Top 13 Tech Tips for Holiday Shopping

The hectic holiday season is the perfect time to use technology to make your life simpler.

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The hectic holiday season seems like a perfect time to use technology to make your life simpler. Any help during the holidays would be much appreciated, right? The only problem is that technology—aside from the perfect gadget gift—might not be at the forefront of your mind. To help, we’ve compiled a list of 13 tech tips to get you through the holiday season.

1. Send holiday cards from your phone. Use the iPhone Cards app to personalize greeting cards from your phone with pictures of the kids, vacation photos, or family portraits. You’ll be able to create the card digitally on your phone and send a paper copy anywhere in the United States for $3.

2. Put all your returns on your smartphone. Ever been to a retail store on December 26? Yes, returns can be a small nightmare during the holidays. Luckily, there’s an app to alleviate your frustrations. Snap a picture of your receipt with ReturnGuru and the app will track your returns, allow easy access, and alert you before your return window is over.

3. Buy indie gifts for less online. Online independent retailers often sell more interesting and unique gifts for lower prices. A handmade gift is sure to be one-of-a-kind, so take advantage of Etsy coupon codes to shop at the giant online marketplace. Use Etsy gift cards, also, to treat someone to a nice present at one of more than 100,000 participating Etsy shops.

4. View Black Friday ad leaks before they hit the papers. Despite threatening cease-and-desist letters from retailers, Black Friday ads always leak onto the Internet weeks before retailers publish them in printed circulars. Check Black Friday websites to find information on 2012 ad scans and store hours and get your plan of attack ready before Black Friday.

5. Use a rewards mall when you shop online. Like shopping online? One simple step could save you up to 45 percent on your online purchases. All you need to do is start your shopping trip at a rewards mall, then click through to your favorite retailer’s website. You’ll earn a reward on what you buy—usually cash back, loyalty program points, or miles, depending on which mall you use. Popular malls include Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall, Hilton HHonors Shop-to-Earn Mall, eBates, FatWallet, and ShopDiscover.

6. Be sure you deal is a good one. With all sorts of coupons and discounts available, you’re never quite sure if what you’re buying is really a good deal or if your retailer is just promoting its sale as a steal. Take the guesswork out of deal hunting with Decide.com, a website that analyzes enterprise-level retail data and spits out a number ranking for Decide’s data-driven assessment of the deal.

7. Organize your photos, gift ideas, and holiday checklists. Evernote, the list-making app, will help you do so much more than simply write items down this holiday season. Evernote allows you to clip products and prices from the Internet when you’re comparison-shopping, snapping a photo, scanning in paper lists, and more.

8. Take advantage of “price wars.” Brick-and-mortar retailers are finding new ways to compete with online merchants. Target and Best Buy both have recently instituted online price match policies that pledge to offer the same prices in-store as you can find at select Internet storefronts. Both retailers reserve the right to refuse the price match if the online price seems too low, but give it a shot to see if Target and Best Buy will play ball.

Make it easy on the store employees—if you want an item, search on your phone and point out the price to a worker nearby. They won’t honor the price match on limited quantity items, so don’t bother if you see a flash sale online.

9. Don’t forget the daily deals. The only deals on the tip of the tongue this time of year tend to be Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, but don’t ignore your favorite daily deals sites. Popular deal aggregators such as Groupon and LivingSocial offer big discounts on fun gifts and experiences year-round, so treat your friends and family to a special event or item for the holidays.

10. Avoid shipping costs. As retailers have become more desperate for sales, we’re seeing more ways to save on shipping charges. Order on Dec. 17, Free Shipping Day (www.freeshippingday.com), from hundreds of retailers and get guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve. Join a shipping club like Amazon Prime or plan ahead and do all of your gift shopping at once. (Almost all retailers offer free shipping once you hit a minimum purchase amount.) Apple, for example, will ship your items for free if your purchase total exceeds $50.

Also take advantage of the race for same-day shipping as well. Wal-Mart, Amazon, and Google are currently testing same-day shipping, and Wal-Mart will be expanding its current grocery test to a toys and gifts test this fall.

Try using in-store pickup to save on shipping. Buy online through a rewards mall and choose in-store pickup instead of having the product shipped to your home. You’ll get the best of online shopping without having to pay for shipping. In-store pickup is free and quick. Sears, for example, says your pickup will be ready within five minutes of your arrival in-store or you’ll get a $5 store coupon.

11. Turn you credit card into a coupon with card-linked offers.. Card-linked offers are coupons linked right to your debit, credit, or store loyalty card. You’ll shop just as you always do—no printing, stacking, or redeeming paper coupons—and your savings on eligible purchases will show up on your card account. Banks like American Express, Capital One, and Bank of America have these offers built into their iPhone apps, so it’s easy for you to view your discounts when you’re out and about.

12. Use Passbook to store coupons. Passbook is an application on the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch that allows users to save and store boarding passes, movie tickets, coupons, and more. Coupons.com, a major coupons website, has recently partnered with 34 leading merchants such as Macy’s, Sears, Old Navy, and ULTA Beauty to offer Passbook coupons directly from the Coupons.com mobile site.

If you’re interested, go to Coupons.com from your phone, click on the coupon you want, save it to Passbook, and then show it to the cashier when you check out.

13. Let your phone be your personal finance assistant. Ever year you promise yourself to spend smarter during the holiday season, and every year it doesn’t quite turn out the way you wanted. Holiday expenses can really add up, so keep yourself on track with Toshl, a personal finance app that gets beyond the spreadsheets. Understanding your habits is half the battle.

Matthew Ong is a strategy analyst for NerdWallet, a consumer finance website that provides tools for people to save money. He is currently building a database of Black Friday sales and reviewing the best and worst of each store’s deals and discounts.