published Sunday, November 17th, 2013

Consumer Watch: How to prepare for ‘Black Friday’ deals

By Ellen Phillips

What used to be a one-day event celebrated the day after Thanksgiving has turned into a multi-week circus of mega sales. Crowded stores, frenzied shoppers, and merchandise thrown every which way but loose now lays siege to the American pocketbook. While companies look forward to boosting their annual sales, consumers in recent years have begun to look forward to saving their hard-earned money in ways other than the traditional get-up-and-leave-the-house-by 4 a.m. According to All You, it doesn’t matter whether you’re an early bird, a bargain hunter or an online deal searcher, your savings definitely can mount up.

1 Start earlier than that Friday. Many companies begin their Black Friday deals up to two weeks before Thanksgiving so it’s important you check store circulars for current info. While door busters might be a deal for some (and depending if the purchase is exactly what you think or hope it is), it’s still a smart idea to sign up for retailers’ email alerts. Joining loyalty programs is wise, too, especially if you frequent certain stores. Lots of them come with exclusive Black Friday bargains. Check BF blogs, too, for immediate deals and steals, including the following: Dealnews.com; Fabulouslyfugal.com; Fatwallet.com; finance.yahoo.com; and Gizmodo.com.

2 Compare prices quickly. Since marketing research show that 33 percent of shoppers spend more than an hour comparing prices, don’t lag behind with the rest of that percentage. Check out Google Chrome’s Invisible Hand browser add-on, which alerts you to better prices before you even slide a hand into your wallet. ShopSavvy, a free app for Android and iPhone, is also a goodie; use it to scan bar codes and bring up competing prices in nearby stores as well as for online merchants. Along this same line, find online coupons to save additional costs. Download the (free) Couponomatic browser add-on from www.befrugal.com, which fills in the promo code boxes you see when you check out. And for added protection, if the coupon doesn’t work for some reason, the browser offers a $5 cash back bonus.

3 Check shipping amounts and return policies. The days of easy returns are long gone in many instances. Whether it’s a barely three-day turnaround or, perhaps, major restocking fees for electronics, be sure your purchases are exactly what you (or the person for whom you’re buying) want; otherwise, that splendiferous sale may end up costing you more than a pretty penny! Another way to save money is to look for free shipping, particularly with online purchases. A lot of companies extend this gesture as incentive to buy from them. (In fact, local places sometimes offer free delivery, even if you’re shopping at dates other than the holidays.)

In closing, many of you also shop on “Cyber Monday” — the Monday after Thanksgiving, which is the busiest online shopping day in the country. In fact, Americans spent $1.47 billion last year on that day, according to research firm Statista. Be sure to incorporate as many of these tips as applicable for both Black Friday and Cyber Monday savings. Have fun!

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. She may be reached at consumerwatch@timesfreepress.com.

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