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Do Black Friday deals really offer the best value?

TMCNet:  Do Black Friday deals really offer the best value?

[November 21, 2012]

Do Black Friday deals really offer the best value?

Nov 21, 2012 (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- It's a recurring question for Black Friday shoppers who brave the weather, the crowds and the traffic jams and wait in lines for hours to snag a deal -- and even for those who stayed at home: Do you really get the best deal on Black Friday The short answer: It depends what you're looking for and who you ask. But experts agree that if you aren't using the Internet or your phone to check prices and research products before you buy, you're likely missing out.

According to the customer service research firm, ForeSee, nearly one in five consumers used their phone to compare products and prices in stores during the 2011 holiday shopping season, up from 3% in 2009. And those who have done Black Friday price comparisons online may have discovered that many items are already on sale online -- or at least they will be starting on Thanksgiving Day and lasting through Cyber Monday.

Last year, staff at the website dealnews.com checked Black Friday deals at Target and Walmart and found that 70% of those deals were available online either Thursday or Friday for the same price or cheaper.

"We found that a lot of deals that are in these Black Friday circulars are also going to be available online, either from that store, or another store will try and beat it," said Lindsay Sakraida, features director at dealnews.com, a website that uses computer software to track the best prices throughout the year. "It may not be necessary to go to the stores, unless it's for door-busters." Big-screen TVs tend to be popular, but they actually get to Black Friday price levels over the summer, she said.

Some retailers -- including Target, Radio Shack and Kmart -- have announced that they will offer Black Friday deals online before their stores open. At some stores, however, those deals are only available to members.

But experts say so many deals are now available online that only select products still seem to be a deal worth standing in line for.

"Electronics really are, traditionally. If you can get the door-buster, it is a great deal," said Erin McMillan, director of the Center for Branding and Product Management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "We're starting to see it with phones and small electronics as well. A lot of times, clothing. It's rare to find a store with 60% off. Those are traditionally your best deals. Other things are hit or miss." The website decide.com tracked prices for seven products, from toys to electronics, throughout 2011. Nearly all of them could be found at cheaper prices at a different time of the year.

In fact, Sakraida said, standing mixers were among a few items that were more expensive on Black Friday than in the weeks prior.

For instance, a KitchenAid mixer was cheaper a few weeks before Black Friday, she said.

"Don't fall victim to a brand name," she said.

Expert advice So, what's a good deal and what's not Here are some rules of thumb from the experts: In-store gift cards: Black Friday may offer the best deal for those who want brand-name items, such as Apple products, which aren't generally sold at a discount or only with a minimal discount. While the prices are standard, retailers often throw in sizable gift cards for their own stores. For the first time, Walmart this year is offering a guarantee to shoppers in line by 10 p.m. Thursday to buy one of three door-buster deals (an iPad 2, a 32-inch LCD flat screen television or an LG Blu-ray player): If the items sell out by 11 p.m., customers will receive a guarantee card for the item, which must be paid for by midnight and registered online.

Toys: Usually, toy prices are the lowest for the two weeks right before Christmas, so you're better off waiting if you can. However, if you want to get your shopping done early, you might want to consider buying on Black Friday, when some retailers offer up to 50% off new toys, Sakraida said. If you're looking to buy a very popular toy, it could be sold out if you wait.

But if you're just looking for a deal, wait till early next year. The Decide study showed the price of an Elmo plush toy bottomed out in mid-March.

Game consoles: They tend to be cheaper around Black Friday, but mainly when they're bundled with games or accessories.

TVs: These can be a good deal on Black Friday, but keep in mind that name-brand manufacturers will often lower the price of their TVs in January and February before new models come out, or over the summer. The Decide study found the cheapest price for a Samsung TV in late July and mid-August.

Digital cameras: Similar to TVs, new models come out in the spring, so it may be worth it to wait till February when stores mark down the "old models." Clothing: Big discounts, say 60%, can be hard to find and may be worth springing for, McMillan said. However, many deals will be better online on Cyber Monday, Sakraida said. Winter apparel will likely be cheaper in January when some of the items go on clearance, so wait if you can.

Jewelry: It's a popular holiday gift and retailers know that. You're better off waiting to buy till right after Christmas, Sakraida said. The Decide study showed that a Citizen watch was cheapest in mid-March.

Some online deal sites point out that clothing, handbags and jewelry are in less danger of running out, so it can be a good idea to wait till the last few days of the holiday shopping season when retailers try to unload their inventory at cheaper prices than on Black Friday.

Cookware and home accessories: Prices tend to drop at the end of December. Bed linens and towels frequently go on sale in January.

