December 07, 2009
by Sarah Beckham
Whether you curl up on your couch with the laptop to do your holiday shopping or you’re exhilarated by the crowds and decorations at stores, a few tech tools can keep you jollier through the whole process (although naughty or nice evaluations are still up to you).
I’m such a planning geek that I put a Christmas shopping app on my iPhone when I bought it in June. And it has sat on the screen unused ever since. It just seemed like too much trouble to set up. What I have used to track my Christmas shopping is Evernote, a Web-based application that I was already utilizing in other ways. If you’ve ever failed to write down a great gift idea when you had it — or you wrote it down and forgot the whereabouts of the note — Evernote can help you retrieve the information you need.
Lorie Marrero, an Austin professional organizer, creator of ClutterDiet.com and author of ClutterDiet.com and author of “The Clutter Diet: The Skinny on Organizing Your Home and Taking Control of Your Life,” is also a fan.“It’s no cost to download and use,” she says. “They have a premium version, but you can go a long way before you need it. It’s a place to store all of those bits of random information you run into constantly but don’t know what to do with. You just throw them in Evernote and tag them with keywords so you can find them later. It is for the desktop, your mobile device and the Web — all three synchronize with each other so your info is with you everywhere.”
Here’s how that can work with holiday shopping: Say you spot a great gift idea for your mom: Write a note to yourself, take a picture of the item in the store or “clip” the Web page where you saw it. Then tag it with words that will help you find your reminder again, like “mom gift ideas.”
If you’re in charge of setting up a group gift exchange, elfster.com makes everything more organized and more fun. The site offers different options for inviting people to join your exchange: You can send a link with your info to an e-mail distribution list or post it on your blog or Facebook page. You also can bulk-upload e-mail addresses, set a spending limit and establish a theme (say, handmade crafts), as well as post location and other information if your exchange will take a place at a party. The site can give gift suggestions and lets participants post a wish list that, in a cool touch, can include items you don’t need.
The site will do the gift draw for you, and even lets you specify whether someone should definitely not get a particular person in the draw.
Every holiday season, you’ll read stories about the wonders of Web sites promising online discounts, and I’ll happily join the praise chorus. I can’t picture shopping online without first trying to scout out some coupon codes. Like everything else these days, these sites are embracing social media, making them super-easy to monitor if you live on Facebook or Twitter (if you’re staunchly anti-social online, RSS feeds also can help you track deals without visiting a lot of different Web sites).
Twitter users should especially like CheapTweet, operated by the Austin-based software developer Apozite. You can follow CheapTweet on Twitter (twitter.com/cheaptweet) to track deals from around the Web or search deals by category on its Web site (cheaptweet.com) . Another Austin-based site, offers.com, collects, verifies and rates deals. The user-friendly home page makes it easy to start shopping. (Want to learn more about these Austin sites? Read technology writer Omar L. Gallaga’s story “Cyber Monday Wrapped Up for Austin Startups at statesman.com/business.)
A sociable site that could come in handy when you’re buying gifts or making holiday plans is Groupon (groupon.com/austin). The site offers discounts on products, services or experiences. A typical offer might be for a $50 gift certificate to Restaurant A for $25. But you only get the deal if a certain number of people also buy the coupon (if it doesn’t sell enough, though, you aren’t charged). Groupon is on Twitter (twitter.com/grouponaustin) and has a Facebook app.
Deal News (dealnews.com) does a good job of categorizing deals and evaluating them so that you know how much you’re actually saving (from a recent posting on a magazine subscription: “That’s the lowest price we could find for this subscription by $8”). The “Top Deals” section at fatwallet.com lets you get an overview of some of the best offers out there without doing a lot of digging. Its program that offers cash back for linking to certain stores through its site is well regarded. Want even more sale news and coupon codes? The sites slickdeals.net and retailmenot.com are always reliable.
As great as online discounts are, there are a few caveats: Don’t forget to comparison shop. Sure, the 40 percent off coupon code you found for Site B sounds great, but it’s less impressive when you surf over to Site C and find that its regular price is a couple of bucks less than Site B’s discount price. Not everything that’s touted as a “special offer” on some deal aggregator sites is all that special. You might think you’re saving money by clicking on a link that promises free shipping if you spend $25 at Site D, but there’s an excellent chance that same offer is available to anyone who drops by the site. And by clicking through the ad, you could be losing the chance to save money another way — maybe, for example, you can get cash back for shopping at the online merchant if you link to it from your credit card’s Web site.
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