What To Buy in May: Camping and Outdoor Gear

Camping and outdoor gear is one of the top cateogries of items on people’s ShopAdvisor watchlists. Some of those items have been there for weeks, even months. And, it looks like May could be the time when price-drop alerts start showing up on mobile device and email inboxes. According to Deal News, May is the month to “look for hiking, fishing, and camping accessories to hit appealing prices.” Here’s a look at the items at the top of the ShopAdvisor watchlist charts.

Smith Optics PIVLOCK V90 Max Interchangeable Sport Sunglasses. This is far and away the most popular outdoor gear item onShopAdvisor watchlists. I found the bestest review of the Pivlock V90s by Marc Basiliere at Bike Rumor. Now, Marc laments that ”the bike industry is awash in hyperbole,” but to earn himself a place among the mostest, he indulges in his review: “the Pivlocks are so light, in fact, that they can only be described as the lightest performance interchangable, rimless sport style [eyewear] in the world today.  Beat that.” Appropriately superlative for the top-watched item.

Not ready to buy? 

Vibram KSO. A close second on ShopAdvisor lists  are these 5-toed shoes. I like reviews that have a storyline that starts with “It was a dark and stormy night….” and, barefoot shoe guy type Damien Tougas of Gear Junkie does not disappoint. “Last year on a backpacking trip, standing atop a steep descent in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, I began to have second thoughts about my footwear choice for the trip. Rain had plagued the day, and the trail was a muddy mess. On my feet, I wore the toe-equipped Vibram FiveFingers KSO shoes (yeah, I am one of those barefoot shoe guys) and the smooth soles were no match for the slick mud I was about to face.” You can read the rest of the extensive review at Gear Junkie.

Not ready to buy? 

Core Mens Rubber Watch. This watch is not only popular among the outdoor set, but it is also one of the most-watched watches on ShopAdvisor watchlists. I’ve posted all the ‘most-watched watches’ on our Pinterest board, if you want to see it among the watch-as-jewelry set. The camping world has no shortage of serious reviewers of gear. Ryan Jordan, of Backpacking Light, includes the Core watch as a representative example of a good compass/altimeter watch as part of his hailed 3-Season, 3-Day Backpavking Gear Checklist. “Backpacking Light publishes comprehensive gear reviews that are critical, honest, and founded on both sound technical analysis and rigorous field use.” Like I said: serious. But, they are quite laid back, as well. “We started Backpacking Light in our garage, have employed mostly friends and family, let people bring their dogs and babies to work, and remain committed to owning a company that values community – and a passion for restoring their soul outside.”

This gravity+soul mixture works well, as Ryan and his readers seem to be on genial and familiar terms.  Says one commenter, ”Great list, Ryan! But LMF Ti Spork?!? You could save whopping 8 g by switching to Spork Original! ;) Or even 10 g with Spork Little :D ”  And another playful jab, “Ryan – a canister stove! you’re getting soft in your old age.”

Not ready to buy? 

MSR Flex 3 Cooking System.  Also on the ShopAdvisor community’s watchlists is this collapsible cooking set. Busyboo‘s Avi De Leon calls it a “perfect camping cooking set [with] the basics (and so much more) for cooking in the wild: 2.3-liter pot, 3.3-liter pot, strainer lid, talon pot handle, three deep-dish plates and three stainless-steel mugs. The pots are made from hard-anodized aluminum that makes them incredibly durable but still lightweight,”  Busyboo is not your typical camping and outdoor site, though. “Our mission is to be a source of inspiration for good design, both inside and out.” Indeed, they take a look at well-designed items from bottle openers to lunch boxes to new-age insect-repelling screen doors.

Flex 3 Cooking System     Waiter’s Tools Bottle Opener 

Cool Lunch by Menu         Bug Off Instant Screen Door 

Thermarest Women’s ProLite Mattress Regular. This is a popular item among ShopAdvisor users. Now, what can I say? Did they read the reviews at Outdoor Gear Lab? Apparently not. The key to Outdoor Gear Lab’s reviews is that they make side-by-side comparisons with competing products, helping to point out differences that may matter to campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Here’s what they said about the Therm-a-Rest Women’s ProLite Plus: “[It is] a high quality, all-purpose inflatable foam pad… But it’s also quite large (3.26 liters) and heavy (21 oz.)…. The Therm-a-Rest Women’s NeoAir XLite is our top rated women’s sleeping pad. This pad is 22 percent warmer than the standard XLite, weighs a mere 11 oz. and packs down to the size of a large cucumber… The pad is 2.5” thick and cushions even the shapeliest women. Our testers with large hips loved the Xite!”

According to Outdoor Gear Labs, “Climbing Magazine once computed that three percent of [editor] Chris McNamara’s life on earth had been spent on the face of El Capitan – an accomplishment that left friends and family pondering Chris’s sanity.” Hey, any editor that can manage to put the phrases large cucumber and shapeliest women and large hips into a single review — that’s an accomplishment all on its own in my book.

