WASHINGTON (TheStreet) -- Suckers wait until Cyber Monday to start their holiday shopping. Savvy, bargain-seeking consumers are already using their keyboards and touchscreens to winnow away wish lists.
Roughly 35% of holiday shoppers will spend at least a portion of the holiday season shopping online, according to the NPD Group. While that number is down from the 37% that went online last year, the National Retail Federation's Holiday Spending Survey suggests it's an underestimate and that the real number is closer to 44%. While many of those shoppers will hit mainstream mainstays such as AOL (AOL) , Yahoo (YHOO) , Microsoft's (MSFT) Bing and Google (GOOG) to search for their holiday gifts, the pros head to such sites as PriceGrabber.com for the deepest discounts.
Jody Rohlena, senior editor for Consumer Reports' Shop Smart magazine, and her staff recently decided to go shopping at the Top 25 price-comparison search engines. They were looking for the lowest price on eight items: An Avatar DVD, New Balance cross-training sneakers, Samsung's NP-150 netbook, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, the Graco Quattro Tour Sport stroller (before the recent Graco recall), a Wacoal Awareness bra, a Kenneth Cole Reaction wallet and a four-figure pair of Swarovski binoculars.
(AOL) (YHOO) (MSFT) (GOOG) Which site had the lowest prices every time? PriceGrabber, with automatic tax and shipping calculations based on ZIP code, apps for Apple's (AAPL) iPad and iPhone and Google Android products, and a partnership with Retrevo.com that includes electronics reviews and backup copies of gadget instruction manuals.
"You can save about $22 on a pair of sneakers, look up some fancy binoculars ... savings could be up to $400," Rohlena says. "If you're not starting your shopping there, you're wasting time and wasting money."
More importantly, though, Rohlena and company discovered that it's worth a consumer's time to poke around online even if they plan to shop locally. Sites such as CouponMap and Restaurant.com provide not only a list of retailers and eateries grouped by ZIP code, but coupons for clothing, office supplies, travel and dinners out. TheFind.com, meanwhile, offers coupons while grouping local clothing and home retailers by location, store, brand, color and price range. "Local" big box stores are easier to find online as well, as price aggregator Milo.com checks inventory at local Barnes & Nobles (BKS) , Targets (TGT) , Best Buys (BBY) , Nordstroms (JWN) and other major retailers and also partners with PriceGrabber to help shoppers on that site find items available locally.
"Sometimes you don't want to shop online, you want to go shopping locally," Rohlena says. "That's a good way to support the local economy, but you don't really want to drive all over town and waste your time and miss out on a deal."