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Electronics boutique: how to save money on tech gifts

If big-ticket buys like digital cameras, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and LCD TVs are on your shopping list, you'll need a plan to find the best deals. Step one: Decide how high-tech you want to go. You want to be sure your investment won't be obsolete as soon as you leave the store. Some advice to help you shop smarter:

Research first, buy later. Check the Internet to help narrow your search. Every major manufacturer posts product information online. You can also browse competitive prices on Web sites such as cnet.com, pricewatch.com, bestwebbuys.com/electronics/and newegg.com.

Shop around. If you're a bargain hunter and your primary criterion is to find the best price, the big chains may be your best bet. For some consumers, service contracts and warranties, which bigger chains are more apt to offer, are essential. Larger chains also have huge inventories, so chances are the item you want will be in stock. On the other hand, national chains sometimes employ part-time sales associates who may not know which end of the box is up.

By contrast, independent electronics stores will likely offer great one-on-one service. They also take time to answer your ongoing questions with follow-up service. The drawback: Their prices may be slightly higher than national chains.
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Be prepared to negotiate. Ask the salesperson, "Is this your best price?" If she's not authorized to cut a deal, ask to speak with the manager, if the price is nonnegotiable, inquire about other options--free delivery, a reduction in shipping costs, free or discounted accessories.

Consider buying online. Special offers like free shipping can save you big bucks.

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