The Christmas Shop 2011: Tech shopping tips this Xmas

Beat the Christmas rush with T3's festive guide

The street lights are up, the advent calendars are in the shops and we've already run out of mince pies. So what if it's still more than a month until Christmas?

In the name of all that's festive, we present our 15 tech tips to ensure all that good cheer isn't fouled up by any last minute hiccups.

1. Don't get suckered
You know what everyone loves? A brand new iPhone 4S for the low, low price of £24.50. You know what everyone hates? Spending all of Christmas day on the house phone to the credit card company's fraud department.

Be savvy: if the prezzie of your dreams is dramatically cheaper on a site you've never heard of before, at least give it a Google with a few keywords like "scam" or "fake" before ordering, to check the vendor's authenticity.

2. Get comparative
Sites like PriceRunner allow you to search for specific gifts and then compare prices across dozens of online retailers to find the best deal. It's quick, it's simple and is almost guaranteed to save you money.

3. Use plastic
Credit card companies are usually champs about protecting payments over £100 - critical when you're forking out triple figures on presents for the whole extended family.

Credit cards are also a whole lot easier to get your money back with should internet thieves make off with your card details.

4. Check on return P&P
Check terms and conditions everywhere you shop for their returns policy. That way if Christmas day dissolves into screaming temper tantrums you can escape back to the shops and return the saviour of Christmas with a new batch of presents.

5. Shop alternative
Certain shops will always be rammed with punters in the run up to Christmas, so if you're not yet a convert to online shopping (for shame!), plan ahead and pick up your gifts somewhere less obvious.

Buying an iPhone 4S, for example? Do what the smart Apple fans did on release day and avoid the round-the-block queues of the Apple Store in favour of a deserted PC World or Curries.

6. Check your deadlines
Online retailers almost always have special delivery times for Christmas, dependent on the mail or courier service they use to ship their goods. It sounds obvious, but check what these are before doing any last minute panic shopping, or it'll be flowers from the petrol station all round again.

7. Check for SSL protection
SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer technology, is the web standard for protecting delicate information from internet crims. Usually, shopping websites will transfer you to an SSL-encrypted page when you try to pay, but certain less scrupulous vendors may not.

As a rule, avoid any sites that ask for your credit card details unencrypted - you're just asking for some spotty teenager to pilfer your card details. Telling if you're using SSL is easy; a protected page will begin in your address bar with the letters "https" (the "s" is for "secure") instead of the standard "http".

8. Buy from Amazon
Amazon have a massive selection and a no-quibble returns policy that usually lets you return anything you've bought from them within 30 days. However, for Christmas this year that offer has been extended.

So anything purchased via Amazon after November 1st is eligible for a return and full refund up until January 31st. Amazon also guarantee everything sold by third party sellers - excellent news if you're after more esoteric gifts not provided by Amazon's own stockists.

9. Swipe for security
Even with SSL encryption, that internet rule of thumb that you should never feel totally secure still applies. One step further you can take in protecting yourself from would-be credit card thieves is to invest in the Smart Swipe card reader.

Once attached to your computer via USB, it will encrypt all your credit card data with one swipe, and transmit the particulars to online shopping sites while keeping your card info wrapped up tight in digital chainmail.

10. Download a groceries app
The tech-savvy Christmas shopper should never have to settle for the last, scrawny-looking turkey on the shelf. Instead of bouncing around local supermarkets in search of all the trimmings, put your feet up with a mince pie and let the good people at Tesco's, Waitrose, Asda or Sainsbury's take care of the Christmas dinner for you.

Each of the major supermarkets has their own free smartphone app, through which you'll also get special deals, including BOGOF offers and 2-for-1 deals.

11. Shop off-peak
Don't shop on Christmas Eve. Besides the palpable sense of desperation, it's also the time when the shops are busiest and the shelves at their most empty. Instead, bunk off work on a weekday morning and wander the streets like you're in a panto production of 28 Days Later.

12. Get personal
Lots of big retailers offer free personal shopping services on things like clothes, giving you the perfect scapegoat on Christmas day if it turns out that dress makes your other half look fat after all.

Personal shopping is offered by Selfridges, Debenhams, House of Fraser and even Topshop, so if you've found yourself utterly stuck for gift ideas this year, just pop along with a photograph of the recipient and poof! It's someone else's problem.

13. Get gift suggestions
People like to say it's the thought that counts, but of course, everyone knows the ratio of thought-to-present-quality is less black and white than that. If you're completely lost for gift ideas, outsource the problem to the internet.

Websites like GiftGen.co.uk and apps like Wrapped let you enter in the age, gender and interests of the recipient before coming back with dozens of compatible gifts.

14. Steal ideas
Alternatively, the wondrous world of apps lets you offload the process of gift picking altogether onto other poor saps on the highstreet. Using the free augmented reality app Layar, you can browse the shopping trends of people around you via the JustBought.it filter. Christmas shopping doesn't get any lazier or tech savvy than this.

15. Return during the sales
From returned gifts to discount wrapping paper for next year, load up all the cardigans and duplicate presents and trade them in for the stuff you really want at discount prices.

No, it's not very festive, but neither are four copies of the same Stieg Larsson novel and a polyester shirt your nan thought looked good in the catalogue. Humbug!