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Navigating ‘Black Friday’ shopping sales, deals

Going bargain-hunting after Thanksgiving? CNBC Correspondent Vera Gibbons shares smart tips on taking advantage of the great sales and explains how the weak retail season might affect shoppers.
/ Source: TODAY

It's not the biggest day of the season — that's usually reserved for the Saturday before Christmas — but the day after Thanksgiving marks the traditional start of the shopping season. This year, an estimated 63 million Americans will hit the stores in hopes of great bargains and deals. CNBC Correspondent Vera Gibbons shares smart tips on taking advantage of the great sales and explains how the weak retail season might benefit you in the check-out line.

Are you feeling a cost-crunch in your wallet? With gasoline heading towards $4 a gallon, rising food prices, declining home values and declining confidence, it's no wonder that you may be feeling some concern about how much holiday shopping you can really afford.

Well, the good news is that you are not alone, and our nation's retailers know it. Worried about their own bottom line, stores started cutting prices even before Thanksgiving to try to get shoppers into the stores early and often.

Retail behemoth Wal-Mart started back in October, slashing prices on more than 15,000 items, 20% more than last year and two weeks earlier than last year. That got shoppers going and soon other retailers followed suit — and they’re just getting started.

Where can shoppers find the best bargains?  In electronics, DVD players are going for about $100, 50-inch plasmas for under $1,000 and MP3 players, digital cameras and GPS navigation systems can be found in the $120-$150 range. For clothing, warmer than usual weather across the country hurt sales of fall merchandise. So expect good prices on cold weather goods such as coats, jackets and sweaters.

Many consumers will hold off, hoping prices will drop even further. But will they? Stores have been keeping inventory lean and mean this year and there's a limited supply of some of the hottest items, like $400-$500 laptops. However, there may be deals on comparable items and if stuff isn’t selling, there may very well by 2nd or even 3rd markdowns.

Hitting the stores on Black Friday and the holiday weekend? Here are some money-saving tips:
Know the item/price point Know what you want and at what price point. This is really important when it comes to big ticket items. And this is where the Black Friday websites — their forums, discussion, etc. - can be helpful. Sites like bf-07.com, bfads.net could be helpful. Also check the papers — ads, coupons, circulars — for additional savings. Price comparison sites like nextag.com, shopping.com, and pricegrabber.com might help consumers find that the advertised price is for the stripped down product and not all of the components and parts necessary to make it work. For example, that super low-priced printer doesn't include the cables.

Know the store layoutOnce at the store, know where you're going. You should be familiar with the layout of the store which is particularly important if you're trying to take advantage of early bird shopper deals. There are often limited quantities of key products like computers. (Remember those $400 laptops Wal-Mart advertised last year? At some stores, there were as few as 10 available at that price. Also, there are often times limits of one per person or household.) Also, attention-grabbing toys go quickly!

Bring the ad along
If you saw an advertised special that really impressed you, bring the ad along to avoid any disputes over how much it costs Friday. Having the ad could also come in handy if you find a lower price elsewhere. Many stores, from Best Buy to Wal-Mart to Sears - have price matching policies.

Know the return policy Before you check out, know the store policies. Many retailers these days have restocking fees. Returning TVs, camcorders, digital cameras, etc. could cost as much as 25 percent of the purchase price and have  shorter return deadlines.

Almost all major retail chains require receipts for returns and exchanges. Some even keep a database of individuals who tend to abuse return policies. If the item is a gift for someone, viewers should not forget to get the receipt.

Without proof of purchase, the recipient may be denied a return or only be able to get credit for the current selling price of the item. Since many retailers will be slashing prices as we get close to the holidays, that difference in price could be significant.