This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an
exclusive interview with Michael Miller.
Michael is the author of more than fifty
non-fiction books and numerous magazine and Web articles. He writes about a
variety of topics, ranging from computers to consumer electronics to music.
Throughout his writing, he has established a reputation for practical advice,
technical accuracy, and an unerring empathy for the needs of his readers. Mr.
Miller prides himself on being able to explain complicated topics to the
Mr. Miller received a Marketing degree from Indiana University in 1980, and then spent several years working in his family's
retail business. He entered the publishing industry in 1987 and spent a dozen
years in various management positions at Macmillan Publishing, including
Director of Marketing, Associate Publisher, and Vice President of Business
Strategy. Mr. Miller formed The Molehill Group in 1999, and is now a full-time
writer. His best-selling books include Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Computer
Basics, 2nd Edition (Que); Absolute Beginner’s Guide to eBay (Que); Tech TV’s
Windows XP for Home Users, 2nd Edition (New Riders); and The Complete Idiot’s
Guide to Music Theory (Alpha/Penguin).
Michael’s latest book, Bargain Hunter's
Secrets to Online Shopping (Que), is garnering wide praise.
Q: Michael, with your fine reputation for
excellence, we are very fortunate to have you with us. Thank you!
A: Glad to be here.
Q: What valuable lessons can you share from
your current projects?
A: There are a lot of bargains available on
the Internet! And not just on the so-called discount sites. Almost every Web
retailer has some sort of bargain or closeout section on their site where you
can find some really great bargains.
Q: Please share two surprising experiences.
A: First, many people assume that the best
bargains online are to be found on eBay. While you can find great deals on eBay, in many cases the price you end up
paying is no better than what you can find at other sites, or at traditional
bricks-and-mortar retailers. eBay is a great example of supply and demand
working in real time, and with millions of users bidding on items every day,
sometimes prices get bid up to unreasonable levels. Great for sellers, but not
always great for buyers! So if you're shopping on eBay, make sure you do your
homework so that you don't bid more than you'd pay elsewhere.
Second, I've found that the lowest price
isn't always the best deal. I know this might shock some hard-core bargain
hunters, but I'm willing to pay a little bit more for good service, in the form
of a quality site, fast shipping, solid communication, and such. In many cases
the really low-ball sites cost me more in time and concern than I save in
dollar and cents. I prefer to send my business to those e-tailers who do a good
job at what they do.
Q: Share your top ten tips from your book, Bargain
Hunter's Secrets to Online Shopping (Que).
A: 1) Research your purchase before you buy. Check
out the information at the manufacturer's Web site, as well as opinions of
other users at sites such as Epinions.com.
2) Use a price-comparison site to compare prices
from dozens of online retailers, all at once. The best of these sites are
Shopping.com, Yahoo! Shopping, and Froogle.
buy at the first site you visit! Check out prices -- and service -- at
competing sites to make sure you're getting the best deal.
for sales. Online retailers are just like traditional retailers, in that they
frequently run sales and other special promotions which can reduce the price of
what you want to buy. To find out which merchants are running what promotions,
turn to an online promotion site, such as DealofDay.com or Specialoffers.com.
you can save a few bucks by buying a used or refurbished item, instead of one
new in the box. Amazon.com offers a “buy used” option for most of the products
it sells, and you can find returned and refurbished items at the sites of many
advantage of manufacturer rebates. If you’re not sure which manufacturers are
offering what rebates, check out a rebate tracking site, such as myRebates.com
or rebatesHQ.com. These sites list current manufacturer rebates, let you print
the official rebate forms, and even track the progress of your rebate claims.
7) Use an online coupon. The big difference
between a traditional and an online coupon, of course, is that an online coupon
isn’t printed. Instead, you get a coupon code that you enter when you go to
check out at a merchant’s site. There are numerous Web sites that track the
online coupon offers from various manufacturers and retailers. The best include
CouponMountain.com, DealOfDay.com, and MyCoupon.com.
