The holiday season of 2008 may go down in history as one of the biggest nail-bitters in the last few decades. Motley Fool analysts have assessed the state of retail going into this critical season -- the stocks, sales strategies, consumer trends -- and identified the winners and losers at the mall and in investors' portfolios. Click here for the complete report.

It's a rough economy, and it sounds as though consumers won't be shopping much this holiday season. The malaise is extending to e-commerce as well.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported dour word from comScore that online shopping in October grew by only 1%, its lowest level since 2001. Many families with incomes less than $50,000 a year have pretty much frozen their online shopping.

Given that backdrop, I'd avoid almost-rans like the plague. Take Internet pure play Overstock.com (NASDAQ:OSTK), with its history of lack of profitability and its debt load. And the company has often seemed to focus more on its crusade against naked short-selling than on its actual business. For these reasons, I recently said it was a stock that would burn investors' portfolios.

Meanwhile, there's J. Crew (NYSE:JCG). Although this company has some great bricks-and-mortar attributes, it recently suffered through a terrible Web glitch that makes you wonder when these guys learned about e-commerce. The online stumble also hurt J. Crew's recent quarterly profit

And then there's Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT). It's known for its real-world strength, too, but I'm not convinced that its online shopping is quite up to snuff. Although it has e-commerce capabilities, it has a history of really blowing things when it comes to competing with the likes of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) in their respective businesses.

All that said, if you want to capitalize on whatever online shopping does get done this year, go for the creme de la creme -- Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN). I believe it will be able to hold its own even in this dismal holiday shopping season.

Why? Well, Amazon has the incredible variety of merchandise that shoppers want, whether it's books, music, gadgets, or food. Since its huge customer base rates products, shoppers get help buying the right thing. Amazon Prime makes the service even more sticky, by luring loyal customers in to use Amazon's service above all others with cut-rate shipping. Then there's Amazon Kindle, an Oprah holiday pick -- and a way to save money on books, to boot. And, of course, Amazon is constantly trying new things, such as its endeavors into digital content.

In these troubled times, investors can find beaten-down stocks in companies well known for excellence, and Amazon fits the bill. Its shares have fallen by more than 50% this year, too. It also has more than $5 per share of cash and a manageable debt load, so it's a survivor regardless of what goes down this holiday season. Why go for the brass when you can go for the gold standard? In online shopping, Amazon is the gold standard.

Amazon, Netflix, and Apple are Stock Advisor recommendations. Wal-Mart is a selection of Inside Value. Either service is free for 30 days.

Alyce Lomax owns no shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.