Thermarest ProLite 

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite 

Marmot Plasma 30 Sleeping Bag. Marmot gear shows up in a lot of watchlists in ShopAdvisor. Among the most popular Marmot items is the Plasma 30 sleeping bag. I’ve never spent $300+ on a sleeping bag, so I can see why people want to “watch” for a better price. I guess its worth it, though, as the bag has recently won a Nat Geo Gear award, according to the Get Outdoors blog. “Sleeping bags have traditionally used horizontal baffles or channels sewn into the bags to distribute the fill, which leads to bunching at the sides, knees and feet. So basically cold extremities and uneven heat distribution from your warm core. With vertical baffling the fill is distributed more evenly so heat from your core flows across your whole body, keeping you toes and sides toasty… Big Agnes was one of the first bag makers to adopt the technology for their ’12 Spring Summer line. RAB  has also introduced vertical baffle bags.” It’s nice to get some technical education so I can sound smart when I talk to the experts in the store.

Not ready to buy? 

Marmot Limelight 2-Person Tent w/Footprint & Gear Loft. Another popular Marmot is this 2-person tent. I don’t recall seeing these tent pole engineering marvels when I was a kid, but I can hardly imagine setting up a tent without them now. Don Jurries of The Gear Caster gives an insiders view of what goes on at one of the top manufacturers of tent poles. “Korean company DAC has been at the forefront of tent pole, tent frame, and tent design for a number of years. DAC is the key supplier to most high-end tent brands, including The North Face, Sierra Designs, Marmot, Hilleberg, and Nemo. I had the privilege of sitting next to DAC’s Founder and President, Jake Lah, on a flight from Salt Lake City to Seattle after the recent Outdoor Retailer trade show. An exceptionally knowledgeable man, Mr. Lah gave me a two hour history lesson on tents over the last 20 years and his thoughts on potential tent designs for the future. He also showed me examples of how a line of pole ends, connectors, joints, hubs, stoppers, and clips, called DAC Toys, are helping tent makers create innovative new tent shapes.” I guess I will look for new tent shapes next May 2013, when it again is the best time to buy camping and outdoor gear.

Not ready to buy? 

I was particularly attracted to The Gear Caster’s mission: “We profile emerging companies and technologies in the outdoor sports industry. We also review soon to be released gear, helping you decide what to buy for your outdoor adventures.” That is another great reason to use ShopAdvisor, to watch for announced but not-yet-released products, and to use ShopAdvisor’s alerts remind you to take another look when the products finally arrive.

(Also, Amy’s picture rocks.)

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What To Buy in May: Cookware

There’s always a deal on somewhere, depending on the time of year. In May, according to Working Mother, cookware sets are a good buy because “kitchen supply stores are marketing for weddings and graduation.” If you are buying your first cookware set, or setting up a college grad or newlyweds with their first cupboard full of pots and pans, you may want to take a peek at what sort of cookware ShopAdvisor users have on their collective watchlists. Here are the most-watched cookware sets, along with some advice from around the web.

First, some of the advice. I was almost stopped in my tracks with this selection of products when I ran across this piece of wisdom among the culinariati: “We’ve never liked cookware sets,” says Cooks Illustrated.  They cite a generous variety of reasons, in fact: the sets include “pans we don’t need and not enough of the ones we do;” pans in “impractical sizes that clog your cabinets.” And they have a pet peeve about “manufacturers who count each lid and anything else that isn’t riveted on as a separate piece” in an otherwise seemingly vast 14- or 20-piece set. Clearly, these kitchen-savvy reviewers take the oven mitts off when they offer an opinion. 

Cuisinart tops the list with its 10-pc Chef’s Classic in the greatest demand, along with the heavier duty Multiclad Pro. I liked the review of the Multiclad from Tammy’s Recipes, which is as rich in imagery as a Paula Deen Bacon Dressing. Tammy notes that the inside of the Cuisinart Multiclad is shiny, but for a mirror-shine take a glance at the lids!

 Chef’s Classic          Multiclad 

The next item near the top of the ShopAdvisor watchlist is Calphalon’s Kitchen Essentials. Now, I also have a couple of Calphalon’s at home, and I do like them, but the real fans can be found among mom bloggers like Courtney of Courtney’s Sweets. “When I was asked if I’d like to do a review of a cookware set from Calphalon I was as giddy as a child getting an ice cream cone.” Personally, Courtney, I say hold the ice cream, and instead pass the meatballs.  Not ready to buy? 

Another ShopAdvisor watchlist favorite is the Anolon Nouvelle Copper   and Advanced Bronze   sets. You can read a colorful review of the Anolon line (and many other cookware sets) by Paula & Wanda over at the highly specialized Only Cookware review site, where the authors spare nothing — including husbands! — to offer a compelte assessment.

