Your Guide to Thanksgiving Sales

Black Friday takes on new meaning as retailers fight for shoppers' money.

By SHARE

We've all heard just how dismal this holiday season is expected to be. TNS Retail Forward predicts it will be the weakest since 1991, back when grunge rock reigned and Brad Pitt was just a guy who had a supporting role in Thelma and Louise.

But there's no need to put away the festive wrapping paper and settle for getting a lump of coal in your stocking. Retailers know how tightly consumer budgets are stretched, and they are determined to lure us into their stores anyway. So they've come up with killer deals for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and beyond. Here's your guide to making the most of their efforts:

Shop early—and late. The deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday may not be that much better than the discounts offered on the surrounding days, says Dan de Grandpre, chief executive of Dealnews.com. "We're seeing Black Friday-like deals throughout the whole month," he says. Even in earlier November, retailers started using the term "pre-black Friday sales," something de Grandpre says he's never heard before.

Think consumer electronics. If you're looking for a television, computer, or DVD player, you're in luck. A survey by consulting firm BDO Seidman found that retailers are expecting consumer electronics to be their strongest category this season, and they're marking down price tags accordingly. De Grandpre says he's already seen "wicked prices," including a 42-inch LCD television for $500. (That sold out within a few hours.)

Clothes are another good bet. High-end retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue have been offering up to 40 percent off on items. Nordstrom now offers free shipping on orders over $100 instead of $200. Kate Spade also jumped in the mix earlier in the month, offering hefty discounts to shoppers during the week of November 11. "We've never seen anything like that," says de Grandpre.

But for toys, be patient. The best time to buy toys is usually mid-December, when retailers get nervous that they won't unload their inventory before Christmas. Some will slash their prices below Black Friday levels.

Do your research in advance. Before visiting any stores, use the Web to search out the best deals. Sites such as Dealtaker.com and Dealnews.com have pages dedicated to Black Friday. If it's a specific product you're after, use Pricegrabber.com to find out which store will offer the steepest discount before wasting valuable hours on Black Friday traveling from location to location. If you plan to skip Friday and wait until Monday to start working on your gift list, check out CyberMonday.com.

Consider staying home—with your computer. Some Black Friday sales, including select items at BestBuy.com, will happen exclusively online; others, like those at Walmart.com, will begin on Thanksgiving itself. That's why de Grandpre suggests logging in before prepping the turkey on Thursday morning.

Always look for free shipping. More retailers are throwing free shipping into the mix, and shoppers should take extra steps to make sure they don't miss out on this perk, which can be worth over $20 on large orders. Before clicking "complete," type the retailer's name and the phrase "free shipping" into a Web search. Much of the time, the results will direct you to a coupon code providing free shipping.

Consider these stores first—they're going the extra mile for your dollar:

  • Along with its sister stores Old Navy and Banana Republic, select Gap outlet stores will open at midnight Thanksgiving night. To find out if the store near you is participating, call in advance. Bonus benefits: At Gap stores, customers who spend $50 or more will get a reusable cotton-canvas tote. The first customers at Old Navy will get a Samsung Pebble MP3 player if they spend $20 or more, and stores will hand out hot chocolate and energy bars to keep shoppers going. Banana Republic will offer 40 percent off much of its apparel.
    • While Apple hasn't announced anything official, industry insiders widely expect it to continue its tradition of offering great deals on Black Friday. "It's typically the best day of the year to buy an iPod or a Mac," says de Grandpre.