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Avoid Black Friday madness (and still get great deals)

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Does waiting in line and fighting massive crowds sound fun to you? You still can get sweet deals without the hassle.

A number of big name retailers will break new ground this week – starting their “Black Friday” sales Thanksgiving night with the hope of boosting holiday sales. Toys R Us opens at 9 p.m. Wal-Mart unlocks its doors an hour later. Target, Best Buy, Kohl’s and Macy’s join the party at midnight. 

“A shopping day originally for early birds is now becoming one for night owls,” says Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org. “People will have to adjust their shopping schedule to the reality of Black Friday’s new store hours. Do you miss Thanksgiving to get in line for the midnight openings, or miss a night’s sleep to be there for the early morning openings?” 

Whatever time the doors open, odds are you’re not going to get that doorbuster special – a 42 inch HDTV for $200 – unless you’re willing to spend hours in line and are very lucky. 

“The reality is, they only have 10 to 15 of these items per store and they’re going to go to the people at the front of the line,” explains Jon Vincent, who runs the website BlackFriday.Info. “If you want to get one of the big doorbuster deals, you need to be there at least seven to 10 hours early.” 

I’ve never taken part in the Black Friday shopping frenzy and I doubt I ever will.  Waiting in line for hours and racing through a store trying to snag a bargain isn’t my thing.  And it turns out, it’s also not necessary. 

Dan de Grandpre, CEO and editor-in-chief of dealnews.com, makes his living tracking sale prices. He says the best deals don’t always happen on Black Friday because retailers move their promotions around so much.

“There are deals that are just as good as, and sometimes better than, the deals on Black Friday many other times during the holiday season,” de Grandpre tells me. “So if you miss Black Friday or don’t want to participate in Black Friday there will be many other opportunities to save.”

Remember: if retailers get desperate as Christmas approaches, we could see some unprecedented price slashing in the weeks ahead. But if there’s something you really, really must have – maybe that blue & green sweater that’s calling your name – don’t wait. Retailers are keeping inventory low (especially with clothing) and it may not be there later. 

Some Black Friday prices are already in effect
Retailers know that a lot of us are dealing with tight budgets again this year. So they rolled out their Black Friday prices weeks before Thanksgiving. At Lowe’s and Home Depot, the day-after-Thanksgiving appliance prices are already available.

Some online retailers, such as Amazon.com, are also already offering Black Friday markdowns.

“Black Friday has really become a term that means pre-holiday shopping discounts,” says Jody Rohlena, senior editor at Consumer Reports' ShopSmart magazine. “There are some really good deals online right now. And with the great free shipping promotions we’re seeing, you don’t have to wait for a special day to get a good deal.”

Black Friday guru Jon Vincent says he plans to stay home, skip the lines and shop the Black Friday sales online late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning. 

“Most of the major retailers put 90 percent of their Black Friday items online on Thanksgiving Day,” Vincent says. “Rather than wasting Thanksgiving in front of Best Buy, you can spend that time with your family and still get a great deal.” 

And don’t forget Cyber Monday. De Grandpre of dealnews.com says this used to be “a made-up holiday” to encourage people to shop online. But now it’s a big day for small businesses and small brands that cannot compete with the giant national chains on Black Friday.

Do your home work
Not all advertised items are great deals. For instance, Consumer Reports notes (Black Friday prices not always lowest for our recommended models) that many of the super-low Black Friday doorbuster prices are on off-brands that the magazine doesn’t typically review.

Prices for better brands will likely go down a bit as we get closer to Christmas. An analysis of last year’s prices shows that more than a quarter of the magazine’s “recommended” TVs and cameras were at least 5 per cent cheaper between Cyber Monday and December 13 than they were during the Black Friday weekend. 

The bottom line: whether you buy online or in person, you need to get a sense of what’s a good price for that item before you shop, so you can spot a bargain when you see it. Consumer Reports recommends using a comparison site such as Fatwallet, GottaDeal and TheBlackFriday. You can also get price comparison sites for your smartphone. Consumer Reports likes SnapTell and PriceGrabber.


Helpful Links:

Top 10 Tips to Bag a Bargain on Black Friday 

10 Things Not to Buy on Black Friday 

The Facts Behind 15 Black Friday Myths

With some major chains opening the doors on Thanksgiving for "Black Friday" sales, retail employees are beginning to publicly complain about sales creeping into their Thanksgiving holiday. KNSD's Bob Hansen reports.