One of the things that is important to remember is that you should only use low to medium heat and if at any time you overcook your piece severely to the stage where the non stick coating begins to peel, throw the piece out and get a new one…. Now we all know that you and I won’t do this to your beautiful cookware, but this happened to one of my pieces just recently when my husband decided to cook himself some sausages while I was out. He put the pan on high heat, added the sausages and then performed the cardinal sin of walking away and not attending to the cooking process. Result:- the sausages were burnt so badly that their shape was indelibly etched into the pan. 

Note: – one frypan damaged beyond repair, one rather upset wife and one husband very much out of favor.

The pots and pans come out unscathed in the review. Family members, a little scorched. :-)

“Ever wonder if that celebrity cookware is all that it’s cracked up to be?” asks Kristi Maloney, editor of Mom’s Own Words. Two celebrity sets are also on ShopAdvisor watchlists: the Rachael Ray Hard Anodized 10 piece set    and the Wolfgang Puck 20-pc set (there must be a lot of lids!)    Kristi posts a Today Show video that takes a look at the quality of celebrity cookware as reviewed by real moms. Worth a look (note: a 30-second commercial precedes the video).

Another celebrity-branded item, Meyer Cookware’s Giada De Laurentiis For Target Pasta Lovers Gift Set also had a couple ticks on the ShopAdvisor watchlist. Mom reviewer Amanda, of Mommy of Two Little Monkeys, took a look at the full Giada De Laurentiis food, cookware and bakeware, and she’s a believer: “I received a few samples from Giada’s new line and really wanted to tell you about my favorite piece. However during the use of Giada’s new products I quickly fell in love with everything!”     Not ready to buy? 

Rounding out the ShopAdvisor watch list is the JC Penney Cooks set, which earns praise from the savvy shoppers over at Cheapism. “A good starter set for the price is the consensus view” of the JC Penney set. “Consumers say the five pots and pans cook well and don’t burn food, although a few decry poor workmanship and the hollow-tube handles that don’t seem sturdy enough.” Ouch! That’s a good honest review, but if I’m the marketing guy over at Penney’s, I’m not sure I show that one to my boss. Maybe just watch this one for now   

As graduations and weddings get into full swing now that May Day has come and gone, a quick glance at trusted kitchen maven sites, such as Delish, which has a slide show of the winning models of The Good Housekeeping Research Institute, “whose testers evaluated 25 lines of nonstick cookware and 10 lines of traditional cookware with stainless steel interiors.”

And, if the new husband or the recent grad burn the sausages, just throw the pans out and get new ones.

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What to Buy in April: This List Sucks!

According to the sages at Lifehacker, springtime is the time to clean up on a deal for a vacuum cleaner. “It’s time for spring cleaning, and if your vacuum just doesn’t seem to have the sucking power that it used to, it’s the perfect time to buy a new one,” writes Whitson Gordon. “New vacuums usually don’t come out until June, so grab the old models now as they’re clearing them out.”

ShopAdvisor’s analytics shows me the “most watched” vacuum cleaners and steam cleaners, and one thing is quite obvious: people really like the Dyson machines. 43% of all the machines on the watchlist are Dysons. Let’s take a look at the most popular vacuums and steam cleaners on people’s collective watch lists, and hear from some of the experts. Also, go ahead and click on the ShopAdvisor watch buttons to see the current price, the recent price history, and other product information.

Of the top 10 vacuum models, Dyson claimed eight spots. What makes Dyson so special? Well, a timeless blog post by Tanya over at MommyGoggles offers a sense of the loyalty of Dyson’s customers.

I was in Chicago for an event for a company that I have been using their product in my home, fallen in love with the product, fallen in love with the company, a company that I firmly believe in and after meeting them face to face, a company that has turned my family’s life around completely: Dyson.

I had not expected to find such passion on the subject of home appliances. Man, Dyson is a strong brand.

The top Dyson models currently “watched” include:

Dyson DC41 Animal Purple Upright Vacuum. Wendy, the author behind Sweeties Views & Reviews, struggled to find something (anything!) along the way of constructive criticism. “There are a few minor things that I thought that could be done better, but those are overshadowed by the vacuuming power. The on/off button could be located higher up the handle instead of where it currently is, near the canister release button. A couple times instead of turning the vacuum off, I released the canister. It would be nice of the cord could be retractable, but that would probably require making the vacuum cleaner larger.”      Not ready to buy?

Also high on the ShopAdvisor watch list is another in the purple family, the Dyson DC23 Animal Purple Canister Vacuum.      Not ready to buy?

Dyson DC25 All floor Yellow Upright Vacuum. What’s different about Dyson’s yellow family? Says David T. at Vacuum Wizard, “The Dyson DC25 Ball All-Floors is, for a lack of better words, a ball! As the title says, it features the Dyson Ball technology, which makes moving the vacuum around extremely easy.” Lots of great vacuum research on that site, by the way. stephicks68 offers her own perspective.

