With the best bargain hunting days of the year nearly here, shoppers are advised to do their homework in advance to find the best products at the best prices and to check the circulars of their favorite stores to see when their Black Friday sales begin.
"Some stores are making certain Black Friday items available weeks in advance this year," explained Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org. "So, look for their fliers online, and then check retailers' websites because you may be able to buy now and avoid the crowds."
Consumer World offers these holiday shopping tips to help bag the best bargains:
1. Read the Ads: Preview the Black Friday sale circulars now at BFAds.net and get a list of sale items at all stores by category, such as all HDTVs or laptops, at blackfriday.gottadeal.com. 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, check their websites for additional "hidden" bargains, and look for deals and coupons listed on their social media sites.
2. Evaluate the Deals: Not all Black Friday advertised items are the best deals. To separate the ho-hum deals from the good ones, use a pricing tool, such as the Price Checker in Consumer World or camelcamelcamel.com (to compare today's price for an item to what was charged over the past year at Amazon and other sellers). If shopping online, find out the total price including shipping and tax (if any). This year, Amazon, Best Buy, and Target are offering free shipping with no minimum. Lastly, check the reputation of unfamiliar online sellers with BizRate.com/ratings_guide 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, Wirecutter.com, LCDTVBuyingGuide.com (for televisions), PCMag.com (computers), best/worst toy lists, etc. Check the user reviews posted after most product descriptions at Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, Walmart.com, and other retailers.
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/bonus points coupons offered by some stores to lower that price even more, and look for items that also have a cash back rebate. Kohl's has the most bonus offers like these.
5. The Early Bird Gets the Doorbusters: Go when the store first opens because quantities are limited and no rainchecks will be given generally. Opening hours vary because many stores are closed on Thanksgiving this year, or will open later in the day -- around 5 pm. Most stores in states with blue laws will open Friday 12 - 1 am. Some stores will open (or re-open) between 5 - 9 am on Friday including Costco, BJ's and others.
Look for better "doorbusters" including:
Walmart: 65-inch Sharp or TCL 4K/UHD TV (in-store only) - $398; Roku SE - $20; Instant Pot 8-qt - $59.
Sears: Kenmore 26 cu. ft. French door refrigerator - $889.99; Spend $600 get $600 in Shop Your Way points over 24 weeks; Roebucks men's jeans - $9.99.
J.C. Penney, Kohl's, Macy's, Shopko: small appliances: $4.99, $7.99, and/ or $9.99 after rebate.
Target: spend $50 or more on Friday, get 20% off future purchase coupon.
Macy's: 12 items free after rebate in-store; men's sports jackets, suits, and coats - $99.99.
Bed, Bath & Beyond: 20% off entire purchase coupon (must pick up before noon).
Best Buy: Dell 15.6" laptop, i5 processor, SSD - $399.99.
Old Navy: 50% off everything Nov. 21-23, and 26-27 (online only).
6. Beat the Early Birds: Watch for pre-Black Friday sales before Thanksgiving. Some Black Friday prices are available now or early next week. For example, Kohl's non-doorbusters will be available online starting Monday at 1:01 am EST, and Walmart.com's Black Friday sale will begin on Wednesday at 10 pm. Be warned that stores are generally terrible about indicating which items will also be available online, so you have to check both. To maximize efficiency on store visits, scope-out key retailers the day before Thanksgiving to learn each store's floor plan in advance. Some stores like Walmart offer diagrams to locate sale items which are not in the usual place.
7. Check the Return Policy: Before buying, find out the store's return policy and if return shipping is free for online orders. Many stores have extended their return deadlines into January.
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 (or two years on some Citi cards) of warranty coverage free just by using most better credit cards. Ask your credit card issuer if it offers this benefit. Some credit cards also offer a return protection guarantee (they will refund the purchase price within 90 days if the store will not), or offer 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-Match Guarantees: Stores generally will not honor price matches from Black Friday through Cyber Monday but will after that period. Keep checking the prices of items you bought and you may be entitled to get back some money if the seller or a competitor offers a lower price before Christmas.