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3 Steps to Mastering Holiday Gift Delivery

PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- For seasoned online holiday shoppers, this is the time of year the doorbell keeps ringing, the cardboard boxes pile up and the local couriers curse your name -- if you're lucky.

The National Retail Federation's digital branch, Shop.org, found that 51.5% of the consumers it surveyed will shop online for gifts this year, about the same amount as last year. The average person will complete about 39.5% of their shopping on retail and other company websites, up from 38.8% last year and the highest amount in the survey's history. Shop.org is forecasting that online holiday sales will grow between 13% and 15%, to as much as $82 billion, though it fell way short of its prediction of a 12% increase to between $92 billion and $96 billion last year. Meanwhile, online shoppers expect to spend an average $884.55 on gifts, decorations, food this holiday season, compared with an average $737.95 among all holiday shoppers

More than 40% of online shoppers started checking off those holiday gift lists in October or earlier, with two-thirds doing so to spread out their budget. Another half want to avoid the stress of last-minute shopping and late-season crowds. That same retail agoraphobia has driven a 59% uptick in online shopping within the past year, according to a survey by Google (GOOG).

This would all be great if online shopping had turned shipping into a flawless system. Shipping costs can still get fairly high, packages arrive when the carrier deems it necessary and those shipped goods are handled with all the delicacy of an open-field tackle during a bowl game.

For those looking to keep delivery hassle to a minimum this holiday season, we offer the following three pillars of online shopping:

Always get it delivered free

There is little reason not to hold out for free shipping.

Retailers including Amazon (AMZN), Macy's (M), Home Depot (HD), Lowe's (LOW) and JC Penney (JCP) will throw it your way when you hit certain spending thresholds, but Best Buy (BBY), Blue Nile (NILE), Nordstrom (JWN), Saks Fifth Avenue (SKS), Neiman Marcus and LL Bean will ship for free no matter what you spend. It tends to work out for them, too, as 19% off all shoppers tell FreeShipping.org they're willing to spend full price on an item if it comes with free shipping.

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