8) Sign up for a cash-back purchasing program. Several
Web sites offer “frequent customer” plans that let you earn rebates for each
purchase you make at participating retailers. These sites include Ebates.com
for sites that offer free or reduced shipping. Sometimes a low price on a product
is offset by high shipping costs. You want to shop for the lowest total price,
your shipping costs by combining multiple items into a single order, or by
choosing a slower and cheaper shipping method.
Q: Why should our readers study this book?
What differentiates it from others?
A: There are few other "shopping
directories" on the shelves, but Bargain Hunter's Secrets to Online
Shopping is the only one that focuses on finding the lowest prices online. The
first half of the book is devoted to specific bargain-hunting techniques, while
the second half is a directory of the best sites for bargains, in the most
popular categories. I even point out where on each site you can find the best
Q: You pick the topics: now provide us with
those valuable rare “gems” that only you know.
A: Here's a cool one. You can use the Web
to save money at traditional retailers. Many sites, such as CouponCart.com and
Hotcoupons.com, let you print out coupons you can use at your local retailers.
And SalesHound.com lists advertised sales at hundreds of national and local
retailers; all you have to do is enter your ZIP code, and SalesHound displays
all the sales and deals it knows about in nearby stores.
As to saving money at particular retailers,
here are a few tips for getting the best deals at Amazon.com, the largest
online retailer. (I devote an entire chapter to Amazon.com in my book.) To view all current promotions, discounts,
sales, rebates, and the like, across all categories, click the Welcome tab and
then click the Today's Deals link. More bargains can be found in the Bottom of
the Page section at the (where else?) bottom of every category or listing page.
Clearance merchandise can be found at the Amazon.com Outlet page, which you get
to by clicking the Outlet tab on the navigation bar. And the best bargains are
found once a week at Amazon's Friday Sale; go to the Outlet tab and then click
The Friday Sale link.
Q: What future books can we expect from
A: Alpha/Penguin has just published a new
music title that builds on the concepts in my best-selling music theory book,
called The Complete Idiot's Guide to Solos and Improvisation. This fall Que
will be publishing two new books I'm currently working on. The first is titled
Bad Pics Fixed Quick, which is designed to help the casual digital photographer
fix really bad pictures, using Photoshop Elements. The second book is Tricks of
the eBay Masters, which compiles hundreds of useful tricks and tips from
successful eBay buyers and sellers.
Q: What are the most important trends to
watch, and please provide some recommendations?
The big trend, obviously, is that more and more retailers are establishing an
online presence. Not only can you shop at Web-only retailers, you can also use
the Internet to shop the big stores you've been frequenting for years in the
real world. The advantage of this is that you can place your order online and
then pickup your merchandise at your local store, saving on shipping costs.
2) A related trend is that online retailers
are partnering with bricks-and-mortar retailers. Amazon.com, for example,
partners with Target, offering Target's merchandise online -- and letting you
pick up some orders in your local stores.
3) More and more online retailers are
offering free or reduced shipping -- or lowering the amount of merchandise you
need to buy to get free shipping. Shipping has always been one of the hidden
costs of shopping online, so any reduction in shipping charges is a good thing.
4) Look for more manufacturers offering
merchandise direct to the consumer, bypassing traditional retailers.
(Manufacturer sites are also good sources of closeout and refurbished
5) Amazon.com continues to add more
categories of merchandise, and more ways to find different merchandise. In
particular, look for Amazon to become more aggressive in offering used
merchandise through their network of Amazon Merchants; look for the Buy Used
link on product pages to purchase a used copy (at a lower price) instead of a
Q: What kind of computer setup do you have?
A: I actually have three active computers.
I have a two-year old Dell Pentium 4 that I use as my main desktop. However, I
do most of my writing on a new Gateway laptop with 15" screen and built-in
WiFi. I also have a lower-powered HP machine that I use to drive my home
Q: Michael, thank you again for taking the
time out of your busy schedule to do this interview.
A: Glad to participate!