Best Tech Gifts Under $200

by Gerri Willis

Let’s face it; inevitably there is always someone on your Christmas shopping list who is a tech geek. And, whether you are a geek or not, you may be forced to find them the perfect gizmo. For that reason, we turned to our friends at Consumer Reports, who test hundreds of products, including tablets, TVs and cameras. Here are their top 5 picks for the season.

No. 1: If you’re looking for a TV, the Samsung UN28H4000 if great for the college student or child. The 28-inch LCD TV has good high definition picture quality and excellent color. Cost: $200.

No. 2: Bose FreeStyle earbuds. This in-ear model works for IPods, iPads and cellphones delivering good overall sound quality. Cost: $130.

No. 3: Sonos Play: 1: Wireless speakers are everywhere but the Sonos speakers deliver good sound at a reasonable price. There’s no remote. They just play music directly from your phone, tablet or computer. Cost: $200.

No. 4: Samsung Gear Fit: An activity monitor and a watch. You can receive phone calls and text messages but the product also has a built-in heart rate sensor. The folks at Consumer Reports note that the device is only compatible with Samsung smart phones. Cost: $150.

No. 5: Amazon Kindle Fire HDX: Wi-Fi 16 GB. This portable, 7-inch tablet has a super clear screen. The Amazon app market isn’t as big as Apple’s but Amazon Prime members get access to plenty of free movies and music. Cost: $180.

Consumer Reports December issue has more picks in its December issue. Join us tonight on The Willis Report when associate electronics editor Terry Sullivan gives us even more ideas.

The Dirty Little Secrets of Gift Cards

by Gerri Willis

It’s hard to ignore the convenience of gift cards. No muss. No fuss. No messy wrapping paper and tape. Plus you get the ultimate flexibility because the recipient actually makes the hard choices.

But there is a big debate out there about whether gift cards are an overdone trend or the hottest thing since sliced bread. According to a survey conducted by the Consultancy Deloitte LLP, the proportion of people who say they will buy gift cards this holiday season – 43 percent – is down sharply from a peak of 69 percent set back in 2007. Yet, the vast majority of Americans – 72 percent – say they have given gift cards in the past, and according to Mercator Advisory Group, Americans spent $6 billion on gift cards last year.

Retailers, for their part, are adding bells and whistles to the old-fashioned gift card to make them even easier to use. Nearly 60 percent are now offered over the web adding to their appeal.

Keep in mind, though, that gift cards have downsides. All general-purpose gift cards – and by that we mean ones issued by banks and other financial institutions – carry a purchase fee ranging from $3.95 to $6.95, that’s according to a survey by Bankrate. Only 7 percent of store cards carry purchase fees. Losing a gift card or having the store you bought it from go out of business is something to think about as well.

Bottom line, gift cards work for that person on your list that is hard to buy for, but I’d try to find out where they shop and buy the store card rather than pay a fee to a bank for the privilege of buying one. 

How to Get The Most From Online Holiday Shopping

by Gerri Willis

The proportion of holiday shoppers who will buy from their laptop or mobile device is growing. Nearly half or 44 percent of shoppers will stay close to home to shop. And, that brings its own set of issues.

The Internet savvy know that web merchants change prices on high-demand goods nearly constantly, which means the onus is on you to get the best deal. What’s more, after last year’s Target debacle over the holidays, consumers are concerned that retailers – online or otherwise – will be hit by hackers, and customer financial information will go to the bad guys.

Fortunately, there is a good side to online shopping. It’s convenient and fast. And, even if you worry that the item you are buying isn’t just right, you can often chat with a live sales associate to ask questions. What’s more, many merchants will offer some of their best prices, especially for electronic equipment on the web.

To combat the downsides, Kinoli consumer analyst Andrea Woroch suggests comparing prices with apps like PriceGrabber, Google Shopping and The Find. Also, clear your browser’s cookies. By doing that, you can stop retailers who track your purchasing and browsing patterns so they can target you with higher prices.

Get the promotions by following your favorite store brands on social media, where you’ll be offered exclusive coupons and can track prices. You can even Tweet a brand or send a Facebook message to get a coupon extended.

