Watching your wallet

Comparison shopping in the Computer Age is as easy as pie – once you know where to look.

Samsung 3D television 311 (photo credit: c)
Samsung 3D television 311
(photo credit: c)
Tired of getting ripped off? Who isn’t? But often it can’t be helped – like when you’re signing up for service at the cellphone store.
Despite new laws that allow you to get a refund for stuff you decide to return, the power of the consumer remains notoriously weak here (they still give you a hard time when you try to return items, despite the law). Nowhere is this more evident than at the cellphone store.
It’s not enough to buy a phone, of course; you need a “plan,” too, and the whole setup in these places almost guarantees that you’re going to overpay. You usually have to wait a good long time before one of the salespeople will even see you, and when it’s your turn, they keep you there for a long time, throwing out numbers, scenarios and possibilities – wearing you down until you’re ready to agree to something, anything, just to get out of there.
It’s almost impossible to know if you’re getting a good deal. Almost – unless you come in prepared. And thanks to the Internet, you can be prepared when you go shopping for cellphone plans, refrigerators, TV sets, computers, plumbing services, even pet food. Much better to know what you’re getting into before you get into it – so that you can avoid getting into a deal that you should avoid.
“Hard” goods: If you’re in the market for a laptop or desktop PC, Zap ( is the place to look for information on how much you should pay. And not just for laptops and desktop computers; Zap also compares prices on TV sets, cameras, MP3/MP4 players, furniture, workout equipment, sunglasses, watches, even pet food – more than a million products, in all. Zap will trawl the Israeli Internet for prices of goods, online and offline, and deliver to you a list of what stores and sites are charging for the model number you key in (or a general selection of models, if you prefer). An extremely useful feature is its smartphone applications (iPhone and Java; other models can get price comparisons by SMS).
Note that the Zap site, as the other sites that will be mentioned here, are all in Hebrew. If you want to view a page in English, copy its URL to the translation box on http://translate., select Translate Hebrew to English, and Google will magically translate your page (albeit with grammatical and other errors, but you’ll be able to get the gist of it).
Services: Shopping for hard goods is difficult enough, as there can be significant differences in price. But a computer or an MP3 player is just that. What you see is what you get, and there are no ongoing charges or hidden fees. Not so with services like cellphone plans, ISP plans and IP telephony services. There, you can end up committing yourself to a lengthy contract period, with no chance of getting out without paying a significant penalty. Not to mention the confusion that reigns in the plans and packages the companies offer. How do you know that the “bargain” the salesperson is pushing really is a bargain?
Here’s how: Before you sit down with a salesperson, check out the packages and plans at, where all the secrets of the cellphone companies – as well as of the ISPs, long distance companies, Internet telephone companies, TV satellite/cable companies and even newspapers (!) – are revealed. The companies’ packages are laid out in a clear and logical manner, and the various permutations and additions are included.
Of course, keeping track of the shenanigans at the cellphone companies is difficult, since they are always coming out with new packages and conditions. But Kamaze also has an interesting selection of articles that can help you avoid some of the more egregious pitfalls, as well as shed some light on the sometimes unsavory business practices of these organizations.
For example, a recent article ( outlines how the cellphone companies dealt with the threat of legislation that would have required them to offer set price plans (i.e., plans where customers know in advance how much they are going to be spending a month). To head off a Knesset law, they implemented the plans voluntarily – but, of course, found a way to rip off customers who would violate the cellphone service providers’ right to make money. It’s not a pretty picture.
Note that beginning February 1, the penalties for leaving a contract early are set to fall dramatically – but I would keep an eye on the articles on Kamaze to see how they get around that “roadblock.”
The rest: There’s lots of price comparison information out there if you know where to look. Looking for the cheapest gas in your area? Check out Costs for service personnel (plumbers, repairmen, movers, etc.) can vary widely; find the best bargains at Shopping for baby? Check out And, if it’s a vacation you’re in the market for, check out With all this price comparing, you may just need some extra time off.