Image: Gift © Brian Hagiwara, Brand X, Corbis

Every year, Americans spend hundreds of dollars on their holiday shopping, much of it on cheap, well-intentioned gifts that the recipients neither want nor need.

Instead of buying another sweater for your sweetie or box of candy for your kid's teacher, why not round up enough people to chip in on something they truly covet, such as a new smartphone, flat-screen television or lavish gift card?

A handful of websites -- Shareagift.com, ChipIn, eBay Group Gifts and others -- now allow you to raise funds for gifts with a few clicks, rather than chasing your friends for checks weeks after a purchase.

That's what 37-year-old Reeta Hosein of London did recently after struggling to find a birthday gift she thought her husband, Aleem, would enjoy.

"He is impossible to buy for," she says. She knew he'd had his eye on an outdoor pool table, but at $6,000, it was just too expensive for her to buy alone.

So she made up a page for the gift on Shareagift and asked more than 20 of his friends and relatives to go in on it with her.

"The reaction I got from everyone, was, 'Wow! What a fantastic idea,'" Hosein says. And because the contributions were confidential, she says no one felt pressured to chip in. The site also generated a gift card, for which contributors could type personal messages.

"He was very surprised, especially as it was so expensive . . . and I had been saying he couldn't have one," Hosein said.

Bigger pot, better gift

Group gift giving may be one of the few ways retailers can get more consumers to spend on big-ticket items this year, says Marshal Cohen, the chief industry analyst for market researcher NPD.

"The things people really want these days are more expensive," he says, and there are not many exciting new products at cheaper price points to get shoppers spending on impulse.

Indeed, with the economy limping along and many people paring back spending, getting people to chip in on that one longed-for item makes a lot of sense.

The idea of online group gift giving has been around for at least a couple of years. Some early sites, however, couldn't bring in enough traffic and purchases to effectively raise their profile and keep themselves running.

Now, however, big retailers such as Best Buy are getting into the act, adding this feature to their online stores to cultivate more loyal customers.

"It only gives (shoppers) more reason to be on your home page," Cohen says.

Independent collection sites

And there are some new independent sites that will do the legwork for you.

Shareagift, which was launched in recent weeks, allows you to set up a page on its website or on Facebook to solicit money for a gift. The funds, submitted by credit card or PayPal account, are deposited in the organizer's account. Shareagift will send out reminders as your buying deadline approaches.

"Group buying is something that's happening anyway. We are just bringing it online and simplifying it," says Justine Angelli, the founder and CEO of Shareagift.

Click here to become a fan of MSN Money on Facebook

Other money collection sites, such as WePay and ChipIn, gather funds for events, team fundraising and charities, as well as for group gifts for friends and family.

As with Shareagift, you set up a page and send the link to your friends. With WePay, the electronic check and credit card donations are sent to a linked account, and you simply click "Get Money Out" to receive the funds and make purchases.

ChipIn donations or contributions are sent solely via PayPal to the organizer's PayPal account.