Get the Better of Black Friday

In an image reminiscent of marathoners lining up at the start of the race, each year stores across the country play host to scores of shoppers the day after Thanksgiving. Many of those shoppers arrive long before a store even opens, finding themselves elbow-to-elbow with similar deal seekers.

Known as Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving appears to be bulletproof. Even last year, when the much-maligned national economy had already started to struggle mightily, shoppers spent more than $10 billion on Black Friday. This year could prove difficult to forecast, as the economy has recovered somewhat, though many families continue to struggle through layoffs.

Adding to that difficulty are the differing points of view with respect to Black Friday. For every success story of a plasma TV purchased for 50 percent off, there seem to be a dozen or so more stories about the individual who waits outside a store in the cold, only to find a popular item is sold out by the time he or she gets indoors. In other words, predicting the success of Black Friday for retailers is just as difficult as predicting the success of Black Friday for individuals: sometimes both get what they want, sometimes neither does.

But as 2008 can attest, shoppers are still going to hit the stores this Black Friday, and they're probably going to do so in droves. For those braving the mayhem that often characterizes Black Friday, consider the following survival tips.

* Do your research. Perhaps no items are more steeply marked down in price come Black Friday than big ticket electronics, most notably plasma, LCD or DLP televisions. Unfortunately, not all such appliances are equal. Getting a good price is not necessarily the same thing as getting a good deal. This is where research needs to play a role. Research big ticket items, including televisions. Retailer Web sites often have customer ratings sections where customers can rate specific appliances. If ratings are consistently poor or commenters routinely cite problems, then steer clear of those items, no matter how low the price might be.

* Get up early. Some deals are exactly what they seem. While it can be difficult to get out of bed in the middle of the night to go holiday shopping, it will be easy to go back to sleep when arriving home with exactly what you wanted and knowing you got the best deal possible. Many stores open at 4 or 5 a.m. on Black Friday. While waking up that early seems like a tall order, particularly after eating so much turkey the day before, there's no law against napping on Black Friday, and if you get what you came for, you could be back in bed in a couple of hours.

* Don't stress out. Black Friday isn't easy for anyone (just ask the nation's retail employees). Chances are, even the most veteran Black Friday shopper is going to feel stressed out at one point or another. If the stress becomes too much, simply go home. This year figures to have lots of good deals throughout the holiday season, as retailers plan on families spending less thanks to the economy. That means the deals on Black Friday, while they might be the best of the season, probably won't be significantly better than something you might find a few weeks later.

* Buy a newspaper on Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving Day paper is packed with coupons offering Black Friday discounts. Peruse the paper for such coupons while watching football on Thanksgiving and you're likely to be glad you did.