I am a busy woman. I love a clean house. Unfortunately, I have four children, two dogs and a cat. And I work. Game over, right? Not so fast! I am here to tell you that the best present I ever received is my new Dyson Ball DC25 vacuum cleaner. Perhaps you think its pathetic for me to be swooning over a vacuum, but for years, I tried and discarded model after model.

Are you feeling the love yet?      

Okay, on to the one machine that spoiled Dyson’s clean sweep of the top 10 vacuums in the ShopAdvisor watch list: Neato Robotics’ Xv-11 Gold Robotic Vacuum, which is closely followed by two rival robots, Evolution Robotics’ Mint Automatic Floor Cleaner and by iRobot’s Roomba 530 Vacuum.

The BotJunkie blog does a good job comparing the Xv-11   with a more recent edition of the Roomba 560. The review is extensive, and enteraintaining (it includes a 1-minute video of Roomba vs. Neato Jousting).

Amy Bellgardt (aka Mom Spark) is a fan of the Mint: “I think I may be in Heaven for I have a robot to clean my floors.” Amy actually gave one away last summer to one of her lucky readers. The rest of you will have to use the ShopAdvisor watch button to keep an eye out for a deal.  


Meanwhile, Brian (yes! a man!) says the Roomba 530 has become the cleaning robot of choice at the household of the 2millionblog: “At this point it looks like there is a clear payback in our situation for our investment in a Roomba 530. We have been able to reduce the amount of time spent keeping our floors clean and they are cleaner overall than before. However, if you can’t establish a simple routine to utilize a Roomba effectively then it may be no better than an ordinary vacuum.”  

After the robots come the Hoovers. Lots of different Hoovers on the ShopAdvisor watchlist. The two most popular Hoovers on the list are the WindTunnel Pet Rewind Plus Upright Vacuum and the Max Extract 60 Blue Carpet Cleaner. Last September, Domenic Winick started reviewing all sorts of appliances and gadgets, and the WindTunnel family of vacuums caught his eye straightaway, calling it “a sleek lightweight design with superior cleaning power that is easy to use with a practical price.”  

The Max Extract is actually in a different category — carpet cleaners. I enjoyed reading the test Vacuum Cleaner Seen used to evaluate it.

My cleaning test was a bit unfair, because the rug in question had been on the floor of a kid’s room for 18 years. She’s in college now (the kid, not the rug), and I don’t think the rug has been cleaned since grade school, buried under what my wife and I called “the rubble”. I knew the floor was still under there because the rubble didn’t just fall to the center of the earth, but I had not seen the rug in years. Turned out to be light blue, with stains that looked like paint, coffee, chocolate, and nondescript dark areas. As I mentioned, this rug made short work of the first shampooer I tried.  

Joining the Hoover on the list of carpet cleaners is the Bissell SpotBot Pet Compact Deep Cleaner and the Euro-Pro Shark Steam Pocket Mop.

Kathryn, who writes the Mommy Kat and Kids blog, has given away a Bissell to her readers. In her review she writes, “An old family friend used to say, ‘Your kids can be clean, or they can be happy.’ I couldn’t agree more.” In her evaluation, she says, “Since receiving the SpotBot Pet, I have used it to clean everything from chocolate to juice to my diaper-removing toddler’s ‘accidents’ and it has made short work of the stains every time.” That’s good enough for me, and no more questions asked.

And Steam Cleaner Guide (yes! there is a Steam-Cleaner-Guide.com; of course there is!) admires that Euro-Pro Shark “relies only on the cleaning power of hot vapor, so no chemicals are necessary. This alone makes it an ideal cleaning companion for the home…And when you’re done, you’ll be surprised to find that your floors are almost completely dry, so you won’t have to wait anymore.”  

People are passionate about their suction. It was good to see, though, that fights about them do not erupt all over the Internet. Just some robot jousting.

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Scrapbooking: Winter Sport

We keep pretty close watch on what’s hot among ShopAdvisor customers. Always popular are women’s boots and shoes and clothing, and men’s shoes too. Right up there at the top are televisions, cameras, and video games and game controllers and consoles. But every once in a while, something out of the ordinary spikes into the ‘most watched’ categories.

Apparently, early in the year is when scrapbookers get serious, or when negligent scrapbookers re-commit to creating beautiful and fun memory pieces, or when beginners begin. Scrapbooking authorities have no shortage of advice and professionally designed workshops and self-paced classes for those getting started or stepping it up to the next level. As I perused our most watched scrapbooking items, I also ran across some of the experts in the field.

Donna Downey Studios. What caught my eye about Donna is her stunning itinerary of upcoming workshops: Somerset, England; Paris, France; back home to Huntersville, North Carolina, and to Port St. Lucie, Florida; and then on to New South Wales and Western Australia; and then a stop in Ontario. From her site: “As a mixed-media artist, Donna is a born experimenter, blending and transforming both traditional and unexpected items into meaningful pieces of self expression. A former elementary school teacher, she has synthesized her first love of teaching with her passion for craft and brings this to women via workshops at scrapbook stores and events, writing books, and through her popular blog and website.” Bon voyage!

