3 Steps to Mastering Holiday Gift Delivery

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PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- For seasoned online holiday shoppers, this is the time of year the doorbell keeps ringing, the cardboard boxes pile up and the local couriers curse your name -- if you're lucky.

The National Retail Federation's digital branch, Shop.org, found that 51.5% of the consumers it surveyed will shop online for gifts this year, about the same amount as last year. The average person will complete about 39.5% of their shopping on retail and other company websites, up from 38.8% last year and the highest amount in the survey's history. Shop.org is forecasting that online holiday sales will grow between 13% and 15%, to as much as $82 billion, though it fell way short of its prediction of a 12% increase to between $92 billion and $96 billion last year. Meanwhile, online shoppers expect to spend an average $884.55 on gifts, decorations, food this holiday season, compared with an average $737.95 among all holiday shoppers

More than 40% of online shoppers started checking off those holiday gift lists in October or earlier, with two-thirds doing so to spread out their budget. Another half want to avoid the stress of last-minute shopping and late-season crowds. That same retail agoraphobia has driven a 59% uptick in online shopping within the past year, according to a survey by Google .

This would all be great if online shopping had turned shipping into a flawless system. Shipping costs can still get fairly high, packages arrive when the carrier deems it necessary and those shipped goods are handled with all the delicacy of an open-field tackle during a bowl game.

For those looking to keep delivery hassle to a minimum this holiday season, we offer the following three pillars of online shopping:

Always get it delivered free

There is little reason not to hold out for free shipping.

Retailers including Amazon , Macy's , Home Depot , Lowe's and JC Penney will throw it your way when you hit certain spending thresholds, but Best Buy , Blue Nile , Nordstrom , Saks Fifth Avenue , Neiman Marcus and LL Bean will ship for free no matter what you spend. It tends to work out for them, too, as 19% off all shoppers tell FreeShipping.org they're willing to spend full price on an item if it comes with free shipping.