Web tools simplify holiday e-shopping


Eagle Web

The holiday season is upon us again, and with it comes snow-covered landscapes, festive decorations and hot cocoa by the fireside. It also means lots of holiday shopping.

Black Friday has come and gone, but if you are anything like me, you probably still have a lot of gift shopping to do.

Reasons people shop online these days are many. Whether they are looking for better deals or a larger selection of products than can be found locally, or if they simply do not have the time to shop in person, the World Wide Web is a fountain of commerce.

While most shoppers rely on e-commerce powerhouses like Amazon.com, many other online resources available can streamline the holiday shopping experience.

Quibids.com

A new form of online auction site has hit the Internet scene, which allows shoppers to purchase products with savings up to 95 percent off retail prices. The site quibids.com is America's largest "penny auction" site, which sells products by allowing users to compete for products by upping their bids on a product one penny at a time.

Each bid on the item costs the user 60 cents but makes the price go up only a penny. This allows the retailer to make a profit off its products and allows for the auction winner to pay a small fraction of the retail price. The difference is offset by the losing bids (at 60 cents each).

Everything from jewelry to consumer electronics can be sold to the highest bidder for only pennies. Where else can you get a new iPod for a couple dollars?

Users be warned, however. The items often do go all the way up to full retail price. In that case, shoppers are allowed to purchase the item at retail price (Bids do not go over full price.), so the money spent on bids for the item are not completely wasted.

Often multiples of the same item are auctioned, and sometimes the first items sold go for the most money. The later selling items may be lower in price because fewer bidders are trying to purchase the item.

Some careful bidding can result in fantastic deals and, if you are willing to pay full price for something anyway, you may find yourself saving some serious cash.

Pronto.com

While shopping online can produce great prices, how do you know if you are getting the best deal? Comparison shopping can be achieved by looking up products on multiple shopping sites, or even plugging the item into your Google search bar, but sites have been designed to do some of that work for you.

The forerunner in comparison shopping is Pronto.com, a shopping metasearch engine, which displays results from top online retailers so users can see what online retailers across the net are selling in one easy place.

Some results are cluttered with related products when you are looking for a specific item (which will happen with individual sites anyway), but the site has tools to help you narrow your search. Sometimes results will be specific to an individual site, but if an item is sold at many online retailers, clicking the item brings up a list with each retailer's selling price.

You cannot buy directly from the site, but it links you to the product on the online retailer's own site. Comparison shopping sites like Pronto can save precious research time.

Reviewed.com

So what if you know what someone wants, but don't know what product to buy? Let's say you are looking to buy a new camera or a flat screen television as a gift. You can go to the Wal-Mart and find a product for a cheap price, but how do you know the product itself isn't cheap?

Reviewed.com is a consumer review site that can help alleviate those worries.

The site is actually a portal for a number of sites specific to the type of products reviewed. The main page lists top-rated and top-value products and allows users to navigate to the review sites for the categories, which include televisions, cameras, appliances, media players and tablets among others.

The subsites offer reviews of top products and allow users to search for specific product models.

The products are described in detail and given an overall rating, but what makes the sites shine are the ratings of each aspect of the product separately. For example, televisions ratings are organized into 18 categories including display, audio, power consumption, color accuracy, Internet and multimedia, motion and consumer comments. Every aspect of the product is analyzed, so you know exactly what you are getting for your money.

Gifts.com

So what if you have no idea what to give someone? If you are looking for gift ideas, Gifts.com is an excellent resource for the unsure Santa.

Gifts.com allows users to choose the type of recipient (man, woman, child, etc.), what event the gift is for, and what price range they want to spend. Upon submission, the site searches for gifts with the given criteria and presents ideas for the customer. Each item can then be reviewed, and links are given to purchase online from a retailer.

The site also gives top popular gift ideas and lists gifts from their "gift guru."

The surprising part about the site is the vast variety of items that comes up. When searching for a Christmas gift for a teen between $50 and $100, one might expect to be bombarded with video game titles, but the site comes up with unique items such as a toaster that allows you to create toaster art and alarm clocks that produce the smell of fresh coffee when it is time to get up. For something a little more mainstream, the site also allows narrowing the search to specific categories of products such as toys, games or shoes.

While holiday shopping can be stressful to last-minute shoppers, the Web has tools to help you get through your nice list. Just remember not to wait too long because unless you have a magic sleigh and flying reindeer, you need to allow time for shipping.