Best Black Friday Deals Are For Early-Risers Who Do Their Homework

PHOTO: Toys "R" Us employee in New York store
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If you really want to save this Black Friday, do your research. The post-Thanksgiving shopping push kicks off the retailers' holiday season, which provides about 20 percent of annual sales every year.

Toys "R" Us will open at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving night for the first time, the retailer announced last week. Macy's, Kohl's, Target, Best Buy, Gap and Banana Republic will open at midnight. Eighty percent of Old Navy stores will be open at midnight.

This Black Friday, shoppers who are tech-savvy will have the biggest advantage with coupons and smartphone promotions, according to Jennifer Black, CEO of the independent research firm, Jennifer Black and Associates.

What's the best reward for purchasing an Apple MacbookPro online?

Sites like Ebates.com and NerdWallet offer tools for online shoppers to see the best reward for them, whether it's airline miles, hotel points or cash.

Ebates.com gives online shoppers cash back for making purchases from over 1,500 retail websites. Shoppers can compare offers and earn a percentage of their purchase in a cash reward.

Robert Smahl, Ebates.com chief marketing officer, said, "Even the biggest names are competing for customers." When any of the site's 13 million users make a purchase at say, Apple or Macy's, through Ebates.com, the retailer pays Ebates.com a commission. That commission is split with the customer in the form of a mailed check. Smahl said new users should receive their first check within the first month of a purchase. Otherwise, checks are mailed quarterly.

On Black Friday and Cyber Monday, JC Penney, Nordstrom, Old Navy, Barnes & Noble and 500 more stores will offer double cash-back on Ebates.com.

Nerdwallet.com has an online discount tool that allows you to compare the best rewards for online shopping. NerdWallet, which focuses on comparing credit card offers and rewards, created the tool to spit out a simple list of deals from credit card "malls," such as ShopDiscover and American Express Bonus Points Mall. Almost every major credit card has its own "mall" that offers cash back or rewards for using your card for purchases.

Ebates.com is one of 16 malls that NerdWallet analyzes. NerdWallet also compares purchase rewards through airline mileage programs, such as American Airlines AAdvantage program, which allows you to earn extra miles for making purchases through AAdvantage eShopping Mall.

"It's a way to see what sorts [of deals are] available to you as a credit card holder that you wouldn't get elsewhere," Jacon Gibson, chief operating officer of NerdWallet said.

Companies that have invested heavily this past year in IT systems "will get the biggest bang for their buck as more and more consumers do their homework before heading out to do their holiday hunting," Black said in a research note.

Clothing

Gap Inc. is seizing the Internet and technology to inform customers about deals. This year, the company launched a website, ShopYourselfSocial.com, to help find the best deals from its brands: Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Piperlime and Athleta. Gap customers can save up to 60 percent off the entire store Wednesday through Friday.

Many apparel stores may offer the deepest discounts during the first few hours of Black Friday.

On Black Friday until noon, Gap stores will have $19 women's jeans and sweaters and $15 GapKids and BabyGap pro-fleece Gap arch hoodies. Until 1 p.m., Banana Republic shoppers will save 40 percent off their purchase and 25 percent off for the remainder of the day.

Last year, Gap offered shoppers 50 percent off the entire store before noon while Hollister offered 30 percent off the entire store. Also last year, Express offered 40 percent off before noon and 30 percent off the rest of the day.

But sales will continue through the weekend in many stores. On Saturday and Sunday, Gap will have $10 layering, long-sleeved adult T-shirts and offer 60 percent off GapKids graphic tees. Old Navy's Gobblepalooza is a three-day 3-D shopping experience in which shoppers pick-up free goggles to find secret messages. Stores will be offering $40 to spend on Old Navy products and other gifts to the first shoppers in line. From Nov. 4 to Dec. 24, Old Navy will give one percent of gift card sale proceeds to St. Jude Thanks and Giving campaign.

Of course, retail stores will most likely try to entice you to return to stores after Black Friday. Victoria's Secret shoppers can participate in the Secret Rewards offer again for free through Nov. 30. With a purchase of $10 or more during that time, you receive a reward card worth $10, $50, $100 or $500, the value of which is revealed when you redeem it from Dec. 1 to 21.

Electronics and Toys

Many electronics retailers are already offering early sales that allow you to purchase a product before Thanksgiving. Or for those who enjoy the thrill of shopping in crowded malls, you can peruse deals online for comparison shopping before you hit the stores.

Walmart, for example, revealed its Walmart Black Friday specials on Nov. 10, 12 days earlier than last year. Shoppers can flip through the deals online, with many electronics only available through Walmart's website. As a perk, beginning Nov. 17, Walmart made free shipping available for qualifying electronic orders of $45 or more.

One of Walmart's online-only Black Friday deals is a Nintendo Wii Dance Bundle for $179, including the console, a game and Nintendo music cd. The bundle normally costs $209 online, according to Walmart's website. Walmart is also advertising over $100 off an Xbox360 game console.

Walmart's deals on toys, home items and clothing will start at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving day when its doors open. Electronics deals will start at midnight and other deals will begin at 8 a.m. on Black Friday.

"The Christmas Price Guarantee does not cover local competitor's offers during the 'Black Friday' day after Thanksgiving event," according to a spokesperson for Walmart. "However, our regular ad match policy will still be in effect that day."

Target and Toys "R" Us said it still plans to reveal its Black Friday deals the day before Thanksgiving.

Target will price-match items within seven days of purchase. Customers are asked to bring in their receipts and competitors' advertisements to receive a price adjustment.

Toys "R" Us said its circular, available in newspapers and online on Wednesday, has more than $12,500 in savings, "including doorbusters, Thursday through Saturday discounts and free gift-with-purchase offers." Customers can also get a sneak preview by visiting the Toys"R"Us Facebook page.

Doorbusters available at Toys"R"Us stores beginning Thanksgiving at 9 p.m. through Friday at 1 p.m., include a free $50 Toys"R"Us Gift Card with the purchase of any Apple iPod touch. Also, customers can save $120 on a Power Wheels Boss or Barbie Ford Mustang Ride-On. Previously $319.99, they will cost $199.99 each until Friday afternoon.

Amazon launched its early Black Friday deals store weeks ago for those looking for discounts on such products as cameras, video games and jewelry.

"When it comes to holiday gift shopping, there are three things customers want: low prices, items to be in-stock and ready to ship, and a convenient shopping experience," Amazon spokeswoman Sally Fouts said in a statement. "So in addition to our everyday low prices, customers will find exceptional deals in our Black Fridays deals store starting today all the way through Black Friday."

The online shopping destination, for example, has shaved almost 50 percent, or $1,530, off a Samsung 55-inch 3D LED HDTV as part of its early Black Friday deals in electronics.

Analysts predict an average holiday shopping season. According to the National Retail Federation, retail sales for 2011 are expected to increase 2.8 percent to $465.6 billion.

"Retailers are optimistic that a combination of strong promotions and lean inventory levels will help them address consumer caution this holiday season," NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement. "While businesses remain concerned over the viability of the economic recovery, there is no doubt that the retail industry is in a better position this year to handle consumer uncertainty than it was in 2008 and 2009."

At least October's retail sales showed a noticeable increase. Last month's retail sales were up 0.7 percent to $283.2 billion, excluding auto and gas station sales, the Commerce Department said last week.

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