Ali Edwards. If I ever take up scrapbooking, I think I will start with an online class and move at my own pace. The New York Times Magazine praises her mentoring style: “Edwards’s fans praise her layouts precisely because of their personal touches — her handwriting across photographs and pages, in particular. Yet when she teaches workshops, she encounters scrappers so wrapped up in buying embellishments that their work becomes ‘product heavy’ and so concerned with achieving the ‘right’ look (like the popular layouts they have seen online) that it ‘completely stalls them.’ She encourages workshop attendees to think of the process as its own reward and to focus on telling a personal story.” Ali offers four different online courses, including a foundational storytelling presentation, and another for “creating an album that incorporates room to write (more than just a few words), room for enlarged photos, and the chance to experiment with some fun creative techniques.”

Jennifer McGuire Ink. Jennifer’s creations have been featured in countless publications, including numerous magazines and books. She also offers a series of independent study classes, with a specialty in card-making, including a holiday cards boot camp and a summer card camp. And, for those who have ever felt stumped while crafting, she also has an Inspiration Showcase.

No matter where you are in your scrapbooking hobby or career, ShopAdvisor is one place to keep watch on equipment and supplies for your box, desk, closet, room or floor. Here are the most-watched scrapbooking products.

Scrapbook products aren’t very expensive, but you will be living with your choice of cutting machine for a while, so it makes sense to balance price and quality, perhaps putting a few on your WatchList for a while to see if your preferred model takes a turn in price. The general direction is downward since Christmas. If you didn’t put one of these on your wish list for the holidays, now is probably a good time.

If someone did get you the Cricut Expression , I sure hope it wasn’t on that one or two day period where it was only available online for $500!. One of the most popular items, the Cricut Expression Personal Electronic Cutter has taken the most significant dip, down to $133 from its high of $300 for much of last year. The QuicKutz Silhouette is down $50 from its high in 2011.

Cartridges are another popular set on ShopAdvisor WatchLists. It’s probably always a good idea to have a half-dozen or so under watch, just in case a sale makes them too good not to buy. Among the most watched at the moment are: Cricut Storybook Font Cartridge, currently out of stock (which is a good reason to Watch it) , and Provo Craft Destinations Shape Cartridge ($32.50) , the Provo Craft Cricut Designer’s Calendar Cartridge ($37.95) , and one more Provo Craft, the Tags, Bags, Boxes, and More Cricut Cartridge ($112.00, which is a pretty good deal at the moment, as it has been as high as $170 in just recent weeks) .

Also on the top watched products list are two essentials: a Cricut cartridge binder , and a Tim Holtz – Collection Distress Ink Pads Kit .

Happy memories!

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ShopAdvisor for iPad: And now for something completely different

Today we released ShopAdvisor for iPad (download here). It’s so much more, of course, than just a simple port of our smartphone experience to the tablet.

The Tablets: A Shopping Powerhouse
In their short history, iPads and other tablets have become the shopping tools of choice for online consumers. According to the Internet Advertising Bureau (UK), nearly three-quarters of tablet owners made at least one purchase per week from the device, and spent more than 4.4 hours per week shopping. That’s a lot of hours!

By shopping, of course, tablet owners mean browsing, and window shopping, and flipping through magazines and catalogs, gathering ideas, getting inspiration, doing research. In short, these are all the shopping activities that make all of us defer a purchase until later, when the time and deal is right. Now that this has begun to take place on tablets, the industry has started to refer to this phenomenon as couch commerce. And it is precisely this deferred purchase cycle for which ShopAdvisor was designed for in the first place.

Introducing ShopAdvisor for iPad
When we first released ShopAdvisor for smartphones, we understood that mobile phones are an amazing utility for finding products and doing some quick research. ShopAdvisor brought the notion of deferred purchasing to that utilitarian shopping experience — you could now “watch” those products if you were not ready to buy them right now. And our customers have proven the success of such a model, with nearly a million people using the product and “watching” hundreds of thousands of items.

Even so, we knew when we designed ShopAdvisor for iPad, our audience would be spending time flipping. And perusing. And browsing. It’s not just a utility, it’s a pastime.

So, ShopAdvisor for iPad is an entirely different experience. From the very start, ShopAdvisor for iPad invites you to browse through products, not just jump directly into searching for the one you are hunting for. We have made it easy to walk through products by category, just like walking through a department store: jewelry & watches over here, sporting goods over there, health & beauty products over there. ShopAdvisor for iPad also includes a generous set of collections – sets of products picked by leading tastemakers and product-watchers from every category, from women’s fashion to digital cameras and televisions, from baby gear to toys to home furnishings. If you need inspiration, or just want to see what is current from all over the web, ShopAdvisor for iPad has plenty of suggestions that are pleasing to the eye.

