First tip: Patience. Often persistence, patience and some good-'ole fashioned hard work will land that essential gift. Befriend a local store manager, call the local big box each morning, and shop online - often. There's no telling when a sold-out item will be in stock and as they say: "the early bird..." (you get the idea).
Don't be afraid to use technology to find technology. There are sites that scour the web for you - many will even notify you if an item becomes available at the price you're willing to pay. I used one, NowInStock.net last year to find Wii consoles for friends and family. (Note: the website appears to have turned off mobile notifications (via. Twitter) given improved stock in online retailers... this may, of course, change as the gift-giving season heats up.) Other e-tailers, such as Amazon.com, will have built-in notifiers. Sign up to be alerted and prepare to drop everything and BUY NOW! (Experts recommend having an account created and login information handy to minimize the purchase time.)
Finally, there are four tips EVERYONE should ALWAYS do before hitting the virtual check-out:
A) Shop around. Amazon.com might be convenient, but they don't always have the best price. Use price comparison sites such as pricegrabber.com or even Google itself to check average prices. Be sure to check total price, including shipping and any taxes / fees.
B) Use a rebate site (my favorite, and I've mentioned it on the show before, EBATES.com) or referral bonuses (check your airline website for air mile opportunities for example) for maximum return on your holiday dollar. Seriously, folks, don't buy before you first visit EBATES.com -- you're leaving money on the table.
C) Look for coupons & free-shipping offers. This one's easy: search for the name of the retailer +
D) Check the return policy and save your receipt. Especially in this economy, prices are subject to change. Learn your retailers return policy and price adjustment practices. And check back. Another retailers may offer a lower price (repurchase/return) while some may drastically reduce their own prices. Online retailers with physical stores near you may allow in-store returns (or price adjustments), but check policies carefully before you buy. I spent over $100 at Banana Republic this past weekend only to return the next day to find out they were offering an additional %10 and other savings -- I got a bonus tie with the extra savings!
Happy Holiday bargain hunting!
12/1 Update: Hear this story as broadcast on Newsradio 750 KXL (KXL.com) during our Cyber Monday coverage. Listen to the MP3 now.