MONEY MANAGEMENT

There are tons of ways to get the lowest price on your holiday gifts, and even a way to give back while doing so, writes MoneyShow's Terry Savage.

Holiday shopping will never be the same. Even traditional merchants are competing online to offer the best deals.

And these deals are no longer limited to limited hours and limited stock in stores. Now, retailers are competing to get your business by offering an ever-changing array of deals that change within minutes.

Suddenly shoppers have great power—and retailers have great flexibility. Holiday shopping has become a whole new game. There are some plusses—and some minuses.

Here’s the thing about holiday shopping online. What you don’t get is the sensory and enticing experience of walking through a store and being “struck” by the “perfect gift.” What you do get is a disciplined way to shop for the best price on something you already have decided should be the perfect gift.

And since you’re likely not to pay local sales taxes when you order online (unless the merchant has a retail presence in your location), there is a huge incentive to avoid the crowds and order online. Online holiday shopping is expected to increase 17% from $46.63 billion in 2011 to $54.47 billion in 2012.

But the real benefit of online shopping is instant price comparison on the items you’re seeking. Many Web sites scurry around the Internet finding all the best bargains on the products you are most likely to want. When you click through from their Web site, you get the low price guarantee—and they get a small fee per click-through from the store.

PriceGrabber.com: PriceGrabber.com is one of the top shopping comparison Web sites. You can go to the site and compare prices of over 80 million different products and read merchant reviews. Shoppers can also download the PriceGrabber App, which gives them the ability to compare prices on the go by browsing or using the barcode scanner.

It’s instant information. You can compare by product category—ie, top three 40” LCD televisions, or find the lowest price sellers of the product you decide upon.

PriceBlink.com: PriceBlink is another free tool that saves you money by doing all the searching for you for coupons, free shipping, and more. If you can purchase that very same product on another site for less, or if the site you’re on offers any coupon codes, free shipping, or any other deals, PriceBlink will let you know.

Priceblink also just released a free companion iPhone App, called BuyorNot, which helps shoppers when they’re in the store to quickly see how an item is rated by other shoppers simply by scanning the barcode of any product to search more than 45 million reviews.

But the retailers hope to grab you at their own Web sites—by offering special deals and updating them frequently:

Amazon.com now features “Lightning Deals” that are posted throughout the day, have limited quantities, last a limited few hours, and offer discounts of as much as 50% off retail prices. The products offered range from electronics to exercise equipment, and include apparel, jewelry, and children’s toys.

Tracking these fast-changing deals could force you to sit at your computer for hours—or you could sign up for their free deal newsletter.

Walmart.com now has a deal-laden home page—with prices and offerings constantly changing as the company assesses its business. You can find the hottest toys, electronics, video games, and even low-priced items for stocking stuffers—all shipped free to your home. You can create an online “wish list” to alleviate the problem of post-Christmas returns of unwanted or unneeded items.

Target.com has the same splashy home page featuring daily deals—and you’ll see yellow highlighted items marked as “temporary price cut” with discounts of 50% or more! There is absolutely nothing, it seems, that you can’t order at this Web site, have it delivered at no charge, and solve all your shopping hassles.

BestBuy.com Not to be outdone, this retailer known for its huge stores is now featuring deals online and an e-mail newsletter to let you know when they are posted—as well as the ubiquitous free shipping.

You’ll get lots of ideas, as well as deals, by visiting these retailers’ Web sites. But how do you easily make comparisons of these special deals?

At DealNews.com, you can see and compare what a wide variety of retailers are posting as their best deals, including Amazon, Sears, Best Buy, Kohls, and many others. Although they do accept advertising, their editorial guarantee is impressive, promising to not only deliver the best deals, but those from reliable retailers. They’ll even figure your bottom line, including available coupons and free shipping.

Time is Money
All of these instant price changes limit profitability for retailers, but do give consumers a new kind of power. Walk into a store with a printout from their Web site or that of a competitor, and they are not going to let you walk away empty-handed. They’ll match the best deals.

But there is also the uncertainty factor. Right now, the retailers are competing like crazy to get you to buy—but when Christmas day draws closer, and you become more desperate to find the right gift, will they pull back on their deals? Or will they be anxious enough for sales volume to give you an even bigger price break if you wait till the last minute?

We won’t know that until the holiday shopping season is over—and the post-holiday deals emerge.

But just in case all this discussion of holiday shopping deals seems a bit crass to you (and well it should), here’s something you might not be aware of: Cyber Monday is going to be followed by “Giving Tuesday.” It’s a concept designed to help people remember the real spirit of the holidays.

At www.GivingTuesday.org, you can find dozens of organizations that need your help, not just now but throughout the year. As the Web site puts it so eloquently: “It’s a simple idea. Find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to join in acts of giving. Tell everyone you can about what you are doing and why it matters. Join a national celebration of our great tradition of generosity.” Everyone who shops online should also visit this wonderful site.

When you’ve finished saving time and money with your online shopping deals, you’ll certainly have some of both left over to give back to your community or organizations around the world. That will be the best deal of all. And that’s The Savage Truth.

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