If you dread the holiday stampede and would like to make gift-giving more rewarding for yourself, Consumer Reports has a list of five things you can do to make your shopping as hassle-free as possible:
Don't wait to hear about sales. Retailers usually offer discounts on just a few products anyway, so the chances are slim that you will stumble on a discount for something on your list. Instead, plan your buying and shop early in the day, as well as in the season. Morning crowds tend to be light, sales assistants more attentive and retailer Web sites more inclined to feature special discounts. In the event that you do find a sale you like, buy as soon as you can. Sales are first come, first serve, and "hot" gifts might be in short supply.
Compare before buying.
One of the most aggravating side effects of hurried shopping is finding a product you have just purchased at a lower price. Even if you return it and get a refund, you won't be compensated for the lost time and legwork. Instead, do price comparisons ahead of time using shopping "bots," such as BizRate, DealTime, Google Product Search or Shopzilla. Be sure to sort by product price when searching.
Go online to save big.
In addition to price comparison, Web sites such as FatWallet and DealTalker.com provide advance information about sales at stores and online merchants. Along with Web sites like CouponCabin and Coolsavings.com, they also feature downloadable coupons plus discount or promotional codes. Individual store Web sites can be a valuable resource too.
Get a gift receipt.
A recipient who decides to exchange an item might be issued a gift card or store credit for the lowest price the item ever sold for. You'll also need the receipt for warranty service. Note: Purchases made in November or December are often eligible for extended return or other privileges.
Take advantage of free shipping.
Many retailers offer it as an incentive to buy online, so if you are shopping on the Internet it pays to do so early. Consumer Reports estimates that the deadline for free shipping from major retailers will expire around Dec. 18.
By Marshall Loeb