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Online Holiday Shopping: 5 Tips for Bargain Hunters

Black Friday ignites a sense of unbridled excitement in many holiday shopaholics. For the rest of us, it's cause for nothing more than another good reason to stay close to home, sit by the fire and enjoy an extra cup of hot chocolate while the masses fight it out on the busiest shopping day of the year.

After the 2008 trampling death of a Wal-Mart employee as throngs of bargain hunters stampeded through the store's entrance, doesn't it sound like shopping from the comfort of your desktop may be the safest option anyway? Perhaps so, but there's something to be said about being out amongst all the hustle and bustle, Christmas music, lights, and endless sales. Many holiday shoppers thrive on the rush—it's simply part of the experience.

But what sounds better to you this year? Dragging yourself out of bed at 4 a.m. to brave the harsh elements and beat the crowds? Or, lounging around the house, eating leftover turkey, and scoring some Black Friday bargains online? After all, most deals that rally people to the cause are actually available online as well. You just need to know when and where to find them.

If you make the wise choice to skip the crowds and shop from the comfort of computer this year, there's still no excuse for hitting the virtual shopping mall unprepared. So, keep these 5 tips in mind as you prepare to make the best of your online holiday shopping experience:

1.) Logon to iBlackFriday.com or BFAds.net

These sites are excellent resources to not only help you stay on top of all the Black Friday deals, but also to keep track of when and where the sales will go live online. At iBlackFriday.com, you can even build your own shopping list so you'll have quick and easy access to the products you want as soon as the best deals go live. Some sales may start as early as Thanksgiving day, so be sure to plan your shopping strategy early.

2.) Don't Get Duped by "Black Friday" Hype

Just because the ad says it's a "one-time only Black Friday sale" doesn't necessarily mean you won't find a lower price somewhere else online. Like a true bargain hunter would do any other time of the year, make the effort to do your due diligence beforehand and use sites like pricegrabber.com or bizrate.com to compare prices and products across a variety of e-commerce sites. You may be surprised to find a specialty site that sells the exact same product you're searching for at a lower price year round.

3.) Check Out Your Local Craigslist

There are some great deals to be found on Craigslist.org during the holidays. In an effort to raise some last-minute cash, sellers are often willing to unload practically brand-new items for a fraction of the price they paid. And the selections are endless too—electronics, dvds, books, games, and toys of every kind. Just be prepared to handle transactions face-to-face and in cash. Most Craigslisters don't like credit cards or personal checks.

4.) Bundle Purchases to Save More

Many sites offer free shipping specials or discounts off the price of your total order when a certain purchase threshold is exceeded, so keep your eyes open for these gems as you surf around the web.

For example, Amazon.com provides free Super Saver Shipping when you purchase at least $25 of eligible items and ship them to a single address. Even if you found the perfect Tiger Webkinz for your nephew on another site for a few bucks less than at Amazon.com, it might make more sense to pay the higher price and bundle it with other purchases so you can pass the $25 threshold and obtain free shipping on your entire order.

5.) Choose Credit Over Debit for Online Purchases

Credit cards offer much more security than debit cards when shopping online. For instance, credit cards aren't linked directly to your bank account and your liability for any fraudulent purchases is limited to $50 under the Fair Credit Billing Act.

Most major credit issuers even have $0 liability policies, so you wouldn't be held responsible for any fraudulent purchases. And if that's not enough to convince you, most credit card issuers also provide purchase protection from receiving a faulty product or no product at all, which could very well save you from a big holiday headache.

Of course, using your credit card shouldn't affect how much you choose to spend on gifts this year. Whether you're making purchases on your credit card, debit card, or with cash, your gift-giving budget should remain the same.

In fact, determine beforehand how much you can realistically afford to allocate towards gifts, and immediately cut that number by at least 25 percent to be conservative. Now, go ahead and try to beat it by another 25 percent to prove just how good of an online bargain hunter you really are.

Happy bargain hunting!

on Sun, 2011-11-13 16:00