Perhaps the most breath-catching experience we observed during initial tests with early adopters is ShopAdvisor’s page-flipping style of navigation. I can try to describe it here, but you really have to experience it to appreciate the visceral appeal this sort of browsing introduces. We stopped counting how many times people said “oooh!” as they “turned the page” for the first time.

At the end of the day (or week, or month), shopping does mean buying something. In our smartphone versions, there is a wonderful gem of a feature called the price history. But, on such small screen real estate, the price history has a lot of competition for attention. On ShopAdvisor for iPad, the price history is front and center, and it was a huge hit with our testers. You might have to see it to understand how the up-and-down tracking of price over time has such an empowering effect. Over and over, we heard how people felt they now had enough information to know they were getting the right deal. It’s amazing how the tablet format let’s such a jewel shine more brilliantly.

Now that ShopAdvisor for iPad is available in the iTunes App Store, we are looking forward to hearing your oooh’s too. Let us know here, or, even better, in the App Store comments, what you like most about our newest addition to the shopping experience, and if couch commerce has become a pastime of your own.

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What To Buy in Wintertime: Gas Grills

Over at BBQGuys.com, I came across this cautionary (though imaginary) tale. Sounds very much like a barbecue at my house, actually.

Let us walk you through a typical grill purchase: A person goes into a mass merchant store and looks at a huge grill that has big warming racks, high BTU’s, and a list of many other impressive features. They are trying to impress people with this list so that the basics that are required for a great grilling experience are passed over. Sufficiently impressed, this person purchases the grill. He/she gets it in a box, takes it home, and spends most of the day on Saturday cursing and putting the grill together. Then he/she fires the bbq up to cook… all of the sudden the grill looks like it is on fire! Startled, he/she dumps most of his/her beer on the grill, trying to douse the flames. Frantically trying to save the food, he/she tries to turn the heat down, only to realize there’s really no heat control. So, all of the food has to go on those large warming racks.

ShopAdvisor provides some decent links to gas grill buying guides, so you always have access to some expertise while you are in the buying process. And, according to April Dykman over at the Get RIch Slowly blog, wintertime is the right time to shop around for a gas grill. So, perhaps this summer, I’ll be grilling burgers without the fire extinguisher nearby, and with enough money left in my budget for some choice cuts of meat.

Grills To Watch
It’s still early winter, so here’s what I am finding in ShopAdvisor. Let’s start with some grills that are not particularly good deals today, but which look to have promise based on price history.

Broil King Imperial. This item runs a fairly high at the moment — $1,313. If that’s too much for your burgers, put it on the WatchList and see how soon it returns to its pre-Thanksgiving price around $1,000.

The Broil King Sovereign is the next in line for the throne, at $867, though it has recently been as low as $750.

Third in the Broil King line is the Regal. This one is closer to my budget — not the current $600 price tag, but the discount price of $400 that is sure to come back.

The Char Broil 4-Burner Infrared Grill also is a candidate for the WatchList. It carries a hefty $1,000 price tag, but has been seen as low as $600 last summer. $400 buys a lot of hot dogs.

Another worth watching is the Weber Affinity. This has porcelain enameled cooking grates, which is a strongly recommended feature by ConsumerSearch. Unless you are planning a barbecue for this weekend, you’ll want to wait for this one to drop from today’s $397 to $300, where it has been before.

Grills To Buy Now

Next on my WatchList have been two from Team Grills. The Patio MVP 3-Burner and the Patio PRO 2-Burner models, complete with your favorite college sports team insignia, were available just a week ago for a whopping $800 and $1200, respectively. But, if you are still paying off college loans, or have begun saving for your children’s college education, you’ll be pleased to see that these have plummeted to $350 and $450, a savings of 56-63%. Go Wildcats!

For high-end barbecue tastes, the Alfresco Artisan ART26 built-in gas grill (above) has strong appeal. But, there’s high end at $2,000, and high end at $1,420, which is where ShopAdvisor found it. That kind of price chart even a vegetarian will find hard to resist.

The Weber Genesis is a fairly good bargain right now at $569, which is about $120 off its peak.


And for a change of pace and price range, the Brinkman smoker is also a good deal this month. ShopAdvisor found it for $117, down from $150 back in 2011.

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What To Buy in January: Bikes

January seems to be a good month for all sorts of deal-hunting: furniture, exercise equipment, sporting goods (according to Parents magazine, but for which we only found a smattering of good buys), luggage — and, today’s focus, bicycles. This makes common sense, says Whitson Gordon of lifehacker, since “the dead of winter isn’t when most people are buying their summer gear, so you’re likely to get some good deals.”

Here’s what ShopAdvisor found.

Children’s bikes. It’s hard to find a children’s bike that is not on sale. You can pick up a boy’s Mongoose Maxim All Terrain mountain bike for $156, 29% off its holiday peak.  The Schwinn Scorcher is $95, down 21% from before Christmas. For kids into stunts, the Huffy black BMX Fallout  can be found for $90 and the more feminine pink Huffy So Sweet Bmx Bike for $56, down18% and 20%, respectively.

