Once you've narrowed down your wish list, it should take minutes to find the lowest price, says RetailMeNot's Hoyt. Simply plug the item into a search engine like Nextag, Google Shopping or Pricegrabber, and evaluate.
Then, enter details on the stores with the best prices into a coupon code site (such as http://RetailMeNot.com or http://couponcabin.com, http://dealcatcher.com) to see if there are codes that come up.
When you do the math, you may find that the merchant in the No. 2 spot may be offering a 10 percent discount deal or free shipping, offering better overall value than the store in the top spot.
Indeed, try to avoid shipping costs altogether.
To broaden your chances of finding deals, "Like" and follow your favorite stores on Twitter and Facebook; some retailers will post deals just for their online fans.
If you are an active online shopper, you may receive personalized deal offers as the holiday season progresses. For example, if you like to buy Coach handbags at Nordstrom, you might see offers to get 20-percent off of Coach accessories.
"The conversion rate of a typical coupon deal is less than one percent, which is very low, but the conversion rate for tuned and personalized offers is much higher - in the 5 to 10 percent range," says Kevin Sterneckert, vice president of retail research at Gartner Group.
Lands End, LL Bean and CVS are among retailers who are tapping their databases to entice shoppers with customized offers.
Should you jump at these deals? Only if the items are on your shopping list and you've done your research on prices.