The twinkle in Santa's eye this year isn't just from Mrs. Claus. He and his elves have discovered the magic of Froogle this holiday season. Froogle, Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) comparison-shopping site, offers consumers the chance to save significantly on their holiday purchases with just a few strokes on the keyboard. No need to trudge out in the snow to the nearest Wal-Mart or to fight hordes of weekend shoppers. You've got a team of bargain-loving Google elves dishing up good deals on your home computer.

It's true that comparison-shopping sites are nothing new. Other sites such as MySimon and PriceGrabber have been around a long time. But unlike many of its competitors, Froogle offers free listings, only charging merchants for ad space in the right column of the screen. Their search results are grouped according to your priorities, not according to who has paid the most for the top spot. For Froogle users, this adds an extra degree of confidence that they're garnering the best deals.

All shopping sites accept data feeds from stores -- information on products and pricing that is supplied directly from the merchant -- but again Froogle goes the extra mile by actively trolling the Web and seeking pricing information on its own. This means consumers not only get product information from the big stores such as Target and Wal-Mart (with large advertising budgets) but from smaller online merchants as well.

Tips for effective Froogling
Froogle works best if you can use as much specific information in your search as possible. For example, a search for a "KitchenAid mixer" will yield much more specific and relevant results than looking for "mixers." Include any other relevant details -- a manufacturer or publisher, an item number, or a brand -- and you'll be able to quickly hone in on the best bargain.

Be sure to take advantage of Froogle's sorting features, which allow you to sort product results according to store, price range, grid or list view, relevance, merchant rating, or product rating.

Finally, pay attention to merchant ratings and everything you're getting for the purchase. The lowest-priced item in the list might be the basic item (such as just a game console), while some of the items further down the list may be bundles (e.g., the console plus some game software) that might be a better deal.

Good for procrastinators, too
If you're waiting until Christmas Eve to make your purchases, you may think you're stuck with whatever's still on the shelf at the local mall. But Froogle may still have some magic to dish out to last-minute shoppers. They recently rolled out a "Local shopping" option that allows you to type in your zip code and get a list of the nearest stores that carry that product, sticker price included.

On the occasions when your Froogling doesn't offer much in the way of selection, click on the "Web" link at the top of Froogle's main page. You'll have to wade through more hits using Google's broader Internet search, but sometimes an expanded search will help you to locate one of the more obscure items on your Christmas list.

Add search terms like "sale" and "free shipping" onto your product name and you'll sometimes uncover even bigger savings, especially if you're doing an expanded Web search. Some stores offer free shipping for purchases over a certain amount or have a blanket 10% off sale on all of their inventory that isn't reflected on the Froogle price listing.

Sample savings
How much can Froogle cut your shopping bills? Let's look at some examples:

  • Playmobil's Knight's Empire Castle. High price: $199. Best Froogle result: $152 with free shipping.
  • This season's hot toy, Robosapien. High price: $99.99. Best Froogle result: $69.99.
  • Electric Blue Nintendo DS. High price: $245. Best Froogle result: $115.

For the really hot items, Froogle may not be able to save you much. For example, a search for the new iPod Nano 4G from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) turns up a low price of $235, just $14 off the list price. However, search for the iPod Mini 4G -- an earlier version of the iPod that is discontinued -- and you can get the formerly $249 item for as little as $179.

No matter what's on the gift list this year, Froogle can help you find it and all without breaking the bank. That's something all Fools can get behind.

Want to read more about holiday shopping from The Fool? Try:

Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this story. However, she did use Froogle for her holiday shopping, during which she wasn't very frugal.