The Christmas Shop 2011: Tech shopping tips this Xmas

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.

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