To keep your private information just that, private, be sure to use different passwords for every shopping site you use. Check your credit card website frequently – and I mean daily during the holiday season – to make sure someone isn’t using your card without your knowledge. And, keep the debit card in your wallet. Fraud on your debit card is a far more serious matter than fraud on your credit card.

Bottom line; keep track of your purchases. Remember, when you are roaming around online it can be difficult to remember exactly what you purchased and for how much.

The Best Strategies for Holiday Shopping

by Gerri Willis

Christmas shopping used to be so simple. Wait until the very last possible minute and score the best deals. But a shift in trends is underway. After two years of less-than-stellar results, retailers are priming the pump by offering deals earlier than ever. According to Adobe, the steepest discounts during last year’s holiday season actually came on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Adding to shopper woes, some retailers ran out of the most popular products by Black Friday.

And, this year, retailers are getting even more aggressive. Forget Black Friday. As we’ve reported, JCPenney, Macy’s, Best Buy, and Sears are among the many stores opening on Thanksgiving Day. Kmart is setting a record by staying open 42 consecutive hours starting at 6 a.m. Thanksgiving. And, according to research from Adobe Systems, the biggest prices cuts online may well come before Black Friday. In other words, get shopping now.

But, of course, the devil is in the details. Part of when you shop depends on what you are shopping for. Shop for cheap electronics on Black Friday rather than Cyber Monday, according to Matthew Ong, a senior retail analyst for NerdWallet. Others say that clothing deals will emerge on Cyber Monday.

To score the best prices, you’ll have to comparison shop. Keep in mind, online retailers change prices continuously on the most popular items. For example, the fitness band Jawbone Up24, was on sale in October for as little as $110.05 at Amazon, but the price also bounced up to $129 on the same website in the same month. Walmart’s website showed similar price moves, and at Sears, the price for the same product climbed as high as $149.

In other words, prices are a completely flexible thing and you simply can’t count on prices staying the same. For that reason, personal finance expert Vera Gibbons suggests using price comparison apps like ShopSavvy or PriceGrabber.

Finally, late shoppers may do well at the very end of the season when retailers attempt to clear inventory though it may be difficult to find the exact item you’re searching for. Flexibility is key for late shoppers. If there is a specific retailer you plan to patronize, follow the stores on social media where you can track sales. Ask about return policies in advance and whether the store matches lower prices from competitors. The trends shaping up now indicate a good year for shoppers, if not store operators.

           

Holiday Shopping: How Much Are The Markdowns Really Worth?

by Gerri Willis

By Gerri Willis

I’m one of the few who stayed home this holiday weekend and didn’t shop the Black Friday sales (and certainly not the Thanksgiving Day sales). I am always a little skeptical about how much these markdowns are really worth. When you consider that retailers mark down their prices over and over again during the holiday season, well, it stands to reason that jumping on the first sale may not be worth it.

And, analysis from the Wall Street Journal confirms my suspicions. A recent report broke down the numbers for a single item – a cashmere sweater and followed it through its many price configurations over the holiday season. The sweater starts with a suggested retail price of $50.00. Although, it’s worth asking who really buys the sweater at that price. My guess is not too many, if any. At the first markdown, the price gets cut 10 percent to $44.99. But hold the phone, the final discount price is $21.99, less than half the original price. Sounds like a good deal, until you realize that the retailer only paid $14.50 for the sweater. The average price consumers paid for the sweater is $28. And, that means that the retailer’s gross margin, despite two big discounts, is 45 percent.

Unfortunately, most retailers don’t tell you how much they pay for their inventory, nor do they describe how they bake their margins into original pricing. So, it’s up to you to figure out whether you are really getting a good deal when you shop over the holidays. The good news is this: Smartphone apps can at least help you figure out where the cheapest price can be found for the item you are purchasing. RedLaser, ShopSavvy and Smoopa are three price comparison apps worth your time. RedLaser has now been integrated on Amazon.com.

Also consider shopping with a list. I know it sounds simple, but people who shop with a list and stick to it tend to spend less than others because they eliminate the impulse purchases and the “while I’m at it” mindset that can drive your credit card bill higher.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a Scrooge when it comes to the holidays. I just don’t want to pay any more than I have to for the gifts I buy. I bet you’re the same way.

Don’t miss The Willis Report starting 6pmET tonight on FOX Business.

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