How to protect yourself when buying Cheapskate deals

You can help ensure a happy purchase by doing a bit of homework and learning how to resolve any issues that might come up.

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
4 min read
Refurbished gear can be a great deal, but depending on what you buy and where, you might end up disappointed.
Refurbished gear can be a great deal, but depending on what you buy and where, you might end up disappointed. LogicBuy

Sometimes it's hard being the Cheapskate. I don't mean the rigors of finding awesome deals on a daily basis, though that certainly can be a challenge. (What? Another tablet?!)

No, the tough part is when a frustrated reader e-mails me because the product he ordered hasn't arrived after three weeks. Or, even worse, it arrived in poor condition. And the company that sold it to him won't help or even respond. Although I have no control over these kinds of situations, and can't offer much in the way of assistance, I feel terrible for indirectly causing this frustration.

Last Friday, for example, I heard from one gent who'd purchased the Samsung ST200F camera from last Monday's bonus deal. It arrived quickly enough, but turned out to be the European version with no Wi-Fi, no U.S. warranty, and a foreign power adapter. And because it was one of Yugster's daily deals, the promo page no longer exists -- so there's no way to verify what exactly was advertised.

On that same day, another reader wrote that the refurbished first-gen iPad she'd purchased from DailySteals arrived dented, scratched, and unable to hold a charge. She'd received no response from the company's customer service department and was uncertain how even to file a warranty claim. And she was understandably distraught, as her intended Father's Day gift had gone terribly awry.

Plights like these drive me nuts, even when readers direct their anger at me -- I was, after all, the guy who said, "Hey, check out this deal!" The last thing I ever want is for someone to get ripped off. Consequently, I've put together a handful of suggestions for protecting yourself when purchasing the stuff I write about -- and dealing with issues that may arise. (If you haven't already, I also recommend reading the Cheapskate FAQ, which addresses a lot of the more general issues readers encounter.)

  1. Buyer beware. That's the rule when you buy anything, of course, but it's especially true when you're dealing with daily-deal sites, closeout deals, and refurbished/reconditioned items. If it sounds too good to be true, it might just be. I do my best to cover only highly rated products sold by reputable vendors, but sometimes -- as with my two examples -- things go south.
  2. Don't rush. Deals often do sell out very quickly, and sometimes buyers jump in too hastily for fear of missing out. But it's better to do your homework (see next item) and risk a sellout than it is to make a bad decision. The good news is that most of the best deals come around again -- and often get better the next time.
  3. Do your homework. Investigate the seller on sites like ResellerRatings.com (keeping in mind that most people leave those ratings when something goes wrong, not when things go right). More importantly, look for customer-service contact information in advance. If you can't find any, or it seems unusually well-hidden, steer clear.
  4. Understand what refurbished means. As a general rule, I like refurbished gear a lot. But there are some items I won't buy refurbished, and the reality is that you're rolling the dice when you go this route, as vendors don't always disclose if a product is scratched, dented, missing parts, etc. (Best Buy's CowBoom, to its credit, does.) But there are exceptions: Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Dell are among the handful of companies offering refurb gear that's virtually indistinguishable from new. That's what makes the aforementioned iPad disaster especially aggravating. Because it came from a third party, Apple's typical awesomeness with refurbs didn't apply.
  5. Be prepared to wait. We're all spoiled by Amazon and other companies that whisk products to our doorsteps in 2-3 days. But many of the daily-deal sites (I'm looking at you, 1SaleADay) take two or even three weeks just to ship a purchase. And they're typically terrible about providing shipping updates, tracking numbers, and so on. Two choices: Don't buy from these guys, or don't be in a hurry. If you expect a long wait, you won't be quite as disappointed.
  6. Take screenshots of the deal page. This is an especially good idea if it's a daily-deal site, as what you see today will almost certainly be gone tomorrow. The idea is to have a record, however informal, of the product or service that was advertised, something you can use later if you end with something that doesn't match. Screenshots don't cost anything except a few minutes of your time, so capture everything: the promo page, the fine-print page, and so on.
  7. If necessary, call in the cavalry. Your credit-card company can be a great asset in resolving disputes with vendors. If you don't get a response from the vendor's customer-service department within a few days and/or don't feel the product matches what was advertised, your card provider can step in -- and will very often help you secure a refund.
  8. Take a deep breath. It's easy to get really angry when you think you've been ripped off, and sometimes that anger is justified. But don't lash out with insults, accusations, and threats. Instead, remember that in most cases, things will get resolved, even if it takes a bit of time.

Those are my suggestions. Now let's hear yours. If you have any additional buyer-protection advice to share, please do so in the comments! And thanks for your patience with all this. I'll return you to your regularly scheduled programming first thing tomorrow.