5. Buy what's hot (or what's not).
Gift certificates and vouchers are among the trendiest items this year, says Jones, because they leverage dollars: You spend $25 and get a $50 gift certificate, for example. Retailers like the Gap as well as service providers such as Gymboree offer them. (Pricegrabber aggregates those deals at deals.pricegrabber.com.)
Electronics are another hot spot where shoppers can expect the steepest discounts. Laptops, tablets, flat screen TVs, and DVD players are among the most popular items. Wilson points out that on Black Friday, you can get a 42-inch LCD television at Best Buy for $200, a Blu-ray player for $40, and a Lenovo laptop for $180.
While Apple doesn't typically offer discounts on its products, shoppers will find great deals on the iPad's competition. The recently-released Kindle Fire leads the pack at $199. "This is the first holiday season that there are tablets at the mainstream price level," says Wilson. Since the average shopper spends around $700 on gifts, a $200 tablet is a possibility, while a $500 one is not, he says.
Meanwhile, items that have been rendered somewhat redundant by smartphones, including GPS devices and point-and-shoot cameras, will be marked down significantly in order to move them off the shelves. As Novickis points out, "We expect to see deep discounts on GPS units this year as more and more people turn to their smart phones for navigation purposes."
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6. Know what not to buy.
Stores might attract shoppers with their money-losing doorbuster deals, but they expect to make money by selling other items that are not as heavily discounted. "Don't get sucked in by the bait-and-switch. If you go in for the doorbuster and it's sold out, that doesn't mean you should go for the next higher-priced item," says Novickis. Waiting to shop around later is a better bet, she says. Also, if you do score a great deal, such as a new television, wait to buy the accessories, such as cables, because you'll probably get a better deal by shopping around.
7. Skip the layaway option.
Layaway's back this year, but that doesn't make it a good option. That's because shoppers essentially pay a store to hold onto their money until they can afford an item, and they usually pay a fee if they end up not saving up enough money. "They're preying on the weakest among us, the people who don't have access to credit," says Wilson. "You're lending a store your money and paying them for the privilege," he adds.
The bottom line: Shop with your smartphone in hand and be prepared to leave some items on the shelves.