Online retailers know that consumers loosen their budgets during the holiday season. During the holiday shopping frenzy, online deals are plentiful and competitive.
But with so many online shops offering deals, it can be tricky to narrow down choices to the best one. To help shoppers hone in on the biggest savings, GOBankingRates identified some of the best online retailers -- as well as a few of the worst -- for the holiday season.
10 best retailers for holiday shopping
To identify the 10 best online shopping websites, GOBankingRates looked for those with a proven track record of offering great discounts during the holidays, particularly on huge shopping days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
These stores also offer a wide variety of deals and discounts throughout the holiday shopping season. Their favorable shipping policies also keep costs low, and great return policies allow shoppers to gift with confidence.
The best online stores help shoppers spend less for the holidays, while still offering convenience and fast delivery.
Wal-Mart has built a retail empire around offering low prices and a convenient shopping experience, but shoppers should see the big-box store ramp up the deals in a big way for the holiday season.
DealNews names Walmart as one of the top five stores to get the best online deals during Black Friday sales. Online shoppers can even snag Black Friday offers from the comfort of their home and pick up their purchase later at a local store.
Last year, Walmart's minimum for free shipping was $50, but the store has since dropped this to $35. It also offers free shipping to and pickup at any Walmart store.
Walmart is a great bet for home goods and toys throughout the holiday shopping season, offering plentiful deals on both.
This outdoor equipment and activewear company is a great place to shop online during the holidays, thanks to its great deals and stellar shipping and return policies.
L.L.Bean offers free shipping on all orders with no purchases minimums, which is a big selling point for holiday shoppers. The store also has a liberal return and exchange policy with no time limits -- you can return or exchange an item for almost any reason with no time limit. Many items can even be returned without a receipt.
Shoppers at L.L.Bean can expect to see the best offers of the year during the holiday shopping season. The store often offers coupon codes for sitewide savings, typically of 10%, reports DealNews.
Another common offer is to get a $10 L.L.Bean gift card for every $50 spent.
Groupon offers a variety of discounts on gift-worthy products and services, including restaurant vouchers, luxury spa packages, travel bookings, and more. Its deals are often some of the best around, according to DealNews.
During the holiday season, shoppers can likely get even bigger discounts stacked with the site's already low offers. Last year, for example, Groupon marked prices down sitewide throughout the week of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, offering markdowns of up to 90%.
Newegg.com is a great choice for the best prices on electronics, Conway said. Specifically, Newegg.com tends to offer the most discounts on computers, followed by deals on speakers, headphones and cell phone accessories, reports DealNews.
The site offers plenty of coupons to its email subscribers, and November is one of its peak months for these offers. The site also offers "shell shockers," featured daily deals and marketplace spotlights.
Last year, Newegg had some of the steepest discounts and best deals on electronics during Cyber Monday, with an impressive average discount of 71%, reports tech news site BGR. Shoppers can likely expect a repeat performance for this year's Cyber Monday.
Chang said Drugstore.com is one of her top picks for low prices this holiday season. Conway agreed.
"Drugstore.com has lower prices than brick-and mortar-stores, including Target, and they also offer 5% cash back on all purchases in the form of drugstore.com dollars ... (that) can then be applied to future purchases," Conway said.
Drugstore.com offers free shipping on orders over $35, and will occasionally offer $5 off $35 discounts, she added.
When it comes to holiday shipping, Zappos is a winner. This online retailer offers free priority shipping both ways on all orders 365 days of the year, and also gives customers a full year to return unused items for a full refund.
Last holiday season, Zappos also gave shoppers one of the latest deadlines for placing Christmas orders. It was one of just four retailers among 40 tracked by customer-service data tracker StellaService that guaranteed by-Christmas delivery on orders placed by Dec. 23, reports Fortune.
Besides dodging shipping costs, Zappos customers also get access to a wide selection and a lot of discounts throughout the holiday season.
If you are shopping around for the best price, check the deals at 6pm.com, said Ramirez. On this site, it is easy to both browse deals or search for specific items. 6pm.com offers daily deals on apparel, shoes and accessories with prices marked down as much as 70%.
Around the holidays, however, shoppers can expect even bigger discounts and more opportunities to save. Last holiday season, 6pm.com hosted eight online sales events, including a Cyber Monday sale and a day-after-Christmas sale.
6pm.com currently offers free shipping on orders of $50 or more, although that minimum could drop during the holiday seasons. Shoppers will have to pay shipping on returns. The usual 30-day window will likely be extended for the holiday season — last year, 6pm.com customers were given until Feb. 28 to get a full return on items purchased during the holiday season.
Jet.com offers shoppers low initial prices and the chance to stack purchases to qualify for additional discounts. Already, Jet.com has been touted as a potential threat to Amazon's dominance, and GOBankingRates was recently impressed with the site's low prices on Halloween costumes.
The site is young, however, which means that it is still working out the kinks in its business model. "Reviews from our Slickdeals community are mixed," said Conway.
