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Introduction: Consumer Reports Holiday Special

As the holiday season officially gets under way, shoppers will be paying attention to where every dollar goes more than ever with the economic downturn looming in their minds. On the Money, in partnership with Consumer Reports, took a closer look at what every consumer needs to know this year – the can’t-afford-to-miss deals, advice and products that can help you make it an enjoyable but thrifty holiday.

This holiday, it’s all about value, Carmen said. The catch phrase of the season is “cost cutting.” Consumers will spend less, but they are not going to stop buying. People want to buy reliable products – to get the most bang for their buck – said Tod Marks, senior editor for Consumer Reports. He predicts that clothing, gift cards, toys, jewelry and electronics will still be the most sought after gifts this season as they are every year.

Whether you’re planning on being first in line at the mall on Black Friday or will put off the shopping list until Christmas Eve, there are specific things you can do to ensure that you’re getting the best deals. Lisa Freeman, editor of ShopSmart, a sister magazine to Consumer Reports, said that outlet shopping remains a bargain hunter’s paradise during the holidays. Nowadays, many outlets have web sites where they list coupons and promotions for shoppers to take advantage of before hitting the shops. If you find a good sale, she recommended shopping the night before and making a relationship with the salespeople so that they are more likely to put items aside for you or begin the sale early just for you. And don’t forget your negotiating skills – a little haggling can go a long way on a tight budget.

Marks added that offering to pay in cash in exchange for a better deal can often work, as merchants have to pay transaction fees every time consumers use a credit card. You can also ask for freebies – maybe free delivery or installation – in the haggling process if you can’t get the merchant down on the sale price, Mark said.

Finally – and this is something Carmen is always advocating for – comparison shop. Many web sites like PriceGrabberoffer free comparison shopping services where you can find the best deal on whatever you’re looking for. Freeman added that every good shopper should be scouring the web sites of their favorite retailers for promo and coupon codes and signing up for email alerts that send exclusive codes to you.

Read on to find out about Consumer Reports’ best-of-breed in electronics, how to return right when it comes to gifts that aren’t so great, the infamous ‘loser list’ of poorly rated products and more.

>>Electronics Gift Guide
>>Five Tips For Happy Gift Returning

>>The Loser List

>>Web Extra: The Best Fair-Trade Gifts