PARDON ME, but I’m about to brag. I recently scored a monumental deal: a pristine, moss-green 1989 Comme des Garçons Homme Plus wool coat that I bough
PARDON ME, but I’m about to brag. I recently scored a monumental deal: a pristine, moss-green 1989 Comme des Garçons Homme Plus wool coat that I bought for only $160.38. Similar styles can run nearly four figures, so how did I nab mine so cheaply? I used From Japan, a shopping middleman—or proxy service—that lets an international deal-seeker like me shop from sites that don’t ship to his or her country. From Japan helped me “proxy” the coat off a secondhand site called Yahoo Japan Auctions. After From Japan took my money, it handled the shipping. While this shopping method has been around for over a decade, it has, in recent years, evolved from a glitchy crapshoot into a seamless buying experience—I received my glorious green wonder in four days flat.
Driving me to proxy was the fundamental human impulse to find the best bargain. In the words of Erick Miller, a 27-year-old New York video editor, “I want the most out of [shopping] without having to pay the most.” As shopping has moved online, it’s been transformed. The number of outlets within reach has mushroomed. So has the potential to find deals: Any competent Googler can instantly dig up digital coupon codes.
Even when, like me, you know exactly what you’re hunting for, online shopping can yield a mind-boggling embarrassment of riches. A few years ago, if Zach Flanagan-Frankl, 34, a data analytics manager in Chicago, wanted new sneakers, he’d visit a single store. Now he doggedly checks and cross-checks at least five different sites to find the right shoe at the right price. To help you simplify the chase, we’ve assembled tips from him and other canny customers—shrewd shortcuts to get you to the best deal with the least frustration.
1. It’s OK to buy generic.
Jason Wagg, 36, the owner of an e-commerce consulting firm in New York, knows where to cut corners. When shopping for everyday clothing basics, say, a standard black sweater, he’ll key that term into eBay and sift through results until he finds one in his size. By not searching for name brands and being open to lesser-known labels, he saves. He calls it buying a “standardized commodities version,” like favoring store-brand paper towels over Bounty. This strategy applies to staples like gray T-shirts, dress slacks and white dress shirts which exist (for the cheap) by the thousands on resale sites like eBay, Poshmark, Depop and Mercari, often with their original tags still on. Search for “NWT” (new with tags) to find brand-new pieces on these sites.
2. Google Images search is your friend.
When you’re looking for something specific—like those shoes you regret passing up last season or a coat that’s seemingly sold out everywhere—this underrated trick can streamline your online search: Key what you’re looking for into Google, but tab over to the “Images” results and click a photo of the piece you’re after. This will unfurl a slew of photos of the same garment from other retailers. What’s the benefit? “There’s not always a universal nomenclature,” for a given item of clothing, said Chicago’s Mr. Flanagan-Frankl. Recently, he wanted a jacket by Japan’s South2West8, which he’d spotted online on a New York shop’s e-commerce site that was out of his size. He googled its specific product name—the Tenkara parka—but soon realized that not every outlet used this name. Some shops just called it a jacket, others a “fishing jacket.” By sifting through images of the coat, he found his size—on sale—at a British store’s site he otherwise would never have encountered. Specificity helps. Searching for “Canali gray wool overcoat” or “blue cotton Ganni dress,” will yield better results than just “Canali coat” or “Ganni dress.”