The Plugged-In Holiday Shopper

The economy may be going to hell in a shopping basket, but you wouldn't know it from the crowds I saw at my local Big Box store today. The parking lot was a snarl and lines were out the door, even in my relatively sleepy southern town.

The deals were pretty good too. I'm in the hunt for a medium-sized flat panel TV so the kids can play the Wii in the family room while my wife and I watch movies on our front room projector. The best deal I saw was a 40-inch Sony Bravia LCD TV at Best Buy for under $900, or $200 off list. That was tempting.

But you don't have to brave the lines or search blindly for the best prices. There are great deals aplenty if you know where to look online.

For example, there are a passel of sites detailing Black Friday sales at both brick and click stores, many of which extend into dark blue Saturday and speckled grey Sunday. Like BlackFriday.info and Black-Friday.net and Black Friday 2008, which offer links to the best post-Turkey Day deals at stores from Amazon to Wal-Mart. Sure, you can find the same deals yourself, but these sites put them all one place -- one-stop shopping, you might say.

Want to find the very best price online? The DeaLoco.com search engine factors in rebates and coupons in finding the absolutely lowest price on gear -- and rates each deal's "grief factor," i.e., how much paperwork and bureaucratic BS you'll have to go through to get that price. Site co-founder Noe Garza also claims DeaLoco has access to low prices other shopping search engines do not, thanks to special arrangements with certain retailers. (Your mileage may vary.)

You say you never met a bargain you didn't like? RetailMeNot.com is a search engine for discount coupons. You type in the URL for the store, it displays the coupon deals currently available there. Several of the deals I saw were great -- like 50 percent off PC accessories at Circuit City, and 60 percent off a portable Magellan GPS unit at Best Buy -- but the stuff was already sold out by the time I got there. (Your luck may vary.)

Want to make sure you got the very best price around? At RetailMeNot's sister site, BeatMyPrice, you plug in the model number, the Web site where you found the deal, and the price that was quoted. This people-powered search engine will then try to beat it. I found a 46-inch Sony Bravia for $1799 at DealCost.com, which looked like a pretty sweat deal -- until BeatMyPrice showed me one at an obscure online dealer for $1432.

(Word of warning: Be very careful shopping at dealers you've never heard of, or places where the prices are significantly lower than everywhere else. There are a ton of scammers out there. Always check out a store's ratings at sites like ResellerRatings and BizRate before you hand over your credit card number.)

Bottom line: If you're planning to sit out this holiday season because of fears over the economy, that may not necessarily the wisest move. Retailers are hungry for your business, and they're slashing prices. If you can afford it, now is the time to buy. And besides, it's the patriotic thing to do.

When not bargain hunting, Dan Tynan tends his clogs, Culture Crash and Tynan on Tech.

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