You've gotten through Black Friday. Now it's time for one of the more successful artificial creations in marketing history: Cyber Monday. Completely pulled out of thin air, it has nevertheless become a popular time for retailers to discount sales online -- and for consumers to save a boatload on products they might have planned to buy anyway.
Here are some online tools that can help you better navigate the sales and lock down the savings you're looking for:
Check the portals
If you're planning some serious shopping, then do some serious research ahead of time on who's got what. CyberMonday.com is owned by Shop.org and highlights deals from hundreds of online retailers. Sign up for email alerts on hourly deals and use the comparative engine to see who can give you the best price. CyberMonday2011.com, run by BradsDeals.com, is another deal aggregation site that looks worth checking out.
Buy now or later?
Prices will be low on Cyber Monday, but quantities are usually limited and there's that nagging feeling there might be better deals later on. If you're in the market for electronics, then stop by Decide.com for some sage advice. The site uses pricing history and statistical analysis to estimate whether a given product is at a price nadir or if your patience will be rewarded. It claims 77 percent prediction accuracy.
Stalking Amazon and other websites
Don't count on Cyber Monday deals being a neat collection of specials that you can find ahead of time, stake out, and then pounce. Amazon, Walmart and others plan to rotate through different sales throughout the entire week. Maybe something you're looking for will be on the list. Or, just possibly, you want to monitor a given product to see if and when the price drops.
Try BuyLater.com. It lets you mark products on the site of a supported retailer (Amazon, Walmart, Zappos, NewEgg, and Golfsmith, right now) though an extension for Firefox or Safari web browsers. When your browser is running, it becomes part of a massive grid computing process and donates a little bandwidth (and no personal information, according to the company) to help monitor everyone's marked products. When the price on the product you wanted drops, you get an email. BuyLater makes its money by having you click on an affiliate link, so it gets a small cut of the sale.
Another service is called FreePriceAlerts.com. It's a browser add-on and cloud-based application that works on hundreds of sites including Amazon, BestBuy, Walmart, Kohl's, Home Depot, and Overstock.
What's the non-Cyber Monday world doing?
Don't necessarily assume that a Cyber Monday, Week, Month, Year, or Decade promotion is the best you can do. Crafty retailers count on consumers' assumptions about how good sales prices are supposed to be. Labels can be deceptive.
So double-check prices elsewhere. Google Product Search has recent improvements in features with a changed user interface that is more graphically-oriented. Yahoo Shopping also has shopping by product name or category. If you think you've got a good deal, take a quick check to see if you might save some money going elsewhere.
This last tip is more about crushing Cyber Monday shopping without letting it crush you: What good is a deal that costs you your job? According to a CareerBuilder study, 22 percent of companies fired employees for using the Internet for non-work activity and 7 percent of human resource managers fired an employee specifically for holiday shopping.
Many companies monitor employee activity on the corporate computers and networks. So bring your own smartphone (not one issued from work) and do any purchasing from it. That way there's no one virtually looking over your shoulder. Oh, and keep the price hunting to lunch or break time. No sense in tempting fate and the unemployment demons.