The constant churn of electronics products and prices online includes a type of Website whose deals come and go according to a fast and prescribed schedule. So-called deal-a-day sites sell only one product at a time: a manufacturer's surplus, end-of-product closeout, refurbished item, or occasionally, introductory model that's offered for just 24 hours, or less, if it sells out, at a supposed bargain price.
The original deal-a-day site, Woot.com, began in 2004 with electronics and computer deals. The concept has spawned hundreds of one-day/single-item sites, some of them beyond electronics—such as hat-of-the-day or outdoor-gear-item-of-the-day sites. There are also deal-a-day offers from established retailers, including Amazon.com and Buy.com, and even a few manufacturers, such as the storage-drive brand Iomega.
Electronics gear offered on deal-a-day sites runs the gamut of gadgets and accessories, as well as kinds of products. Consumer Reports does not rate such sites. But one day our reporter checked four deal-a-day sites' prices against the lowest prices for the same goods on price bots PriceGrabber, Google Product Search, and Yahoo Shopping; in this unscientific sampling, all of the deal-a-day prices beat the bots'. The best deal, about 65 percent off a pair of new $20 earbuds, was found on a manufacturer's site.
Daily bargain sites come with an important caveat: Return and refund policies can be very limited. Ordering from a deal-a-day site should be avoided if there's any likelihood you'll have buyer's remorse. If you're looking for electronics bargains and are familiar with prices and specs, checking these sites daily could net real savings.
You can surf deal-a-day sites efficiently and safely by following these tips:
Check deal-a-day aggregators. These so-called bargain-aggregator sites find, check, and link to limited-time-only deals from a host of retailers, some of which may last only a few hours. Examples include DODTracker or the links posted at ZeroDayDeals. Clicking on a deal's link takes you to the deal-a-day retailer.
Look for comments. Reputable deal-a-day sites offer reviews, good and bad, from current and past purchasers. This community of users can also answer questions and provide assistance in lieu of meager customer service. Be wary of a site with no comments or ones that are too pat.
Beware of prices that are too low. This advice, wise for any online purchase, is doubly true of deal-of-the-day sites. With the entry cost so cheap (perhaps little more than the price of a Web site and payment collection), deal-a-day sites have spawned their share of fly-by-night operations. Our reporter learned this after buying purported Bang & Olufsen A8 earphones, evidently counterfeits, from an unfamiliar site. At $40 instead of the list-priced $160, the fake A8s should have aroused suspicion as a possible rip-off. Our rule of thumb: Beware of discounts of more than 50 percent (unless you're buying directly from a manufacturer).
The information above originally appeared in the Winter 2009 edition of our Electronics Buying Guide, a print publication that brings together the buying advice found on this site, along with some other information. You can order it on our online store.