Regardless if you choose to shop in store or online, experts agree on one thing: Savvy consumers are more empowered than ever because of the ability to research products online or use smartphone apps to ferret out the best deals.

Apps can be used to scan bar codes and find the cheapest price of an item at a store nearby or online. Some apps will also show ratings and predict whether it's better to buy now or wait.

Tips to save Online Many stores offer the same deals online, and some offer free shipping. Stores such as Kohl's, Sears, Target and Macy's offer at least some Black Friday deals online before the store sale starts. Here are some ways to check prices and find the best time to buy: In store --A few stores keep their price-matching policies in place on Black Friday. That includes Kohl's, Walmart, J.C. Penney, Home Depot and Staples. Remember to bring print ads or online screen shot to get the match.

--Keep your receipts. Retailers such as Target offer price-matching with Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy and Toys "R" Us until Dec. 16. If you can't get the retailer to match a cheaper price, you may be able to return the more expensive item.

--Think outside the (big) box. Looking for a digital camera Don't just think of Best Buy. Consider going to Sears, Kmart and Kohl's.

On your phone A wealth of smartphone apps are available. They fall into three categories: price-comparison apps, discount apps and product comparison apps.

It's best to download the apps before you go to the store in case you don't have a good signal at the mall or inside a store.

--Discount apps: Stores including Macy's and Sears have promised exclusive deals for app users. Walmart promised early access to Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals to shoppers.

--Price-comparison apps: RedLaser lets you scan a bar code and see the cheapest price. Note: It sorts by distance, so you may have to scroll for the best price. Decide.com is good for the gadget freaks who are looking for TVs, computers, cameras, power tools and appliances. It shows prices online and near you, but also whether a new model will come out soon so you know whether to buy right away or wait.

--Price Check by Amazon and Google Shopper both will show you whether there's a cheaper price online. You can scan the bar code, take a picture of the item or say its name. The Google app allows you to go straight to Google Maps to get directions to the store, but be aware that availability may not be up to date.

--RetailMeNot offers coupons and discounts throughout the year.

--Other apps include FatWallet and BradsDeals.

--Product comparison apps: Some products advertised on Black Friday aren't the best quality. The app from Consumer Reports will cost you $5 for access for a year, but you also get ratings, reviews and buying advice. You can scan the bar code, type in the product or find top picks in categories.

Thanksgiving, Black Friday hours Here are the hours for several popular chain stores.

Unless otherwise noted, stores that are open Thursday night will stay open into Friday.

Bed Bath & Beyond: 6 a.m. Friday Best Buy: Midnight (door-buster tickets to be handed out up to two hours before) Big Lots: 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday, 6 a.m. Friday Boston Store: Midnight CVS: 24-hour stores will stay open Costco: 9 a.m. Friday Dick's Sporting Goods: Midnight Gander Mountain: 9 a.m. Thursday H.H. Gregg: 10 p.m.

Home Depot: 5 a.m. Friday J.C. Penney: 6 a.m. Friday JoAnn: 6 a.m. Friday Kmart: 8 p.m. Thursday (Also open 6 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday) (Black Friday deals begin at 5 a.m.) Kohl's: Midnight Lowe's: 5 a.m.

Macy's: Midnight, but hours may vary Menards: 5 a.m. Friday Michaels: 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday, 7 a.m. Friday Office Depot: 5 a.m. Friday OfficeMax: 6 a.m. Friday, hours may vary Old Navy: Midnight Petsmart: 7 a.m. Friday RadioShack: 6 a.m. Friday Rite Aid: 7 a.m. Friday Sam's Club: 7 a.m. Friday Sears: 8 p.m. Thursday Shopko: 9 p.m. Thursday Sports Authority: Midnight Staples: 5 a.m. Friday Target: 9 p.m. Thursday for most stores, but may vary.

Toys "R" Us: 8 p.m. Thursday (official ad available Thursday) True Value: 8 a.m. or 8:30 a.m. Friday, but may vary.

Walgreens: 7 a.m. Friday Walmart: 8 p.m. or 10 p.m. Thursday (electronics), but may vary. 5 a.m. Friday.

Wait on hot toys -- if you dare Toys are usually cheapest in the two weeks before Christmas. But by then you might lose out on hot toys.

Picture this New camera models come out in spring, so you might pick up a deal in February.

Got a tip Do you have an issue with government or a local business or a story idea for Public Investigator Contact us: Email: PI@journalsentinel.com Phone: (414) 223-5385 Twitter: @GitteLaasbyMJS Address: Public Investigator Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 333 W. State St.

Milwaukee WI 53203 ___ (c)2012 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Visit the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at www.jsonline.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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