Black Friday Top 10 Shopping Tips

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With just one week to go until Black Friday, you can be forgiven for getting a little anxious about the start of the holiday shopping season. Don’t worry; we’re here to talk you down. First of all, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to get all or any of your shopping done this Friday. In fact, only 30 percent of those surveyed in a recent CR poll expected to finish their shopping right after Thanksgiving, and forty-five percent expect to take until the second week of December to finish. Still, if you are determined to brave the crowds on Friday, we’re with you, and have a few simple tips to make the day a little less stressful:1. Do your homework to unearth the best deals. Web sites such as Black Friday Ads, and DealTalker reveal advance information about Black Friday circulars and other sales at many stores, and feature downloadable coupons. Another useful site, RetailMeNot, features coupons and discount codes, which entitle shoppers to bonus savings.2. Check to see if you are really getting a bargain. If you find a product in a flyer at a seemingly low price, go online first to determine whether you can get it elsewhere for less. Some sites that compare prices among multiple e-tailers and retailers include PriceGrabber, Shopping.com and DealTime. Amazon.com is worth visiting, too, as our reader surveys have cited Amazon as one of the best places to appliances, electronics, and books at excellent prices.3. Check out the retailer’s Web site. Shoppers can learn if the products they want are stocked and available. Many retailers also offer the opportunity to purchase the item online and pick it up locally. Another plus: Retailers may offer coupons that shoppers can print out and bring with them for extra savings.4. Weigh the risks and rewards of late-night and pre-dawn sales. It’s true, many retailers offer huge discounts, often selling a few attention-grabbing toys or electronic items at or below cost to lure you into the store, where you’ll hopefully purchase other more profitable merchandise. Such products sold as “loss leaders” are typically offered in extremely limited quantities and it’s first-come, first serve. Don’t bother to show up unless you are willing to wait, sometimes for hours before the store opens, and even then there’s no guarantee.5. Don’t assume the best deals are on Black Friday. While it’s too early to tell how deeply retailers will ultimately be forced to cut prices to boost their bottom line and move inventory, it’s clear that many merchants are already reacting to intense competition by slashing prices and dangling bonus discounts. Inducements such as free shipping, delivery, and gift-wrapping are so widespread that they’re rapidly becoming the norm. So it’s not as if you’ll be forced to pay full price if you delay your shopping a bit. If you are intent on getting the cheapest price, ask if the retailer has a guaranteed low-price policy, entitling you to a refund of the difference between the new price and what you paid if the item is available for less within a particular timeframe.6. Shop early in the day. Black Friday shoppers must brace themselves for heavy traffic and packed stores, which means more time on the road and less time to shop. Obviously, you can shop in only one store at a time. So plan on arriving at your favorite ones early, before doors open and people pour in. Early birds also get to choose from the entire range of merchandise before it’s been picked through, which means fewer color, size, and style options.7. Get extra savings through instant charge cards. If you plan a big-ticket acquisition, consider opening up an instant charge card to receive an extra 10 percent off at the point of purchase. Then pay the balance quickly and cut up the card.8. Check return policies. Retailers are becoming stricter when it comes to enforcing return policies. Be sure to ask for gift receipts. If you lack a receipt, be prepared to be issued a gift card or store credit for the lowest price the item actually sold for, not necessarily what you paid for it. You’ll also need your receipt for warranty service. Purchases made during the holidays (usually the months of November and December) may be eligible for extended return or exchange privileges.9. Be mindful of restocking fees. Some site charge as much as 25 percent for returns of opened GPS navigation systems, television sets, camcorders, digital cameras, and other major buys. Items such as computer software, movies, music and video games usually can be exchanged for the identical item but cannot be returned for a refund.10. Guard your privacy and security. Read a Web site’s privacy policy. It might tell you that the site sells customer data, which means your inbox could be stuffed with spam. As for security, when entering personal data, make sure you are on a Web page that triggers a security icon such as a closed padlock on your browser, indicating a secure connection for transmitting sensitive information. You should also use a single dedicated credit card for all online transactions, which will minimize aggravation should you be a victim of identity theft. After you’ve completed your purchase, a receipt will often appear on your final screen. Rather than jotting down the purchase number, print the actual receipt for your records, should any discrepancies occur.