Start Your Black Friday on Thursday. The "big-box" stores will have most of their Black Friday sales online on Thursday. In fact, some deals were sold out on Black Friday last year because they were sold the day before. The #1 Black Friday strategy is to shop online on Thursday, and if you find that what you want isn't available, then decide to go to the stores on Friday.
Shop Online on Black Friday Too. Major online retailers like Amazon.com and Buy.com have announced Black Friday sales. Expect home improvment, kitchen, and apparel from Amazon, and electronics and gadgets from Buy.com, all aggressively priced. Cut through the clutter on Thursday and Friday with our Black Friday Deals Page, all confirmed and price-checked.
Don't Buy Apple from a Store. Look for The Apple Store's online-only Black Friday sale, a tradition that's been running for several years. You can expect about 10% off a few of Apple's best products, which is not only better than most in-store Black Friday sales but often isn't beaten for the rest of the holiday season.
Shop Like a Snob. If a deal doesn't make you swoon, wait for a better deal later. Many Black Friday deals are matched or beaten later in the season. Most "doorbusters" are on no-name brands, and you probably don't really want a junk TV as your home entertainment centerpiece, no matter how cheap. It's a buyer's market, and prices aren't going up.
Take Advantage of the Few Luxury Deals. Luxury retailers typically turn their nose up at Black Friday. This year, a few luxury retailers are embracing the sales. Tiffany.com, for instance, offers free shipping up until Cyber Monday. Saks.com is also offering free shipping with no minimum purchase.
new Uncover the Secret Deals. Want to score a deal no one knows about? On Thankgiving Day, retailers like Best Buy and Circuit City are expected to advertise additional Black Friday deals that weren't in their circulars. These "secret" deals will only be found online (e.g., at BestBuy.com), so the trick is to uncover them on the Web on Thursday so you'll know about them when you get to the store on Friday. Update: You can subscribe to get a Wal-Mart secret deals alert via text message.
Of course, there are some common-sense tips worth remembering.
Ask for Gift Receipts. Nothing's worst than giving a gift on Christmas morning and realizing it's the same sweater you gave them last year. In those cases it pays to have your receipts so you can take said item back to the store and get something they really want. Better yet, attach gift receipts with your presents so that they can return their gifts themselves while you kick back and relax at home.
Be Wary of Mail-In Rebate Hassles. If you never remember to fill out rebate forms in time, then that $1,000 item with a $300 rebate costs $1,000, not $700.
Don't Let the Stores Win. Retailers like whipping people up into a buying frenzy on Black Friday. Don't fall for it. Know what you want to buy and stick with it. If you wind up spending more money than you initially planned, the store suckered you. If you walk out spending less money than you planned, then you, my friend, made the most of Black Friday.
Buy Gift Cards. Don't know what to get your neighbor for the holidays? Give them a gift card. Not only does it alleviate the pressure of choosing the right gift, but it practically guarantees they'll get something they want. Still feel like gift cards are too impersonal? Try pairing one with something from the same store you purchased the card in to give it that extra personalization. However, it's important to know the ins and outs of your gift card before you buy one. When does it expire? Do any charges apply if it's not used? It's worth asking before you buy.
Get Stores to Price Match. Many suspend it, but a few retail stores will offer price matching on Black Friday. That means they'll match or beat a competitor's price in order to keep you shopping at their store. This works out great for shoppers because not only do you get to shop at your favorite store, but they're offering you the deal you want to keep you there. The trick is proving it to them. Know your store's price-matching policy and if possible, carry circulars with you to prove that their competitor has a better deal.
Do Your Homework. No one wants to sit in traffic on Black Friday, so make sure to map out the stores that you want to hit. Know when they open, when they close, and if applicable, what hours during the day their best sales will take place. Plan on buying a massive flat-panel TV? Make sure your car has the space you need to store it so that you don't waste time shuttling purchases back home.
Be First in Line. Some stores will hand out first-in-line vouchers for shoppers who wake up at the crack of dawn and stand in line outside their store. These deals are typically substantial, but very limited. The only way to get them is getting up early so you can get a leg up on the competition. Hey, there's a reason we listed that sleeping bag/tent bundle last week.
Be Wary of Extended Warranties & In-Home Setup. These services are a big source of profits for the stores. Add them, and you may spend much more than you initially bargained for. Don't be talked into buying a long, pricey warranty if you know a one-year or two-year plan will do the trick. And it's cheaper to buy a geeky friend dinner in exchange for help then paying for in-home setup.
Be Nice. We know you want that last Wii and we're well aware of the fact that no one is going to stand in your way (including that freckled 12-year old you just pummeled), but should you have any questions or trouble finding something, be nice about it when you ask the sales staff. Chances are they'd rather be at home sleeping, but instead they're stuck answering questions from rude customers. A little niceness might get you far.
And remember, if all else fails, you can always visit stores the night before and hide what you want behind the crappy items. Thanks for the idea, George Costanza!
Louis Ramirez is the dealnews Features Editor.