Twitter's immediacy and near ubiquity make it ideal for researching potential new purchases.

Be it product feedback, location-based advice or even price tracking, Twitter has plenty of tools up its sleeve to help you become a smart shopper.

1. Search a product

Making a standard Twitter search helps you to dredge up real-time comments that include any string you like. This can be useful for researching particular products or companies.

Head to http://search.twitter.com and enter your search terms. This gives you a blanket return on the item being tweeted globally. Your results are sorted by time, with the most recent ones first.

2. Check for complaints

If you use a search operator, you can narrow the results down to those that give you useful information about the product. Consider looking for tweets with a negative attitude: add a sad face (colon, open brackets) to the end of your search to find dissatisfied customers.

You'll need to apply some common sense to filter unjustified naysayers from genuine feedback. You can take the same approach to check out a company, or turn the frown upside down to look for positive tweets.

3. Localise the search

By adding near:location (where 'location' is the name of a city or area) to your search, you can find results by people whose location is set as close to that place.

For example, enter iphone near:bristol and you'll get tweets including the word 'iphone' from people in Bristol.

If you want to be more specific, go to Twitter's advanced search at http://search.twitter.com/advanced and set the distance in the 'Places' field.

4. Use Twitter Groups

Look for a group related to your product on Twitter Groups. Use the search utility to find groups dedicated to a related area of interest.

You'll find a list of tweets from that group shown in a widget at the bottom of its page. If you can't find a suitable group, click 'Create a group' to start one.

5. Follow the retailer

Once you've found out who stocks the product you're after, search for the retailer on Twitter and then opt to follow it.

A large number of companies keep interested customers up to date with their latest deals via the site, so it's definitely worth keeping an eye on their streams. You can always unfollow the retailer again once you've made your purchase.

6. Make a list

Set up a Twitter list that includes the retailers you're interested in plus anyone else who has useful information on the product.

On your Twitter homepage, click 'New List' under 'Lists' in the right-hand column. Give it a name and description and opt to make it private. Finally, select related users and add them to your list.

You can now view the latest tweets from list members by selecting that list from your Twitter homepage.

7. Follow bargain hunters

Make sure you're following those useful services that keep you up to date with the very latest bargains and deals out there.

The Money Saving Expert (@moneysavingexp) shares deals as and when they arise, as does @cheapstingy – although the latter tends to concentrate on bargains based on the other side of the Pond, which may or may not be of use.

8. Create reminders

Set a reminder to give yourself a nudge via Twitter if you need to make a time-sensitive purchase that you can't risk forgetting about.

Mind Me To provides a simple service to tweet you automatically when you ask it to. Details are at www.mindmeto.com.

Just follow @mindmeto and wait for it to follow you back. Now send a reminder tweet such as @mindmeto book concert tickets on Monday and you'll get your reminder. All you have to do is make sure you're online to see it!

9. Track packages

Another great notification tool is Track This, which provides you with updates on any package you're awaiting.

Track this

To use, follow @trackthis and wait for it to follow you back. Now send a message including the tracking code and a package nickname and it will message you when the package changes location.

10. Monitor products

This is a service that combines a Firefox extension with a Twitter bot to provide you with notifications when the status of an item at Amazon changes. It can tell you when a product becomes available or when the price next changes.

You can get the extension at www.buylatr.com, although it's not compatible with the latest version of Firefox, which is a minor irritant.

Once installed, you get a 'BuyLater' button on Amazon product pages. You also need to follow @buyitlater on Twitter. When you come across something you want to monitor, click the 'BuyLater' button and provide your contact details.

Be aware that while the extension is active, Firefox will be polling Amazon on behalf of BuyLater, even if you're not actively monitoring a product.

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First published in PC Plus Issue 294

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