Road bikes.  The Diamondback Airen 1 Women’s Road Bike is $445, used to be $600 (a 26% discount). And the Schwinn Volare Flat Bar 700c Men’s Road Bike  is available for $250, which is a $60 (19%) break from its autumn price.





On the other hand, the Diamondback Insight 3  is not currently a deal, but is instead at its annual high of $700. But in the past it has gone for as low as $500, so this is a good candidate for watching for a 30% price dip (see the ShopAdvisor price history chart above). The same goes for the Kent Giordano Libero 1.6 700c Women’s road bike, which used to be $380 last fall, but which is currently at $450. Time to use the WatchList.

Comfort bikes. For three months the Schwinn Southport 26  has been $175; ShopAdvisor found it this month for 26% less ($130) at Target.com.

The one to watch is the Nirve Paul Frank Skurvy women’s single-speed , which is currently $390, but was under $300 before Thanksgiving. Another good one for your WatchList is the Polaris Sportsman  whose price is high now at $211, but which used to be $150 last October.

Mountain bikes.  The big winner in this group is the Schwinn Solution FS AL , a full 41% off its under-the-tree price at $230. The Kawasaki 21 speed 26″  mountain bike is a good deal right now at $207 (24% off from last month), though in October it was $180. So, you could instead watch this one for a few weeks and hold out a little longer. The  mountain bike is $119, down from a holiday price of $150 — though, like the Kawasaki, it has been available for even less ($106) recently.  Last summer it cost $170. Another in-between deal is the Mongoose Fireline , which for $334 is 22% below the Dec. 24 price, but is still $50 above its November price.

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What To Buy in January: Furniture

Anyone who has looked for deals on furniture surely has come across the sage advice that the best time to buy is in January (and in July). “Most furniture companies release new products twice a year: in February and August. That means they’ll be giving some sweet deals in January to make room for the new products next month,” writes Whitson Gordon over at lifehacker.org.

January 2012 is no exception. I easily found all sorts of deep discounts on furniture for all over the house.

Bedroom. Without breaking a sweat I discovered savings of more than 50% on dressers (American Drew Valley Drawer Dresser, $231, 75% down from $914); daybeds (Walnut Fraser Daybed by Fashion Bed Group, $305, a 62% break from an $800 price tag); a kid’s loft bed (Walker Edison $258, a mere 32% off); and a Prepac Cherry 2 Door Armoire for $119, a 57% savings.

In the living room you can find a generous 40% break on a Coaster Coffee Table Set for $143; an even healthier 48% cut on a set of 2 Broyhill Napolean Farmhouse Side Chairs for $389. For sofas, I found a more modest deal — $749 for a Poundex Sofa Sectional Set, down from $949

Dining room. January is a good time for sitting down, especially at half price, which is what you can do for $64 with a Steve Silver Company Arrowback Side Set Dining Chair. I found lots of deals on American Drew furniture all over the house, including a Tribecca Gathering Table, $840, a 46% drop from $1554. Over against the wall is a good place for celebrating a 35% discount on a Ultimate Accents Saratov Sideboard, $773, down from its December price of $502.

Family room. Here in Boston, we have grown cautious about predicting Super Bowl appearances by our beloved Patriots, but it’s still a smart fan who buys new den furniture in January. A Sauder Entertainment Unit can be had for $189, down from $259. Store all those trophies and commemorative videos in a HON Park Avenue Collection Bookcase Hutch, now $316, a 39% savings. And, saving my favorite for last, rest easy knowing that $714 for the Gabby English Inspired High Leg Reclining Chair by Klaussner is 40% less than its usual $1188 asking price .

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What To Buy in January: Exercise Equipment

Today I am investigating exercise equipment for January deals, based on advice from Anita K. Henry of Parents magazine. “Some retailers offer discounts to nab buyers who just made a New Year’s resolution to shape up,” writes Anita. From my meanderings through this category in ShopAdvisor, deals are hit-and-miss, depending on the kind of weight-loss/exercise goal you set for your 2012 new year’s resolution.

Want a stair climber or a home gym? Then January is a good month.

A treadmill? You better wait if you need a discount. January (so far) is a bad month for walking in place.

Exercise bikes and free weights? Sure, there are deals, although you could have started way back on Black Friday when your holiday eating started.

The Good…

Stair Climbers. Looks like stair climbers are the exercise equipment Parents Magazine had in mind when thinking about January deals. The Schwinn 431 Elliptical has been steady at $650 since summertime last year, but can be found for $547 today; the ProForm ZE Elliptical is often up around $615, but is a deal at $500; and the Stamina Products Dual Action elliptical is at its 6-month low of $168, down from $200.

Home Gym. This is a sweet spot for deals around now. I found the ProForm Activator V7 Weight Set bench for $449, a hefty $250 off its September price of $699. The XMark Mid-Width Weight Bench is at a 6-month low of $181, about 20% off its normal selling price.

