Nov. 20, 2011— -- Black Friday is almost here, and the prospect of low cost laptops and cheap HD TVs has some shoppers salivating.
Case in point: Tito Hernandez, who has been camping in a tent outside of a St. Petersburg, Fla., Best Buy store since last Monday. You read that right, last Monday, nearly two weeks before the big day.
"Definitely having fun here," Hernandez said with a smile. "Looking to save some money and get some good deals."
He'll have plenty of company. According to the National Retail Federation, 152 million Americans plan to shop on Black Friday or the Saturday and Sunday that follow. That's up from 138 million last year.
Retailers are ready for that spending spree. Holiday sales make up about a fifth of retailers' annual sales. Looking for any edge in a tight economy, some big box stores are now opening as early as 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving itself.
But that has inspired a Black Friday backlash from some employees who say that they are being cheated out of their holiday.
Target employee Anthony Hardwick, who has to be at work before the store opens at midnight, started an online petition protesting those early hours. He now has nearly 200,000 signatures.
"I'm going to have to get some sleep and I'll probably go to bed at 2:00 and miss my family's Thanksgiving dinner completely," Hardwick said.
Plenty of customers are sympathetic.
"I don't understand it. I think the stores have a lot of nerve doing this. I don't think the employees want to be working," shopper Joan Feslen said.
Shopper Jean Klinger agrees.
"I don't think it's a good thing. I think we're getting too far from our family values and traditions that we used to have," she said.
And are those bargains really worth all the crowds and chaos? Turns out, you may actually be better off waiting. According to Consumer Reports, last year more than a quarter of the most popular electronics were marked down in the two weeks after Black Friday.
"If you miss Black Friday weekend -- fear not, there are going to be more deals all the way through, week after week," said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at NPD Group.
If you do venture out, Cohen says, do your homework. The best way to get a deal is to have a plan and know what you're buying ahead of time. So scan those circulars and websites.
Retails may also offer coupons that shoppers can print out for added savings.
And bring your smart phone. Eight in 10 stores plan to use social media to alert shoppers to the best bargains, and some online retailers may offer even better deals to steal shoppers stuck in those lines.
"Take advantage of the retail competitive environment right now, it's never been more competitive," Cohen said.