By consumerworld | Last updated Nov 16, 2011, 6:13 pm
With the best bargain shopping day of the year nearly here (Nov. 25), shoppers are being encouraged to start their homework now on products and prices to spot the real deals, and adjust their shopping schedule to the reality of Black Friday’s new store hours.
“With many stores opening at midnight but others not until 4am, shoppers may have to choose one or the other or give up a night’s sleep,” said Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org, a non-commercial consumer resource guide. “A shopping day originally for early birds is now becoming one for night owls.” Shoppers are being advised to also check retailers’ sites for web-only deals on Nov. 24-28, and to consider the pre- and post-Black Friday sales, like Cyber Monday and Thanksgiving Day itself.
Consumer World offers these holiday shopping tips to help bag the best bargains:
1. Read the Ads: Check local newspapers on Thanksgiving Day. They will be chock-full of circulars and last minute deals. Friday’s papers will include additional sales. Get on retailers’ email lists, and look for deals and coupons listed on their Facebook pages. Preview the Black Friday sale circulars now at bfads.net, and get a list of sale items at all stores combined by category, like all GPSes, at blackfriday.gottadeal.com.
2. Evaluate the Deals: Not all advertised items are great deals. To separate the ho-hum from the good deals, use several of Consumer World’s pricing tools, such as the Price Checker at ConsumerWorld.org (to compare prices at many online stores instantly), DealAlerter.com (to get notified when an item’s price drops) and PriceHistories.com (to compare today’s price for an item to what was charged over the past six months). If shopping online, find out the total price including shipping and tax (if any), and what the reputation of the seller is using BizRate.com or ResellerRatings.com .
3. Research the Right Product: A low price on a lousy product is no bargain. Check websites where professionals evaluate products, such as Consumer Reports, Steves-Digicams.com (for cameras), Ecoustics.com (TV/hi-fi equipment), PCMagazine.com (computers), best/worst toy lists, etc. Also, nothing beats reading customer reviews by real owners of the products you are thinking of buying. Check Epinions.com, and read the user comments posted after most product descriptions at Amazon.com.
4. Save with “Triple Plays”: To save the most, combine the primary ways to save: buy items at a good sale price, use percent-off/dollars-off coupons offered by some stores to lower that price even more, and look for items that also have a cash back rebate.
5. Be an Early Bird: Toys-R-Us and Wal-mart open some stores at 9pm and 10pm respectively on Thanksgiving (but W-M electronics @midnight); Target, Best Buy, Kohl’s and Macy’s open at midnight. Sears, JC Penney open at 4am, Lowe’s at 5am, and Staples at a sane 6am. Plot your route from store to store based on store opening times, and since quantities of the hottest deals are very limited, arrive before the doors open. Send family members to different stores if opening times conflict.
Among the better “doorbusters” this year: a Sharp 42” HDTV $199, a Toshiba Blu-ray player $39.99, and a Samsung stainless 25.8 cu ft French door refrigerator $1199 (Best Buy): Samsung Stratosphere 4G/LTE smartphone free (Radio Shack/Best Buy); 600 ct sheet sets all sizes $19.96 (Wal-mart); small kitchen appliances valued to $40 for $9.99 after rebate (Kohl’s, J.C. Penney, Macy’s, Wal-mart w/o rebate); Samsung 32” HDTV $278 (most stores); Canon SX150 digital camera $149.99 (most stores); Norton Internet Security 2012 free after rebate (Staples); 150+ toys are half off or more at Toys-R-Us; $10 off $30 clothing purchase coupon (Sears); $10 off a $25 purchase coupon (Macy’s); a Frigidaire front load washer/dryer pair $699.98 (Sears Appliance and Hardware stores): and a Seagate 2TB FreeAgent external hard drive $69.99 (Costco).
6. Beat the Early Birds: Stores like Sears have been running pre-Black Friday sales on weekends, with better than Black Friday prices on some items. To plan for the real Black Friday, scope-out key retailers on Wednesday before Thanksgiving to learn each store’s floor plan in advance. Avoid the crowds by ordering online since some Black Friday deals may be available on Thanksgiving Day or Friday starting at midnight. But, stores are not generally good about indicating which items will also be available online.
7. Check the Return Policy: Before buying, find out the store’s return policy. While many stores have extended their return deadlines into January, others are clamping down by imposing restocking fees on certain categories of items, or by using a blacklisting database or returns tracking system to deny refunds to returns abusers.
8. Get a Gift Receipt: Make returns easier for gift recipients by asking the store for a gift receipt and include it in the gift box. Without a receipt, a refund may be denied outright, or may be limited to only an equal exchange, or to a merchandise credit for the lowest price the item has sold for in the recent past.
9. Use the Right Credit Card: Certain credit cards offer valuable free benefits. For example, don’t be pressured into buying a service contract when you can get up to an extra year of warranty coverage free just by using most gold or platinum credit cards. Ask your credit card issuer what length warranties qualify for an extra year of coverage, if any. Some credit cards also offer a return protection guarantee (they will refund the purchase price within 90 days if the store will not), or a sale price guarantee (they will give you back the difference if an item goes on sale within 60 days of purchase).
10. Save More with Price Guarantees: The bargain shopping process does not end with a product purchase. Keep checking the prices of the items you bought. Since many stores offer a price protection guarantee, you may be entitled to get back some additional money if the seller or a competitor offers a lower price before Christmas.
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