The Bad…

Treadmills.  After an hour of poking around in ShopAdvisor, I was hard pressed to find any deals at all. There are a few, such as the NordicTrack T7.0, that are actually more expensivethan their December prices. ShopAdvisor is good at watching for eventual price drops, so for now, January should be a month of watching, not yet buying, a treadmill. Meanwhile, you have some time to do a little research. “When shopping for a treadmill, you can anticipate how much you will need to spend based on your intended usage. If you only need a treadmill for casual walking, a top-rated treadmill under $800 will probably hold up fine…” That’s a good start from the Advise Me feature in ShopAdvisor.

And the Still Good …

Exercise Bikes. From what I can see, prices on exercise bikes dropped like a stone on the same day you pushed away from the Thanksgiving table after that second piece of pumpkin pie with whipped cream. But, the deals are still on in January, and it looks like most of the gear is at six month low price levels. The Body Max Body Champ is the best price deal in the lot, currently available for $180 — for most of the second half of 2011, this item went for $250-300. The Sunny Health & Fitness Pro Indoor Cycling Bike can be taken home for $250, a bit lower than its $280 price tag for much of the rest of the year, so this is likely as good as it gets. The Icon HealthProform has a $400 price tag, down from around $500 all last summer.

Free weights and barbells. Apparently, the time for deal-hunting on muscle-building equipment — as opposed to calorie burning machines — is Sept-October-Nov. I did not see anything special happen price-wise for these items in January. But, still, the “full price” season seems to be in the middle of the year, so go ahead and look now. The Cap Barbell Standard Weight Set goes today for $150, though its been as low as $130 since Thanksgiving. It sometimes runs as high as $185-200, so it is in the middle range right now.

Yoga. There’s not a lot of expensive equipment in yoga, so it’s hard to find any deals worth bragging about. But, for those who have some high-end taste when it comes to their yoga accessories, ShopAdvisor did find some eye-openers. The Prana Natural Yoga Mat, completely biodegradable and made of three layers of heat-laminated rubber, is $46, 32% off it’s usual $68.

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What To Buy in January: Sports Equipment

Yesterday I took a look at deals on luggage at the suggestion of Anita K. Henry from Parents Magazine, who advises us that January is a good month to buy baggage since retailers are trying to move product off the shelves now that the busy holiday travel season is over. I found some pretty good deals, and some that look worth waiting for.

Today, I explored sporting goods, and after an hour or so of searching different sports, it seems sports retailers do not share the same urgency of reducing prices to move post-Christmas inventory. There are some deals, for sure, but nothing dramatic — just 10% here or 20% there. And, for the most part, the deals are few and far between. Perhaps the push will come later in the month, so I have put a lot of them on my WatchList to keep track. Below are some of my findings.

Golf. The Adams Women’s Keri V3 Premium Golf Set was the best deal in the entire sporting goods bunch. This complete golf set usually runs for $1,050 and has been consistently at that price for the better part of six months. That is, except for one day or weekend in December, when it plummeted to $600. Someone got a nice Christmas gift! It is available today for $799, which is a respectable 24% savings. Most of the other golf sets looked to be flat in price, though I am watching the Nike VR Pro Combo Irons set, which is currently $900, but which last autumn bopped up and down between $600 and $700.

Lacrosse. If you are going to play lacrosse, I suppose it makes sense to spend a couple hundred dollars protecting your skull with a helmet, though I still balk at the price tag. I didn’t see many deals, so I have three on my WatchList now as a sort of generalized alerting mechanism, all three of which have not had a price shift in six months: the Cascade Pro7 ($225), the Warrior TII ($227), and the Easton Raptor ($240).

Tennis. The same seems to go for tennis rackets — no great deals, or at least not yet in January. So I have another set of four items on my ShopAdvisor WatchList as canaries in the coal mine to let me know if a massive across-the-board sale on tennis equipment is underway. I selected the Prince EXO3 Silver 115 ($230, with recent deal at $200), the HEAD Six Star (also $230, with an August 2011 sale price of $182), the Technifibre TFight 320 (stubbornly at $179 for the past 2 months), and the Black Ace 98 (also hanging on tightly to its $149 price point since last summer).

Soccer. I looked through a lot of cleats and saw little evidence of a January sales craze. Among the slim pickings were the Adidas Mens F50 adiZero TRX HG (down to $99 from $129 a few weeks ago), the Nike T90 Strike IV AG ($79, which is down from $100 before Thanksgiving, but which has been at this price for a while), and the Asics Lethal Stats ($110 for four months running).

Baseball. Again, I don’t see a mad January rush to the stores for a new baseball or softball mitt. I did see one striking price history, which I just had to share here. It doesn’t take a sharp shopper to find a Wilson A2K Outfielders glove for $130, but it is possible for the worst shopper to find it on the rare day it spikes up to $210, which it seemed to do on occasion during the major league baseball playoffs. I put that and the Nokona Pro Line (unmoved for six months at $189) on my WatchList.

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