More of us plan to shop online this holiday season, and it's not hard to understand why.
Besides the convenience of not having to slog through the crowds, you can't beat cybershopping for the ease in finding the best deals.
Sites such as Amazon, PriceGrabber and GoogleShopping can help spot stores with the best prices at the same time that quaint bargain hunters with shopping bags and flip phones are still home daydreaming about butting in line.
Cameron Huddleston, cybershopper extraordinaire and contributing editor at Kiplinger, says one of her favorite online shopping tools is a browser add-on called PriceBlink. which scans some 4,000 merchant sites for the lowest prices.
"It's not spying on you," Ms. Huddleston said. "It just pops up when you are on a retailer site, and when you click a product, it will show you if that product is available for a lower price [somewhere else]."
PriceBlink also will alert you to a website's free shipping or coupon deals.
One of Ms. Huddleston's best pieces of advice for online shoppers this season is not to pay for shipping.
The majority of retailers should be offering free shipping for the holidays, she said, although some will require a minimum purchase to qualify.
On Dec. 18, hundreds of online retailers will be participating in the sixth annual free shipping day. Stores that have agreed to offer free shipping that day with no minimum purchase and guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve are listed at www.freeshipping.com.
Another way to get free shipping is to order online for pickup at a store. Walmart, Kmart and others offer that option on many items all year.
Before hitting the order button, don't forget to search for coupon codes at sites such as RetailMeNot, CouponCabin and DefinitiveDeals.
Also register for email alerts for coupons and deals at your favorite retailers' sites and at deal-hunting sites such as Dealnews, Offers and BensBargains.net, Ms. Huddleston said. If you're looking for big bargains but dread the thought of leaving the Thanksgiving table or battling the crowds for the Black Friday extravaganza this week, don't fret, she said.
"Every one of the deal experts I spoke with said most of the Black Friday and Thanksgiving Day deals and those holiday sales also will be available online," she said. "You don't need to feel like you are going to miss out."
If you're planning to participate in Black Friday -- either virtually or in person -- the website Dealnews has analyzed years of historical price data to identify some items that you should avoid buying because they'll likely be even cheaper later in the season or in the new year.
Here are a few things Dealnews says you should cross off your list, at least temporarily:
* Toys -- Although there will be discounts, you'll likely see the same toys for even less about two weeks before Christmas.
* Brand-name HDTVs -- Typically the door-buster prices on Black Friday apply to third-tier TV makers. Brand-name TVs tend to hit their lowest prices in late December as manufacturers look to clear stock before unveiling 2014 models.
* Winter apparel -- While Black Friday weekend generally brings out some of the best clothing coupons of the year, if a new coat or jacket is on your list, it's smarter to hold off until the January clearance sales.
* Exercise equipment -- You'll likely save money waiting until December or January for better deals on a variety of fitness gear including heart rate monitors, ab machines, elliptical trainers and yoga equipment.
* International airfare -- If you're thinking about an overseas getaway, delay booking flights until the new year, Dealnews says. The first two months of last year saw Air Canada offer deep discounts to Toronto, JetBlue slash 80 percent off select flights to the Caribbean and Lufthansa offer round-trip fares to Europe for $471.
Patricia Sabatini: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3066.