If the financial crisis and economic downturn have you pinching pennies this holiday season, we're here to help you find gifts for everyone on your list -- at bargain prices.
The good news for budget-conscious consumers is that many retailers are slashing prices because of the soft economy. "Retailers are going to great lengths to drive traffic to their stores and online," says Dan de Grandpre, founder and chief executive of dealnews, a Web site devoted to finding deals. They really have been ramping up deals in the past few weeks, he says.
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And it's not just stores like Kmart, which had a Black Friday sale November 2 -- weeks before the actual Friday known as the busiest shopping day of the year. High-end retailers, such as Saks Fifth Avenue, have been marking down their inventory. But if you want to avoid the crowds at the malls and still snag great deals, shop online.
Keeping your holiday spending under control is easy thanks to an array of Web sites with the sole purpose of helping you find bargains. There are sites that post the latest deals on everything from clothes to electronics, sites that give you cash back when you shop, sites that provide coupon codes, sites that help you compare prices and even sites that post Black Friday sale ads before they hit the newspapers.
Even if you don't end up buying online, it never hurts to find the best deals on the Web before you brave crowded stores. Then you can comparison shop and make better choices.
We've tested and picked 25 Web sites we think are easy to use and will help you save money this holiday season. Take a look:
Find the Lowest Price
If you really want to score a great buy, use a price-comparison site. PriceGrabber.com (side-by-side product comparison, merchant coupons and rebates) Shopping.com and mySimon.com all are great options because they give you a lot of results for your searches with the range of prices listed, product descriptions, side-by-side product comparison, and store and product ratings. The sites also are good places to go if you are looking for gift ideas.
Pronto.com fetches prices on 70 million products from 65,000 merchants, a larger retail search than rival sites offer. The site is geared heavily toward products users like most. That is, when you click on a category, you'll get a list of the top 100 liked products. You also can get gift-buying tips from community members.
If you know exactly what you want and need just a bare-bones price comparison site, try Google's shopping search engine, Froogle. What you'll get are lots of results for your search, product reviews, seller ratings and a "local shopping" option to help you find products at stores near you. What you won't see is a home page full of hot products, shopping guides, product categories and colorful images you'll find on sites such as PriceGrabber and Shopping.com.
Another site worth checking out is Dealio.com, which shows eBay prices along with prices from traditional retailers. What we really like about this site, though, are the downloadable tools that help you find the lowest prices online.
If you're not exactly sure what to get that certain person on your gift list, check out online deal sites, which post loads of discounted items. You're bound to find the right gift at the right price.
Our new favorite is dealnews, which has a team of about 15 deal hunters keeping their eyes on a million products at a 1,000 stores. Plus merchants and the site's visitors tip them off to bargains. The deal hunters hand pick the best deals among the thousands they get daily and update the site at least 200 times a day, de Grandpre says.
The site also bans stores with poor customer service and publishes only verified -- not rumored -- Black Friday sales prices. Plus, you can sign up for e-mail or RSS alerts for products or stores you're interested in and get gift ideas from the site. And it even has a Wii price tracker.
Dealtaker.com lists some deals on its home page, but you'll find hundreds more listed in its forums, including Black Friday ads. So if you're willing to take the time to troll through the forums, you'll probably find deals here you won't find other places. Or use the search option if there's a particular product for which you're trying to find a deal.
There are more than 153,000 forum members who post deals, and you don't have to register to view the ones listed. The site also offers coupons for about 1,500 online stores, a price search engine and e-mail notification of deals. Because the site gets about 2 million visitors during the holidays, "when you see a good deal ... take the plunge or you risk losing it because hot items go out of stock quickly," says Neal Rapoport, the site's founder.
For electronics, our favorite is DealsOfAmerica, which updates deals every hour. Every item it lists on the home page has a picture, a description, the store that's offering the deal and, best of all, the list price so you'll know just how much of a bargain you're getting. The site also has coupons, a price-comparison tool, a list of products or services available for free after rebate or coupon and a hot deal e-mail alert you can sign up to receive. Deals are from top online retailers and brick-and-mortar stores with nationwide presence.
Another distinctive site: Slickdeals.net. It lists deals by date so you know new items are being added every day. It also offers online coupons and a forum, where you can find more deals and advice on getting bargains.
Shop With Cyber-Coupons
Put away the scissors -- you don't have to clip these coupons. Plenty of sites offer coupon codes (and printable coupons) for online and brick-and-mortar retailers. The nice thing about our picks is that you don't have to register on these sites to gain access to the coupons.
CouponCabin posts featured coupons, as well as special offers, on its homepage and lets you search for coupons from 1,200 online stores by category and merchant. You also can sign up to receive coupons by e-mail.
DealCatcher.com provides online coupons, printable coupons and deal alerts for stores or products of your choosing through e-mail. You can browse for coupons by store or category. And with its catch of the day, there's an icon you can click on to see similar deals.
RetailMeNot offers coupons from more than 20,000 stores and a community where you can get tips and deal info from others.
CouponMountain.com focuses on coupons for Dell, HP, Buy.com and Amazon.com, but also has coupons for stores such as Old Navy and Target. You can search by category or store. It also has a list of the most popular coupons lists deals of the day. And Coupon Craze has coupon codes and printable coupons not only for merchants in the U.S. but also in the United Kingdom and Canada. It also has a special Black Friday and Christmas coupons sections.
And if you're shopping for children, check out CleverBabies.com. It has coupons for stores such as Toys R Us, DisneyShopping.com and babyGap. The site also posts sales, has forums and has its own coupons.
Get Cash Back
Another way to spend less is to earn cash while you shop. That's the premise of FatWallet and Ebates.com. Join their cash-back programs and you can get cash back (usually a percentage of your purchase) when you buy items from select merchants.
Be sure to read the fine print. You don't get cash back at the time of your purchase. Instead, it accrues in an account and is sent to you periodically. Also, not all merchants featured on these sites participate and of those that do, some have their own requirements for earning cash back.
Black Friday Ad Sites
These sites post Black Friday sale ads weeks before they run in the newspapers: Black Friday 2008, BlackFridayAds.com, TheBlackFriday.com, Black Friday Gear, BlackFriday.info, Black Friday GottaDeal.com and Black-Friday.net.
Created in 2003, Black Friday (bfads.net) was the first site exclusively dedicated to posting Black Friday ads. What we like about this site is that its lists of sale items have star ratings for the product and icons that denote whether they are early bird or rebate items. Black Friday also has a mailing list you can sign up for to receive e-mail notifications of deals.
On a final note, if you're shopping online be sure to look for privacy and security seals on retailers' sites, know the return and exchange policies, and check shipping deadlines to ensure your gifts arrive on time.
And to make sure you're getting the best bargain online, look for the item at the best price from a merchant with free shipping and a coupon to lower the cost even further -- the trifecta of bargain shopping, Rapoport of DealTaker.com says.