is an amazing online retailer that sells far more than just the books and CDs it was once famous for. Now you can shop for anything you could imagine, from computers to food, clothing to furniture.

But there are certain tricks that experienced Amazon shoppers use to find the highest quality items, the best prices, and get free shipping. Without further ado, here they are.

  1. Sign up for Amazon Prime. Amazon Prime is Amazon’s free shipping program that gives you unlimited free two-day shipping. If you order from Amazon more than six times in a year, this can pay for itself in avoided shipping fees. And once you’re a Prime member, you’ll realize it’s cheaper and more convenient to order from Amazon than make a trip to the corner drugstore, even for routine items like band-aids and shampoo. You’ll save even more money on these every day items, and save the time and gas associated with trips to the store. Not everything sold on Amazon qualifies, because some stuff is sold by third parties. But in general, if it ships from an Amazon warehouse, it’ll ship for free. Prime costs $79/year.
  2. If you are a parent, check out Amazon Mom. This program gives you the same benefits as Amazon Prime, plus gives you 30% off diapers, all for no up-front charge.
  3. Choose quality products. With many thousands of products in each department, you want to find the best products within your price range. Thanks to product reviews by other shoppers, you can do this better on Amazon than in a store (are you going to believe a salesperson? or what it says on the box?). Here’s the process to use to find the highest quality items on Amazon.
    1. Do a search or choose a shopping category to get started. For example, I recently was looking for a “CD radio”
    2. If you did a search, choose a department from the left hand column to enable sorting.
    3. Usually you want the department with the highest volume of matches, or the ones most relevant to your search. The search results themselves show you how many matches exist in a given department. Note the “Electronics: See all 5,442 items” in the photo below.
    4. Once you’re in the right department, choose “Eligible for Amazon Prime” in the left hand column, or eligible for free super-saver shipping, if not a Prime member. 
    5. Also in the left hand column, choose Avg Customer Review of 4 Stars or more, the top line. With thousands of matching products, there’s no reason to look at items with less than a 4-star rating. Many products will have dozens or hundreds of reviews. To achieve a 3 star or lower rating, a product has to be pretty bad.
    6. Now begin looking at the search results. You should have limited those results to high quality, free shipping items. It’s time to find the product that best matches the features you’re looking for. You shouldn’t pay for more product than you need. For example, I was looking for a CD player for my kid’s bedroom. I didn’t want to spent $75 or even $200 for a five year old’s radio. You can use the price limiters to set the price range you are willing to consider.
    7. Then look at the individual products, keeping three things in mind: 
      1. A five star rating is meaningless if it is based on 1 or 2 reviews. Look at other products, and get an idea of how many reviews products in that category seem to have. If they have 50 or more reviews, then a product with only 1 or 2 reviews is suspect, even if those reviews are glowing. (Perhaps they are from the manufacturer themselves?) 
      2. Look at the individual reviews to see what customers are saying, both positive and negative about the product. For example, I ended up a choosing a NAXA CD Radio. It was rated 4 stars, but virtually all of the negative reviews complained that the radio didn’t get loud enough. And that was pretty much the only complaint. Well, since I was choosing this for my kids room, and since I didn’t want them blasting their radio, that “negative” was actually a positive for me. It took a 4 star product and made it a 5 star product for me.
      3. If you can find something with 50 or more reviews and a 4.5 star or higher rating, you can be pretty confident that it is a great quality product you’ll be happy with.
  4. Buy groceries in bulk online: Amazon’s grocery store is like an online Costco, where you can get foods for about 10-20% less than you’d find them in the grocery store. This is great for items you eat on a regular basis, like cereal, bread, canned goods, and more. They have over 5,000 gluten-free items, more than 22,000 organic items.
  5. Use the Subscribe and Save program to save an additional 15% on items you use all the time, like coffee, toilet paper, diapers, and so on. Plus, because the delivery of the items can be scheduled, you won’t run short and need to make a last minute run to the grocery store. Between the discounted prices and the Subscribe and Save program, you could be saving 25% or more on the items you use most often.
  6. Use the Amazon Credit Card, and get 3% back on anything you buy from Amazon, 2% back at gas stations, restaurants, and drug stores, and 1% back on anything from any other retailer.
  7. If you don’t have Amazon Prime, and you need to spend just a little more money to qualify for free super-saver shipping, use filleritem to find inexpensive items to add to your shopping cart.
  8. Use the mobile apps, Amazon iPhone app or Amazon iPhone app to check out products when shopping at local retailers. You can use Amazon’s product reviews to see what other customers thought, and check to see if the price is cheaper online. And if you’re undecided on whether to buy it, you can put it in your Amazon shopping cart, and do more research later. Too often I’ve made impulse buys at local stores only to regret it later, thinking “if only I had researched it on Amazon first.” Now you can research products on the fly.
  9. Learn to Return: It’s very easy to return products to Amazon. If an item doesn’t work, isn’t compatible, or isn’t what you ordered, Amazon will pay for return shipping. For anything else, you pay for shipping, but Amazon makes it easy by printing the shipping label for you, and just deducting the shipping costs from your credit. And “compatible” can be broadly interpreted. For example, I received a pan that didn’t fit in my dishwasher. To me, that meant it wasn’t compatible with my kitchen. So Amazon picked up the return shipping charge. I think it’s much easier to return something with Amazon than with a typical store. There’s no need to confront a manager, or wait in line at a return counter. Just go online, and 5 minutes later you’re done. Then drop off the package at any shipment location.  

That’s it for the basic tips. You should be:

  • Saving 3% across the board from the credit card.
  • Saving 5-10% in free and reduced shipping charges.
  • Saving 10-25% on groceries.
  • Getting better quality products that last longer and give you more satisfaction.
  • Saving time and money on items that become more convenient to purchase from Amazon than making a trip to chain drugstores and malls.

Advanced Tips: 
Ready to go beyond the basic tips?

  1. Search for discounted products: You can search a given department to find only discount products. For example, if you wanted to look up discounted LCD TVs, you would go first to the LCD TV department. Then go to the url bar in your browser, and add the text &pct-off=50-  Hit return, and the page will refresh to show you only the TVs that are 50% off. You can replace 50 with whatever percent off you’d like to look for.
  2. Amazon Movers and Shakers is an Amazon page that lists those products that are rapidly rising in sales rank. Frequently these are new products that are just starting to be sold on Amazon, but sometimes they can be products that have a deeply discounted price.
Happy, productive shopping!