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Online help for holiday shopping

Shoppers face a dizzying array of offers of help in the form of new Web sites, services and mobile phone applications as they set out for their holiday shopping this year.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Shoppers face a dizzying array of offers of help in the form of new Web sites, services and mobile phone applications as they set out for their holiday shopping this year.

Many consumers are following their favorite brands and retailers to networking Web sites like Facebook and Twitter, where the companies are posting deals not seen in stores.

Raleigh shopper Stephanie Davis is among consumers looking online for Black Friday bargains. Last year, she was unemployed and had a tight budget. This year, she has a job and a mission.

"I am going to spend some money this year,” she said.

Other new services include budget applications for mobile phones; they can help you stay within your limits even though they're intended to help coax shoppers into spending.

Raleigh shopper Rebecca Davis set a budget for her holiday shopping. Last year, she spent close to $1,000. Due to a down economy, she plans to spend less than half of that amount this year.

"Yeah, I am not spending a lot of money,” she said.

As coupons have proliferated during the recession, so have Web sites like RetailMeNot.com that let users rate how well a coupon works so you don't waste time with bad ones. Also check whether your credit card company or bank offers cash back on purchases in partnership with retailers online. Sometimes you can recoup up to 20 percent of what you spend by clicking through your financial institution's site instead of going directly to a retailer.
And, whenever you buy something expensive, sign up for a price alert service like PriceSpider.com . It will tell you if the price drops, and many retailers will refund the difference.

If you have the time or inclination to look for deals, online coupons will work. If you're a last-minute shopper or don't know what you want to buy, you may find these sites steer you toward purchases you don't intend.

Retailers look to stretch out Cyber Monday push

Retailers are also thinking beyond Black Friday to Cyber Monday – a holiday marketing promotion many push for the Monday after Thanksgiving – and trying to spin their discounts into into Cyber Weekends or even Cyber Weeks.

Target, Walmart, Toys R Us and others will be running online sales throughout the holiday weekend, with additional sales on Nov. 30, or Cyber Monday. J.C. Penney will offer online sales for items such as clothes and electronics on Monday and Tuesday, and Walmart.com will offer deals starting Monday through Dec. 4.

Retailers are planning more promotions this year, as opposed to last year, when the sudden consumer spending downturn sent online sales down 3 percent, the first decline on record.

The National Retail Federation said Monday nearly 9 out of 10 retailers plan specific Cyber Monday deals, up slightly from about 84 percent last year. Deals on specific products, one-day sales and free shipping are expected to be the most common promotions.

While the day after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday, historically the point when retailers start to turn a profit, the following Monday has become known as Cyber Monday, when sellers look to lure holiday shoppers online, either from work or home.


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