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Cyber Monday is the online equivalent of Black Friday for shoppers and retailers alike. And if the trend of early teasers and web-only pre-sales are any indication, retailers are getting a head start and shifting their holiday marketing efforts to entice more online shoppers this year.

According to the National Retail Federation, holiday sales are projected to increase 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion this season. Results from a similar consumer survey by Shop.org, a division of the NRF, reveal online shopping sales are expected to reach $96 billion — an increase of 12 percent over last year’s numbers. Not surprisingly, “more than half (51.8%) will shop online for gifts and other items this holiday season, up from 46.7 percent last year.”

If these optimistic forecasts hold true, 2012 may just turn out to be one of the most lucrative holiday shopping seasons since the recession. But before you open your wallet for the tempting online holiday shopping bargains, we’ve got seven tips to help you navigate the Cyber Monday marketing madness and maximize your savings.

1. Make a List, and Check it Twice

Ever heard the old saying “he who fails to plan, plans to fail?” In this case, it’s true. If you want to maximize your savings and avoid overspending, make a list of the gifts you plan to buy and how much you plan to spend — and stick to it. Creating a list gives you a solid plan, taking the guesswork out of what to buy, and helps you avoid “compulsive impulse” buys at the last minute. Worried about overspending? Try Credit.com’s Holiday Spending Planner to keep your spending in check this year.

2. Background Research & Consumer Reviews

Once you’ve created your list it’s time to do your research on those items. This is especially important for computers, tablets, cameras or any other electronics device. You want to make sure you get the best value for your money and the last thing you want to do is purchase a brand or device that is poorly made or has a history of technical problems. Product reviews and consumer review sites are your friends.

3. Comparison Shop to Find the Best Deals

Now that you know exactly what you want buy, your next step is to find out how much it costs. This will help you decide whether or not a deal is really a “steal” or hype. With sites like PriceGrabber, Shopzilla and Google Shopping, you can quickly search and compare the costs of thousands of products from many different retailers from the comfort of your home.

4. The Value of Online Coupons

Retailers are vying for your attention with big discounts, but many people often overlook the added savings of using coupons with a sale. Granted, some offers may not allow coupons — but many do. Use coupon sites like RetailMeNot and PriceGrabber, or holiday shopping apps that offer in app coupon codes to use online at checkout. Have a favorite product or retailer? Sign up for their email list to receive special discounts and coupon codes that are only offered to email subscribers. Want to avoid the email clutter? Create a free email account specifically for email subscriptions, or simply unsubscribe after the holiday season ends.

5. Save with Free Shipping

This one is a biggie, especially with larger, heavier gift items. Retailers know the value of offering “free shipping” with online orders, so take advantage of this online purchasing perk whenever you can. A great online resource to find and track free shipping offers is Freeshipping.org.

6. Act Fast & Shop Early

Pardon the cliché, but when it comes to Cyber Monday deals, the early bird gets the worm. According PriceGrabber, 47% of online shoppers plan to do their Cyber Monday shopping in the morning, before noon: 30 percent between 5-9AM, 17 percent between 9am-12pm. If you want to get the gift, you’ll need to get it early lest the item sells out.

7. Buyer Beware, Online Shopping Safety

Finally, shopping online is a great way to avoid the holiday shopping madness, but it can also leave you at risk to online scams and cyber criminals. A few tips when shopping online and protecting your wallet: Always make purchases on secure sites, shop with merchants or businesses that you trust and know are legit, and be aware of sales that sound too good to be true from unknown or unfamiliar web sites.

Image: ginnerobot, via Flickr

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