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Six Tips for Scoring the Best Deals this Holiday Season

10/18/2012 12:29 pm ET | Updated Dec 18, 2012

The average American is expected to spend $750 on gifts and trappings this holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation. What's more, a record 52 percent of Americans say they'll be shopping online this season -- scouting out deals that oftentimes brick and mortar stores can't offer.

"We're predicting 15-17 percent growth outside of the stores themselves. Online via mobile via catalog -- that's where the real robust growth is going to continue to come from," Alison Kenney Paul, vice chairman and U.S. Retail & Distribution leader at Deloitte, reported.

Realizing this trend toward online shopping, brick and mortar stores like Best Buy and Target have announced they'll be matching online prices from rivals like Amazon and Wal-Mart. To keep competitive, stores like Wal-Mart and Nordstrom have promised perks like same-day delivery, while other retailers will be offering free shipping to lure in customers.

Cutting deals for consumers is likely in the long term interest of retailors; during last year's holiday season, buyers' remorse was up as a reported 10 percent of sales--worth about $217 billion--were returned. Returns were triggered by things like spending over budget, finding cheaper prices for the same goods and higher quality substitutes.

To ensure you're getting the best deals on your holiday purchases, consider the six tips below.

1. Come up with your holiday shopping list early.
Create a list of all the people you need to shop for and write down some ideas of what you want to buy. Allow for ample time to research products and services, compare options, read reviews, set price alerts and find discounts and sales before finally making your purchases.

2. Compare your options.
The beauty of the free market is that consumers are presented with multiple choices; but with so many options, making a decision can become overwhelming. Sites like FindTheBest -- a data-driven comparison engine -- can help you find and compare options on millions of products and services. If you're in the market for anything from tech gadgets to home appliances, FindTheBest can help you filter down your options, compare product and service specs and features side-by-side, read user reviews and expert ratings, and finally, make an informed purchase.

3. Read reviews to find out how products and services actually stack up in the real world.
When you've compared and narrowed down your options, take the time to read online reviews and ratings to make sure the products you're interested in aren't just good on paper. A recent study by Cone Communications found that 89 percent of consumers go online to read reviews before making a purchase, and 80 percent of consumers say that they have changed their minds about a product or service after reading reviews online. Sites like Consumer Reports and CNET offer expert reviews.

4. Set price alerts.
Once you've figured out exactly what you want to buy, use price alerts to find the best deals. Sites like PriceSpider email users price alerts if and when a product they're interested in drops below a particular set price, while sites like Lyst alert users about new sales on high-end apparel and accessory items they've previously saved.

5. Look for online discounts.
While you're waiting for the price alerts to pop up in your inbox, you can also proactively find discount coupons and codes on sites like: RetailMeNot, DealCoupon, SlickDeals, The Bargainist, FreeShipping and Dealio. These sites offer coupon codes that you can use for immediate online discounts.

6. Take advantage of stores offering price matching.
Stores like Best Buy and Target have already announced that they'll be matching online retail prices from stores like Amazon and Wal-Mart. If you don't want to spend time or money on shipping, take advantage of brick and mortar stores that offer price matching.

What tips do you have for researching products and services and landing great deals?