The site recently dropped its previous $50 membership fee, however, "so joining the site to see if it matches your shopping needs is risk-free," Conway said. For shoppers looking to ditch in-store crowds for online savings, Jet.com could be a smart alternative to the holiday rush at warehouse stores like Costco and Sam's Club, she added.
Jet.com orders of $35 or more qualify for free two- to five-day shipping. The site also offers free returns within 30 days.
Ebay offers huge discounts and doorbusters during the holiday's biggest shopping events. "Ebay is ... a big contender on Black Friday and Cyber Monday," Ramirez said.
Thanks to eBay, you can take advantage of Black Friday sales even after the fact. "Many people who buy popular items on Black Friday resell them in the following weeks for a little more than they spent, still netting you a good deal without the hassle of Black Friday crowds," Conway said. Clothes, shoes and accessories are also a great deal at eBay, she said.
Another bonus: Last year, eBay offered all its sellers access to discounted shipping prices during the holidays, so you might pay less for items than you would at other times of the year.
Amazon generates huge amounts of revenue that give it hefty enough margins to undercut competitors.
"Amazon will offer the biggest quantity and variety of deals this Black Friday," said Louis Ramirez, senior features writer for deals site DealNews. But shoppers should shop around to make sure Amazon's prices really are the best, he said.
Amazon is an even better deal if you are an Amazon Prime subscriber. Amy Chang, a consumer expert at online deal and coupon review site Slickdeals, says she loves Amazon because it offers free shipping on almost everything when you have a Prime membership.
Regina Conway, another consumer expert from Slickdeals, added that the holidays are the perfect time to take advantage of Amazon's offer for a free 30-day trial of Prime. "For the holiday season, the two-day free shipping benefit means you can order Prime-eligible gifts up until Dec. 22 to still get them delivered in time for the holidays at no additional shipping cost," she said.
The online retailer's superior customer experience ratings are also a sign of Amazon's great service. While shoppers are becoming more savvy and harder to satisfy, Amazon is still one of the top retailers for delivering a satisfying experience, according to the Answers Experience Index: 2014 U.S. Retail Edition.
5 worst online retailers for holiday shopping
GOBankingRates also found the five worst online retailers to shop at this holiday season. Such sites tend to offer underwhelming discounts and lackluster deals on huge shopping days such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
The worst online stores also made shopping online more expensive for consumers through added costs such as shipping, return fees and interest charges.
While there are plenty of sites offering competitive holiday deals, these online retailers fail to impress.
Steam -- Store.SteamPowered.com -- is an online-only platform for digital video games for PCs, and it's a giant in the industry. But Steam has failed to offer its steepest deals during Black Friday sales. Last year, its deals capped out at 75% during the major sales event, compared to the 90% discounts DealNews reports it offered during its Summer Sale.
If you are looking for holiday savings, try to avoid paying interest on holiday purchases — especially if the APR is as high as Fingerhut's 24.9%. If you must charge your holiday shopping, look for a credit card with a zero% introductory rate to avoid paying the premium of interest.
Another strike against Fingerhut is its poor customer experience score, which tied for the lowest any online retailer received in the Answers' Experience Index.
Shoppers might be better off looking elsewhere for PC games during the holiday season.
Overall, Sears' holiday deals tend to be underwhelming. The best deals Sears offered on Black Friday last year included a slow cooker, washer and dryer set, and tools sets, as picked by Brad's Deals. These are hardly the kind of items that get most shoppers' pulses racing.
Sears' shipping and return policies are similarly unimpressive. The retailer offers free shipping on orders over $49 but has a long list of exclusions to this offer. Its return policy is also one of the worst, especially for gift recipients, according to CNBC.
Stores like Sears will not accept returns without a receipt, Conway said. Some returned items, such as electronics, incur a 15% restocking fee. Poor customer experience has left Sears with one of the lowest customer satisfaction ratings among department stores, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
If you're a casual shopper who can afford to wait for shipping and take whatever deals come your way, Zulily can be a good fit. However, most holiday shoppers want something different.
Zulily is a daily deals retailer that offers discounts on rotating selections of items, with discounts of ;up to 70%, according to its site. It most frequently offers deals on clothing for women and kids, as well as household items and toys.
But while the store offers lower prices, shoppers have limited choice on this site that only offers preselected items from its partner brands.
The real drawback of the Zulily experience, however, is its shipping process. Zulily's stock is held by partners until it is sold, so it will take eight to 12 days for your items just to get to the online retailer. Then, you will be waiting another few days for the item to be shipped to you.
Zulily also charges for shipping. Lastly, if you or your giftee is unsatisfied with the item, you might be out of luck — many items sold by the site are ineligible for returns. On other items, you have just 14 days from the ship date to make a return.
Apple products are among the most sought-after items of the holiday season. From iPads to iMacs and iPhones, many shoppers will be looking to upgrade to a newer gadget for less.
If you're in that group, however, you should probably skip the Apple.com store. "The one retailer which consistently disappoints us on Black Friday is Apple," Ramirez said. "Their Black Friday sale has gotten stingier with each passing year, and every year we find significantly better Apple deals from authorized retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart and Target."
This article originally appeared on GoBankingRates.
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