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Originally published Sunday, November 19, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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How to improve your online holiday shopping

On your mark, get set, turn on your computer monitors. Retailers predict that one in four holiday purchases will be made on the Internet...

McClatchy Newspapers

FORT WORTH, Texas — On your mark, get set, turn on your computer monitors.

Retailers predict that one in four holiday purchases will be made on the Internet this year, according to a survey released this past week by the National Retail Federation.

Here are some ways to save money and avoid problems when shopping online:

Replacement credit-card numbers. For people wary of putting their credit-card numbers in cyberspace, the major credit-card companies have programs for temporary numbers that can be used to make purchases. The programs, which can be downloaded easily from your card's Web site, pop up when you reach the checkout page.

Promotional code searches. Before you pass by the promotional code box when you're checking out, do a quick search in Google or your favorite search engine of the retailer's name and the word "coupon" or "promotional code." You'll often find a code to put in for further discounts. Web sites that list such codes include www.momsview.com, www.couponcabin.com and www.currentcodes.com, but start with the search engine.

Comparative-pricing Web sites. These sites are invaluable for finding an item's lowest prices as well as good product reviews.

When using comparison sites, put in your ZIP code for the sites to calculate shipping or taxes. Browse the list or sort by price; the best prices aren't always listed first.

Consumer Reports recommends checking several sites, as well as retailer sites, before buying.

Some comparison sites include shopping.Yahoo.com, Shopzilla.com, Shopping.com, Froogle.com, shopper.cnet.com, Become.com and PriceGrabber.com.

Special deals and discounts. Some Web sites focus on gathering and posting all the deals and discounts offered by retailers. Sites such as FatWallet.com and Ebates.com have staffers who find these deals, as well as open community boards for members to post what they find.

Buying through these sites will earn you money. The sites take a commission from the retailers for each purchase and share the commission with buyers. For consumers, that can mean a savings of 2 to 5 percent.

Product ratings and reviews. The Internet is full of both professional and consumer reviews of products and retailers. Edgar Dworsky, who runs an educational Web site, Consumerworld.org,prefers reviews by consumers. "There's something about living with the item in your house," he said.

In addition to the earlier sites, check out Epinions.com, DigitalAdvisor.com, PCWorld.com, JDPower.com and ConsumerReports.org for product reviews. Most sites are free.

Finally, if you're into the shopping-frenzied day after Thanksgiving, two Web sites will give you unofficial access to the advertising circulars before they are published: bfads.net and BlackFriday.gottadeal.com.

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