Building your own computer and want to get the best deals? You need a strategy that can score red-hot sales before they sell out. My preferred method uses a multi-spectrum approach, focusing on price-alert apps within a tight 14-30 day window.
Here’s how it works: First, you set up a purchasing schedule inside a 30-day period. Second, you then track the prices of the parts you need using IFTTT or Yahoo Pipes. Third, you use browser plug-ins and web apps to get an understanding of your target’s historical price. When prices get cheap, you pull the trigger.
Here are the three steps involved:
- Track all the parts you need and maintain a calendar tracking a 30-day period.
- Use IFTTT and Yahoo Pipes to keep track of sales.
- Use various browser plug-ins and web apps to track Amazon’s shifting prices.
Conventional Thinking on Buying Computer Parts
Conventional thinking on purchasing computer parts holds that you should buy all parts within one sitting. It’s reasoned that if something goes wrong you may need to return all the parts. I fundamentally disagree with this belief.
Most online sellers allow you to return items within a 14 to 30-day period. That means you can actually purchase within two to four weeks and still return everything in the event of a disaster, provided you keep the time windows for returning parts in mind. In short, build in a day, but make purchases over the period of a month.
If you use discretion and patience, you will prevail and your wallet will thank you.
Step 1: Keep a List of the Required Parts
Keeping track of all the parts required for a computer build can take a great deal of planning and organization. Personally, I use a Google Drive (formerly known as “Documents”) spreadsheet showing all the required parts and estimated prices. You will purchase these parts over a 30-day period (Note: Some retailers operate within a 14-day return period).
For each category, I write down the basic requirements of the part. For example, if I need a Kingston 256 gigabyte solid state drive, I write down the keywords in its name.
- “256 gigabyte” becomes 256GB;
- “Solid state drive” becomes SSD.
The trick is in identifying the keyword used by deal-spotting sites to describe that particular product. For example, Slickdeals typically abbreviates “256 gigabytes” as “256GB”. It also oftentimes writes “solid state drive” as “SSD”. You will need to find the right keyword, or combination of keywords, in order to trigger the software (outlined in Step 2) that will find such products. For example, I used the keywords: Samsung + 256GB + SSD.
The more words you use, the greater the specificity and fewer false alerts you’ll receive. However, too specific and you may miss out on some great deals.
Step 2: Use IFTTT and Yahoo Pipes
We’ve written extensively at MakeUseOf on how to score great deals using both IFTTT and Yahoo Pipes. These tips provide exceptional utility for tracking the constantly fluctuating prices of computer parts.
Here’s a quick recap of how to get started:
IFTTT’s Price Tracker: Some IFTTT recipes can be rewritten to target specific electronic items. For example:
Take a pregenerated recipe for tracking the Samsung 830‘s prices. This particular recipe can be modified to give results for an entirely different product.
Yahoo Pipes: Yahoo Pipes can aggregate multiple deal-spotting websites’ RSS feeds. If you use an RSS reader, this particular method can clue you in on deals as they happen. To get started just visit Yahoo’s database of Pipes or just grab a preassembled Pipe. CyberNetNews’s Pipe works particularly well for this purpose.
After opening a Pipe, first input your search criteria from “Step One: Track All the Parts You Need” into the text box.
Optionally, you can then select “Get as RSS”. Plug the feed’s URL into your favorite RSS reader, such as Feedly.
Once subscribed to the RSS feed, you will get updates on that particular part as they emerge. I find that this method consistently beats the low-prices offered on PCPartPicker. On the downside, the RSS feed updates irregularly, sometimes taking as long as five days. Consequently, if you use Yahoo Pipes, you may need to manually check the site to get the latest sale prices.
Step 3: Amazon Price-Tracking Plug-Ins and Web Apps
Amazon’s vast marketplace contains a treasure-trove of information on prices. I don’t even buy from Amazon most times. Instead, I mainly browse. Amazon’s prices function as the benchmark for all online prices. Additionally, there exist browser plug-ins that can track Amazon’s prices over time.
Many Amazon price-watch trackers and plug-ins provide historical price-trends for prices. Before making a purchase, check on Amazon for your component’s approximate price over a one-year period. If the price ever drops to a historical low, get it! This is a time-honored technique among deal-hunters.
- CamelCamelCamel remains among one of the absolute best methods of tracking prices. Another interesting feature is that when prices drop, you can ask many online retailers to match the price, even after you’ve made the purchase. It also provides price drop alerts.
- The Traktor: The Traktor also provides price-drop alerts and historical prices.
Out of the three, I prefer CamelCamelCamel as it provides the most amount of features and information. However, it hasn’t proven as reliable as the Traktor for price alerts.
We’ve written extensively on browser extensions for Amazon. The three best are:
- The Camelizer: The Camelizer makes a great extension for tracking historical prices. Just wait until prices get low and make the purchase. It uses great graphics, as well.
- Invisible Hand: Invisible Hand will automatically search for lower prices on other sites from any Amazon product page.
- OoKong [No Longer Available]: OoKong also tracks historical Amazon prices. It uses a more compact and detailed method than the other extensions, although without the graphics.
The trick in using browser extensions and web apps for price-tracking is in finding whether or not a lower price exists on another site. Another advantage: If you have deal alerts set up, then you can even get price reductions on items you’ve already purchased. Many online retailers have a “low price guarantee” or, in other words: If the price drops right after you’ve purchased it, you can get them to refund the difference.
If these apps don’t satisfy you, try integrating these methods into a deal-stacking strategy which I talked about while showing you how to save money on buying a new computer.
Contrary to conventional thinking on building computers, you don’t need to buy everything in one sitting. You can save a great deal of money by buying over a 30-day period and combining with price benchmarks and deal alert software. Once a price hits your criteria, snap it up! It’s just that easy.
Anyone building a computer and want to get the lowest prices? Please share your tips in the comments!
Image Credits: by Logan Ingalls via Flickr.