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Holiday Shopping Secrets For Finding The Best Prices

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Want to know a little secret gleaned from 1 trillion visits to more than 4,500 retail websites over the past seven years? The best days for online shopping -- at least when it comes to lowest prices -- are neither Black Friday nor Cyber Monday.

Holiday shopping is increasingly migrating to the Internet, given the ease of browsing and the availability of free shipping. This holiday season, online sales will increase 11 percent to $83 billion, according to a forecast from Adobe (ADBE). Total retail sales, including online shopping, are seen rising 3.7 percent to $630.5 billion this holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation.

Online shopping has another benefit when compared with in-store browsing: Americans say it's less stressful, said Tamara Gaffney, principal analyst at Adobe Digital Index. But part of the stress of shopping, regardless of whether it's online or in stores, is questioning whether you've found the lowest price possible. More and more, that's no longer happening on Black Friday, Gaffney said.

"Everybody is pushing out deals earlier than they used to," she noted.

Online retailers started rolling out deals at the start of November and will continue reducing prices until the week of Thanksgiving. The Saturday before Thanksgiving is what Gaffney says is "the ultimate shopping day."

On Nov. 21, the prices will be low -- although not the absolute lowest, she added -- while product availability will still be high.

"It's about finding the product you want at the best price," she said. Out-of-stock messages become more common starting on Thanksgiving Day, she added.

Because shoppers tend to want to buy the same few "hot" toys or gifts, getting an out-of-stock message is a very real risk. Gaffney noted that retailers make about three-quarters of their revenue from 1 percent of products (Star Wars toys, anyone?).

What about sales in bricks-and-mortar stores? A 2012 analysis from The Wall Street Journal found that gifts could be found at lower prices during the holiday season than on Black Friday. As with online retailing, waiting until the last minute for some items, such as jewelry, invariably led to higher prices.

Still, Americans love shopping on Black Friday. About one-third of consumers believe it offers the best deals, according to a new survey from Accenture (ACN). But Thanksgiving Day is also gaining in popularity. Half of those surveyed say they're likely to take a break from Turkey Day to buy holiday gifts.

But it has to be a deep discount to persuade Americans to open their wallets. Accenture found that almost nine out of 10 say they want to see price cuts of at least 20 percent.

Here are Adobe's recommendations for when to shop for certain products during the holidays.

Holiday shopping in general: The lowest prices across all product categories will be found on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26. However, the chances of encountering out-of-stock items begins to rise in the week before the holiday.

Toys: Start shopping the weekend before Thanksgiving. The lowest prices and highest percentage of in-stock items can be found on Cyber Monday, when the average discount will be 18 percent.

Electronics: The best chance of balancing discounts with in-stock items will be Nov. 23, the Monday before Thanksgiving. However, if you're looking for lowest overall prices and are willing to risk out-of-stock items, the best day is Thanksgiving.

Clothing: Savvy shoppers will want to wait until closer to Christmas, given that prices start to decline on Cyber Monday and continue until the holiday.

Jewelry: Buy on Thanksgiving Day. Prices will only rise as Christmas grows closer because retailers realize that some shoppers become desperate to find that special gift, Gaffney said. Thanksgiving Day tends to bring an average discount of 25 percent.

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