How Pricing Alerts Work


Retail giant Wal-Mart will send an alert by e-mail or text message when an item of interest to you goes on sale.
Retail giant Wal-Mart will send an alert by e-mail or text message when an item of interest to you goes on sale.
Scott Olson/

With more than $31 billion in online sales for a single quarter in 2007, it's easy to miss out on a hot online bargain without a little help [source: U.S. Census Bureau]. And, pricing alerts are a great way to stay on top of those bargains.

To receive pricing alerts, most online retailers allow you to complete a form with your e-mail address if you want an e-mail alert, or your cell-phone number if you want a text message. Retailers will send you alerts or automated notifications when the price drops on an item you've previously purchased, or when they're holding a special one-day sale. They may also e-mail you specific offers such as free shipping with $100 purchase.

These alerts aren't just for finding bargains in the usual places. Did you know you can also use online pricing alerts to keep up with real estate and investment options? For instance, you can beat a fellow house-hunter to making an offer on your dream house. Or, you can get advance notice on how your favorite stocks are doing in the market.

In this article, we'll examine the different types of pricing alerts: one for investment prices, another for real estate deals and a third online shopping.

Investment Pricing Alerts

Investment companies will send the information from the stock ticker straight to you, so you can keep up with your investments.
Investment companies will send the information from the stock ticker straight to you, so you can keep up with your investments.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Investment pricing alerts can help you get the most out of your money by e-mailing updates on stock performance, investment price changes, current market conditions and stock price changes over time.

Your e-mail alerts are based on criteria you select or the investments you want to watch, such as those currently making headline news.

Investment alerts come in different forms, including tracking through a software program. For example, Fund Manager offers real-time monitoring performance of your investments, sending you e-mail alerts based on when your investment value rises or falls above a fixed price.

Many investment companies have their own versions of alerts. Charles Schwab and Company offer a different type of investment alert. It sends e-mails to account holders with stock price changes, earnings updates and market research. If you have an account with Schwab, you can set up these alerts at any time.

Morgan Stanley offers customizable options including e-mail updates on new stocks, and AG Edwards offers customers investment alerts based on particular stocks.

Investment pricing alerts can also come from third-party, subscriber-based services. Poweropt.com offers subscribers pricing alerts based on the market and even filters for price considerations, such as high-return, low-risk opportunities. These pricing alerts aren't advertised as recommendations, but advice on investments-to-watch opportunities that fit one or more of the following:

  • Companies trading 3.5 million shares of stock or more a day
  • Companies with rising stock prices
  • Companies with high ratings by analysts and brokers
  • Companies with positive price, volume, momentum, and other factors
  • A minimum of a 5 percent, 60 day return on the investment

Even though they're generated by different sources, these alerts work in a similar way. Some are computer generated based on criteria such as the Poweropt.com pricing alerts. Others are created by a team of investment professionals who watch the markets and determine what they consider hot stocks, bad risks and rising stars in the investment world.

If you get your information from an investment service like AG Edwards, the alerts include basic information like opening and closing stock prices. Alerts may also include expert commentary on stock performance, as well as a market outlook.

Stock pricing alerts and investment information are meant as general advice, not money-making instructions. Investment pros at sites like The Motley Fool advise against making stock buys without research, or based on short-term, high-risk activities.

The experts say it's better to use the information in your stock pricing alerts to make buying and selling decisions based on what Motley Fool calls "long-term buy-to-hold investing." This means conservative investing in quality companies, doing research on those companies and watching them over time.

Real Estate Pricing Alerts

Find out about houses with automated alerts.
Find out about houses with automated alerts.
© Photographer: Rayan | Agency: Dreamstime

Compared to stock pricing alerts, getting the best possible deal on a home using real estate pricing alerts is a lot simpler. Web sites like ListingNotice.com offer an electronic form to send you real estate notifications when houses meeting your criteria are listed. Your alert criteria are based on:

  • Property type: single-family, condo or townhome
  • Preferred zip code
  • Desired price range
  • Number of bedrooms and bathrooms

After signing up, you'll get detailed e-mails as homes matching your criteria appear on the market. You can request alerts by e-mail only, or get a phone call when the right properties come available. Many of these services are regional, and have a limited range of coverage. Others cover several states. ListingNotice.com covers the Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C. areas.

Individual real estate agents have their own e-mail alerts, and these often come with perks that offer subscribers extra help in the housing market. Abbey Realty in Lacey, Wash., advertises real estate notification including homes that haven't been officially placed on the market. Reaching a buyer before they're swamped with offers may work in your favor, especially if the buyer will negotiate with you based on the right buying or selling conditions.

How Do I Set Up An E-Mail Real Estate Alert?

Many real estate agents provide electronic forms on their Web site; you fill out the standard form fields with your name and e-mail address, and create a password. Some forms have the e-mail alert section built in, others require you to log in and go to the subscriber-only areas of the site to set up your real estate pricing alert. Either way, you'll need to answer these questions:

  • Do you need a single-family home? Condo? Duplex?
  • How many bedrooms?
  • How many bathrooms?
  • How much square footage?
  • What is your price range?
  • Do you have a real estate agent?
  • Do you have pre-arranged financing?

This information will help narrow your e-mail alerts to the most relevant sales and will keep you from having to wade through listings that don't meet your needs.

Online Shopping Pricing Alerts

Web sites like ebay will send you an e-mail if you've been outbid, or when you win an auction item.
Web sites like ebay will send you an e-mail if you've been outbid, or when you win an auction item.
Chris Hondros/Getty Images

According to an article in the New York Times, Internet users downloaded 242 million coupons in a single year. A great deal of those coupons come from online shopping notifications and e-mailed newsletters. The same article said some companies only use e-mail notifications to offer discounts. If you didn't get the discount from your e-mail inbox, you missed out.

Pricing alerts help you get better prices, get inside tips on unadvertised sales, bargains and Internet-only deals. Every retailer has a different way of setting up online pricing alerts, but you may be required to register for the retailer's e-mail newsletter before getting access to the alerts. Some companies offer you more than one newsletter or price alert. Wal-Mart's Internet newsletter sign-up page has several options including entertainment, babies and books.

Coupon Web sites are another source of online shopping notifications. Coupon Heaven is dedicated to bringing Internet bargains via e-mail alerts and coupons available for download from the site. Sites like this offer several ways to customize your experience with search tools and menus to find coupons that are:

  • merchant-specific
  • brand-specific
  • category-specific

Many of these discount alerts contain coupon codes used when ordering through a company's Web site. These are simple to use, but you'll need to locate the place on the shopping cart or electronic order form to insert your code.

The Better Business Bureau recommends caution when responding to online price alerts from vendors that are new to you . If you haven't shopped at a Web site before, make sure you understand return policies, mailing costs and other details before placing your order. Don't buy a bargain only to find that you paid too much in shipping and handling fees. Be sure you know how the item will be shipped and what it costs.

There are few statistics available on the use of e-mail alerts, but it's obvious that the demand for these alerts has exploded. Sandy Carter, Vice President of Websphere Marketing, Strategy, and Channels for IBM, says 75 percent of the 175 million U.S. internet users are online shoppers. It's not clear how many of those millions use e-mail alerts, but e-commerce consultant company Javelin Strategy reports alert use doubled (based on a study from 2004 and 2006). That report also says even more growth is coming.

E-mail alerts are becoming as common as e-mail itself. At the moment, customers use them as an advantage; as more industries catch up to Internet retailers, investment sites and real estate companies, e-mail alerts could become an indispensable part of the online experience.

For lots more information about pricing alerts and related topics, check out the links on the next page.

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