their ears, which is six times higher than older Americans.

    Despite the growing acceptance of tattoos simply by way of them becoming mainstream, millennials remain somewhat cautious about getting one because it could hurt their chances of being hired. Or at least they’re careful when deciding the placement of a tattoo. In a recent University of Tampa poll, 86% of students said that having a visible tattoo would hurt one’s chances of getting a job. It’s understandable, then, that 70% of millennial workers with tattoos say they hide their ink from the boss.

  • Energy Drinks

    Monster brand energy drinks on sale in a convenience store in New York
    Richard Levine—Alamy

    American parents, likely exhausted by nighttime feedings, hectic schedules, and such, understandably feel the need to resort to energy drinks. A recent Mintel survey shows that 58% of U.S. households with children consume Red Bull, Monster, or other energy drinks, compared to just 27% of households without kids.

    Meanwhile, millennials are even more likely than parents in general to throw back energy drinks: 64% of millennials consume them regularly, and 29% of older millennials (ages 27 to 37, who are more likely to be parents themselves) say they’ve increased the number of energy drinks they consume in recent months.

  • Donations at the Cash Register

    signing electronic bill at register
    Juan Monino—Getty Images

    Some shoppers feel annoyed and put on the spot when a store clerk asks if they’d like to make a charitable donation while ringing up a purchase at the cash register. This isn’t the case with the typical millennial, however.

    According to a report from the consultancy firm the Good Scout Group, of all generations “Gen Y likes being asked to give to charity at the register the most.” What’s more, millennials say that they donate at store cash registers more often than any other generation, and they also felt “most positively about charities and retailers once they gave.”

  • Craft Booze

    Growlers on a table outside Faction Beer Brewery, Alameda, California
    Silicon Valley Stock—Alamy

    More so than other generations, millennials have demonstrated a distaste for mass-market beers and spirits—and a preference for the pricier small-batch booze. In one survey, 43% of millennials say craft beer tastes better than mainstream brews, compared to less than one-third of Baby Boomers. As millennials have grown up and more and more have crossed the age of 21, craft beer sales have soared at the same time that mass-market brands like Budweiser and Miller have suffered. A Nielsen poll showed that 15% of millennials’ beer money goes to the craft segment, which is impressive considering the limited buying power of this college-age demographic. By comparison, craft brews account for less than 10% of money spent on beer by Gen X and Baby Boomers.

    Millennials are also given an outsize share of the credit for the boom in craft spirits over household brands handled by the big distributors. As with craft beer, researchers say that millennials like craft liquors partly because it’s easier to connect to the back story of the beverages, and there’s an air of “inclusive exclusivity” and uniqueness about them. For that matter, millennials seem to care more in general about liquor brands. In one survey, 64% of millennials said that including the brand of spirit in a menu cocktail description was important or very important, compared to 55% of Gen Xers and 50% of Baby Boomers who felt that way.

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