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The dealnews Black Friday Strategy Guide

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This year's holiday shopping season is expected to be a bargain hunter's paradise. With struggling vendors and a sagging economy, everyone's vying for your dollar. But unless you know how to score the best deals, chances are you can wind up spending more than you wanted. Follow our Black Friday Strategy Guide before heading outside and you'll not only find the best deals, but you'll do so without breaking a sweat.

Start your Black Friday on Thursday
The "big-box" stores will have most of their Black Friday sales online on Thursday. In fact, in years past, we've seen some deals sell out before Black Friday. dealnews' #1 Black Friday tip is to begin shopping online on Thursday, as early as possible (if you live on the West Coast, start Wednesday night at 9 pm).

You should also pre-shop Black Friday doorbusters online. Once you decide on an in-store only doorbuster you want, search dealnews to be sure no one else has a deal on that or a very similar product. Then, use price comparison engines like Biz Rate or PriceGrabber to make sure that the alleged doorbuster is in fact the lowest available price. Still a good deal? Then it might be worth a trip to the store.

Shop online on Black Friday too
Major online retailers like Amazon.com, Buy.com, and Overstock.com will have Black Friday sales. Expect to find aggressively-priced electronics from each store, but let us cut through the clutter for you: on Black Friday, the dealnews' home page will be full of Black Friday deals, all confirmed and price-checked.

Don't buy Apple before you check Apple's sale
Apple hardly ever slashes its prices, but if you're hoping to pick up a new iPod touch, look for the Apple Store's Black Friday sale, a tradition that's been running for several years. Apple typically offers discounts of 10% off iPods and 5% off Macs during its Black Friday sale. Apple's one-day sale prices are not only better than most in-store Black Friday sales, but they're sometimes unbeaten 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.

Uncover the secret deals
Want to score a deal no one knows about? On Thankgiving Day, retailers like Walmart and Best Buy 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.

Of course, there are some common-sense tips worth remembering....

Ask for gift receipts
Nothing's worse 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 exchange your gift for something your loved ones 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. Also be wary that some manufacturers and store chains are still struggling in this bad economy. If they go into bankruptcy, you won't get paid.

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 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.

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 you also get the deal you want. 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. (It's worth noting that some stores will not price match unless the competing store has the product you want in stock.)

Buy highly-sought after items ahead of time
Afraid a product is going to sell out? Find out your store's return policy, and if they honor Black Friday prices and offer price matching, buy your item there before Black Friday. That way when Black Friday comes, you'll already have the item you want and can leisurely look for deals on that item (which, naturally, your store will have to match).

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. It also pays to make lists of what you want, which is why our Black Friday App for iPhone has a Shopping List feature. Review them while you're in line. Can't find what you're looking for? Ask employees for help or to check inventory when you can't find something.

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 installations
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 than paying for in-home setup.

Be nice
We know you want that last goo-gah 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.

Louis Ramirez is dealnews' Features Editor.

Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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