Christmas shopping online: finding the best deals

The seven tools and techniques to help you bag an online Christmas shopping bargain

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Christmas shopping online is more popular than ever: and the UK is leading the charge. It's no wonder it's so popular, when you can shop around at dozens of stores and track down bargains without doing anything more strenuous than typing.

This year we are forecast to spend a total of almost £45 billion online - a fifth of which will take place during the festive period. This is up nearly 16% from last year, and it now means that 13.5% of all our shopping is done online - putting us ahead of the US and Europe.

The internet definitely makes shopping around far easier, but if you're going to get the very best deals on your online shopping, there are seven steps you need to take.

1. Use a deals website
One of the busiest online forums for sharing deals is HotUKDeals.com. Here users will list great deals and freebies, so you can search the list for inspiration. Fellow users will also vote the deals hot or cold, depending on whether they consider it a good bargain, and will add their comments about the deal, the item or the retailer.

It's a great way to find bargains that you might otherwise never stumble across. At the moment, for example, users have highlighted My Monopoly is being sold by Argos for £6.59, instead of the usual £21.99. They've also picked out that Ocado is selling a litre of Baileys Irish cream for £12.

2. Use vouchers
Once you have tracked down a good deal, before you buy it, do a quick search to see if there are any vouchers available to bring the price down even further. The AOL Deals site at the moment, for example, is offering £10 off all orders over £40 at Rakuten, which will be a nice bonus when you're hunting for bargains on DVDs and music. In many cases, a quick online search will throw up a voucher for free delivery - which can easily shave £5 off your costs.

3. Shop around
If you know what you want to buy, the internet is the ideal place for effortless shopping around for the cheapest deal. You can visit the major players yourself and see what they have on offer; you can use the comparisons that appear at the top of a Google search for a product; or you can use a comparison site like pricerunner.co.uk. If, for example, you were looking for a PS4, a quick hunt would find it for £308 on the Amazon marketplace, £312 at Tesco, and £329 at Currys. A Pricerunner search, by comparison would track down one for £269.55 at Pixmania.com.

4. Sign up for newsletters
Most retailers now have a newsletter, so if you regularly shop at specific stores, make sure you sign up for theirs. It means you'll get a bit of junk mail, but it also means that when they are running a decent sale, you'll get an email to tell you about it - often in advance. Some stores are so keen to get you to sign up that they'll offer you a discount just for joining their mailing list.

The same goes for Facebook: if you 'like;' a shop, it's a useful way to find out about upcoming sales and special offers.

5. Leave something in in your online shopping basket
If you like an item, but you don't want to buy it at full price, then leaving it in your basket will often help you secure a discount. After a week or two, some stores will automatically send you an email reminding you that you left something behind - and often they'll offer you a discount on the item. It's a high-risk strategy if you need something in time for Christmas, but if you have a plan B, it's definitely worth a try.

6. Set up more than one email address
Dedicated bargain-hunters will often have more than one email address to sign up for deals. It means that when you are sent a single voucher for 50% off one item, you can collect a number of them, and get a handful of half price items. There are some people who look on this as unethical, but deal-hunters swear by it.

7. Click and collect
As Christmas creeps ever-closer, this becomes an increasingly sensible option. If the online store offers this option it means you can save on delivery costs, and avoid the agonising wait for deliveries in the last few days before Christmas.

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