While the state of the economy remains debatable, shoppers will continue to be conservative with their Christmas budgets, retail analysts say. And that means more bargain hunting.
Here are some tips from deal-finding experts and local savvy shoppers on how to get the best deals during the holiday season.
The shopper who waited until Black Friday in 2012 may have felt a little behind. About two weeks before the hyped shopping holiday, retailers were promoting early-bird "Black Friday" sales, many of which offered the steepest discounts of the year on certain products.
That trend seems to be a continuing chorus.
"Two weeks (before Black Friday) is a great benchmark for when some of the really good sales start trickling down to consumers," says Eric Jones, of bestblackfriday.com. "One of our favorite places to check out during this period is Amazon.com, as they have a great section on lightning deals and release 'Early Black Friday' sales the week before Black Friday. Additionally, Walmart's 'Ultimate Online Specials' are always great."
Over the past several years, shoppers have not had to wait for their Thanksgiving newspaper to score a peek at Black Friday bargains. Now, with leaked advertisements websites like blackfridaycentral.com and blackfriday.com, shoppers can view Black Friday sales almost a month in advance. That gives the consumer the opportunity to research deals, which Jones says is a necessity.
"If you see a sale before Black Friday on an item you really like, and you're comfortable with the price, go ahead and get it," Jones says. "The couple extra bucks you may spend will be worth it if you wait until Black Friday to get that item and it happens to be sold out.
"I will caution not to take the strategy of trying to purchase everything you need for the holidays in mid-December as inventory will be low and you may wind up with nothing," he said.
Sara Briggs, of Gloucester, says she stays organized by making a list of people on her gift list and what she plans to buy. That gives her time to find the best deal and not overspend by being disorganized.
"Start early (now is not too early), and buy for one or two people each week," says Sue Fout, of Williamsburg. "Wrap the gifts as you buy them. It takes the pressure off later and also surprises you when they open the gift, sometimes."
Look for electronics
Televisions are still a major draw on Black Friday, and the deals will continue this year, Jones said.
"Our TV deals page each year is the most heavily trafficked category on our site, and so far in 2013 that trend has continued before any deals on that page have been updated," he said. "As far as particular deals go for TVs, in 2012 Walmart had a doorbuster for a 32-inch' TV at $148. So I would expect a deal on a similar TV to be below $140 this year."
Jones says shoppers can also expect deals on the Amazon Kindle Fire HD, the Microsoft Surface tablet, and fourth generation iPads, as newer models of these products are expected to be released before Black Friday.
For example, Amazon offered the 250 GB Xbox 360 "holiday bundle" for $199 in recent weeks.
"We expect the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One to be the most sought after items for Black Friday and the entire holiday season," Jones says. "Both will be in stock on Black Friday, but I wouldn't expect to see these items for purchase until that day. The GameStop Black Friday ad claims it will have a limited number of both devices for sale at each store. By limited, I'd expect only a handful. However, I have heard some rumblings of up to eight PlayStation 4 consoles at each location.
Doorbuster deals are not only in stores, as the name might suggest, say experts with dealnews.com.
In a recent study by the bargain hunting team, more than 70 percent of in-store Black Friday deals were also available online for the same price or less last year.
And holiday shopping online is growing in popularity. The average shopper will do about 40 percent of his or her Christmas shopping online this year, the National Retail Federation says.
"I 'shop' all year long, adding anything I find interesting to my Amazon wish list," says Jennie Steele Little. "Then in November I go through the list, decide what I still think is a great gift idea, and compare prices to see where I can get the best deal."
Stay up-to-date on Black Friday sales and other holiday deals by using, among others, these websites: blackfridaycentral.com
Use gift cards
Andrea Woroch, a go-to consumer advice pundit, suggests buying gift cards from the website GiftCardGranny.com, a retail website where gift cards for national chains, like LOFT, Toys "R" Us and Macy's can be purchased at a discounted rate.
A $50 LOFT gift card can be purchased for $35, for example.
You can use this strategy to purchase gift cards as gifts — 60 percent of Americans say they would like to receive a gift card for Christmas, according to the National Retail Federation.
Or, you can use the website as a way to compound your savings on tangible gifts. Using a discounted gift card in Macy's on Black Friday can mean a built-in 25 percent discount on top of additional savings, for example.
Bring a friend
If you plan to hit the streets on Black Friday, traveling with a friend can make the experience more fun and be helpful in racking up the savings.
Heather Lieberman, of Newport News, suggests bringing along someone to help manage the long lines.
In the store, one person can stand in line while the other shops, drastically reducing the wait time and the ability to score the most sought-after doorbuster deals.
Retailers are ramping up their price-matching strategies to appear competitive with one another, and some even offer to price match deals during the Thanksgiving and Black Friday weekend.
Last year, Best Buy was one of a few retailers that offered to match Amazon's Black Friday prices. This year, Staples has announced that it will match the online giant's prices and in the coming weeks other retailers will begin to announce their own price matching plans.
Be sure to read the fine print on price match deals. Often, they include specific language about model, color and size, making it difficult to put the policy into practice in many cases.
It's all in the attitude
For many who shop in the stores on the night of Thanksgiving and Black Friday, it's about the experience as much as the deals. Although there are often tales of angry shoppers and trampling stampedes across the country, the overall attitude is generally one of Christmas spirit.
Keeping that attitude while shopping will always make the experience fun, says Katherine Slade, of Gloucester.
"Try to stay happy and not want to fight with the other customers over things," she says. "And eat a good breakfast before you head out!"
Paitsel can be reached at 757-247-4737 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here's what you can expect to see from the Savvy Shopper during this holiday season.
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