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Black Friday fever

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I love Black Friday. It's not that I have a lot to buy, or that I even go for the deals. It has more to do with the frenzy and excitement I feel like I'm taking a part in a nationwide ritual.

But there are the war stories of all the pushing, shoving, grabbing, honking, hours of waiting in line all for the allure of getting $10 blenders or 32' HD TVs for $149. In some rare instances, more serious things have happened that cast doubt on what the day was about it doesn't sound enjoyable when you read about people getting trampled in a mad rush across the aisles.

Still, it really is about having fun and I try not to miss it, even the year I had a fever of 103 degrees that didn't stop me. I pushed through and got my deals, and headed home and passed out in bed.

Mission accomplished.

What is Black Friday?

For those who live under a rock. Black Friday is a nickname for the day in which most retailers go from being in the red on their books to black, or profitable. In reality, it's the Friday after Thanksgiving that traditionally kicks off the Christmas buying season and it's the time when retailers will offer their best deals of the year. This year, it falls on Nov. 23 and in some states it actually begins Thanksgiving night for retailers like Walmart, Sears and Target.

Why do people go nuts?

Aside from all that's happening in the world, there are many reasons if we just stick to shopping. A lot of people have off of work, and with many visiting families and friends it's a tradition to simply go shopping together. Mostly, retailers enjoy higher volumes on Black Friday so they lower prices, which increase consumer interest much more.

How do you pregame Black Friday?

This has been back and forth for years, but companies now realize that if they release their ads early it will create interest and people will start their price comparisons early. This can be a greater potential of profit for retailers.

However, some companies are rather secretive and try to keep their ads under wraps until the day before or even on Thanksgiving Day. But through the power of the Internet and some sneaky employees, printers or others, ads are usually leaked for everyone to browse. So, most of the Black Friday ads have already been posted (or leaked) online, and you can see them on BlackFriday.com.

In consulting with some of my Black Friday shopping buddies, we are not impressed by this year's 'deals.' I have spent hours going from store to store to get the best deals in the past, but seeing this year's crop I think that I will stick to a minimum of three stores and the rest I'll do online. On Black Friday, 70 percent of the deals offered in the stores can be found online the only exception is the 'Doorbuster' deals. In addition, Cyber Monday looks promising and it's easy to shop online.

Many retailers are offering consumers fabulous bargains along with easy return policies and free shipping. Shopping online means no baby sitters; no lugging around boxes and bags; no shoes, shirts or even pant requirements, and no parking problems. When you shop online, the only thing you need to park is your butt into a well-grooved desk chair. There's no traffic to compete with and no early morning Indy 500 runs around the parking lot. You can also jump in line from store to store with a click of a mouse.

In fact, the National Retail Federation expects that 52 percent of U.S. consumers will be shopping online this Christmas, up from 46.7 percent last year.

All the effort, no paydirt

Most diehard Black Friday shoppers are keenly interested in the 'Doorbuster' deals. Those are the items that the stores deeply discount as loss leaders to draw in the crowds in the wee hours of the morning. But if you read the fine print, it usually says "While supplies last," "Minimum 2 per store," "No rainchecks" or "All items are available in limited quantities." There's nothing worse than standing in line to get nothing.

Walmart has offered a unique twist this year to combat that result they are offering a "1-Hour In-Stock Guarantee" on three of their biggest Black Friday Doorbusters: the Emerson 32" HDTV for $148, the LG Blu-ray Player for $38 and the Apple iPad 2 w/$75 Gift Card for $399. If any of the items sell out, you can purchase a "Guarantee Card" for the item, which must be paid for by midnight and registered online. It will be shipped to the store where it was purchased for customer pick-up before Christmas.

Pushing the envelope

Walmart and Sears are starting their Black Friday much earlier this year by opening at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. It's barely enough time to eat and watch a football game. However, retailers in Maine are restricted from opening Thanksgiving Day by statute, which also includes Christmas and Easter days. The only exception is pharmacies, which open at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 22. So if you live in one of those states that doesn't allow retailers to open on Thanksgiving, eat your turkey, watch football and get some rest because the Doorbuster deals come early and requires being first in line at the crack of dawn to secure your highly coveted product. Don't go crazy though, as more and more deals this year will be available online as well.

But hey, if you live in a state without such blue laws, have at it on Thanksgiving.

Sometime waiting is better

If you're shopping for yourself, waiting until after Black Friday might be the best strategy. Winter apparel is best bought after the holidays and closer to the end of the season. Brand name HD TVs see a huge price reduction between December and February. And unless you're looking for that Leap Pad or the Furby (yes, the hot toy from the late '90s is back!), you might want to buy it on Black Friday if you don't think you'll be able to get it at that price before Christmas. However, toy prices traditionally go down right before Christmas.

Another caveat to this year's Black Friday is that some retailers will price-match their competition. Best Buy announced that it would match Amazon's Black Friday promotional prices. Walmart posted on their website on Nov. 8 that 'Their Price Is Our Price.' The retailer's long-standing ad match guarantee will be in effect on Black Friday, which allows customers to match the price of any local competitor's printed ad for an identical product right at the cash register. This may be a great time and gas saver.

If you haven't mapped out your Black Friday shopping strategy, you'd better get busy. It's a daunting task to figuring out which stores are offering the best deals at whatever crazy hours of the morning especially if you're hung over with turkey and pie. Regardless, do your research by checking the ads, making price comparisons and determining what you're getting and what quality at those prices. Stores will take a beating on their low-quality items by practically giving them away if it gets you in the door, knowing you'll find other goodies to drag home.

Happy shopping.

FatWallet.com has come up with the top 20 best deals on Black Friday:

  1. Toshiba 40" 1080p 60Hz LCD HDTV - Best Buy - $179.99
  2. $10 Off Purchase of $25 or More - Macy's - $10 OFF
  3. Victoria's Secret Limited Edition Tote w/ $65.00 Purchase - Victoria's Secret - FREE
  4. Lufkin 25-ft. Self-Centering Tape Rule - Ace Hardware - $0.00
  5. Dell Inspiron 14z 14.1" Laptop w/ Intel Core i3, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD - Dell - $299.99
  6. 20% Off Entire Purchase - Bed Bath and Beyond - SALE
  7. Peak Jump Starter w/ Inflator - Ace Hardware - $19.99
  8. SanDisk 32GB Cruzer USB Flash Drive - RadioShack - $9.99
  9. Kitchen Selectives 1.5-qt. Slow Cooker - Ace Hardware - $2.99
  10. Rubbermaid 28-pc. Food Storage Set - Walmart - $6.92
  11. Fleece Half-Zips for the Family (12am-4am) - Old Navy - $5.00
  12. Emerson 40" LCD 1080p 60Hz HDTV - Walmart - $198.00
  13. Apple iPad 2 16GB w/ Wifi & Bonus $75 Walmart Gift Card - Walmart - $399.00
  14. One Regular-Priced Item Under $30 (Saturday Only) - Ace Hardware - 50% OFF
  15. Better Homes & Gardens 700-Thread Count Sheet Set (F, Q or K) - Walmart - $19.96
  16. Proscan 32" LCD HDTV (LCD3283B) - Kmart - $97.00
  17. Emerson 32" LCD 720p 60Hz HDTV - Walmart - $148.00
  18. Compaq Presario 15.6" Laptop w/ 2GB RAM, 320GB HDD (CQ58-bf9WM) - Walmart - $179.00
  19. Emerson 50" 1080p 60Hz LCD HDTV - Walmart - $298.00
  20. Lenovo 15.6" Laptop w/ 2GB RAM, 320GB HDD (Black) - Best Buy - $187.99

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