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Clark Howard: Your guide to Black Friday

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Updated: 11/24/2013 1:30 pm
ATLANTA -- Black Friday is almost here. This year more than ever, the idea of Black Friday has spilled over a day earlier into Thanksgiving and even a week earlier to November 22! Love it or hate it, that's the reality for 2013.

The radical shift in timing is being driven by another reality facing retailers: That they ordered all holiday merchandise months before our nation's consumer confidence was recently shaken by the partial government shutdown and the debt limit debate.

Walmart is in the unusual position of having ordered 65% more TVs this year versus last year, and they've ordered almost twice as many tablets for this Christmas selling season as they did in 2012. But their sales are flat because of the slow economic recovery, which leaves them with a gigantic inventory of electronics.

And they're not alone. Pretty much every retailer is scared that you won't be out there spending. Compounding that fear is the calendar. Christmas shopping season is one week shorter this year. That pretty much explains why you're seeing deals roll out earlier and earlier this year. Here's a look at what's to come. (Be sure to comparison shop whatever you want to buy on these sites before you make your purchase.)

Thanksgiving isn't just for NFL football anymore…

Beginning November 22, Walmart has no choice but to start matching the offers they know their competitors will offer on Black Friday! As for its own deals, Walmart will start rolling out the big ones at 6 pm on Thanksgiving Day. Among the jaw-dropping offers, according to DealNews.com:

70-inch LED smart TV for $988 (the same TV is for sale at Costco for $1,649 at this writing)
50-inch LCD HDTV for $288
32-inch LCD HDTV for $98
iPad Mini for a net cost of $199 ($299 - $100 gift card = $199)
iPhone 5C for $45 (Beginning Nov. 29, this deals comes with a $75 gift card)
Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Solo HD Headphones for $114.95
Rubbermaid 30-Piece Easy Find Lids Food Storage Set for $6.92

Walmart will be handing out a limited number of wristbands at stores starting at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving for "guaranteed products" like the ones listed above. Getting a wrist band means you'll get the product at the advertised price, if not that day, at least before Christmas Day. The wristband idea will also free up shoppers to go and make purchases throughout other areas of the store, liberating them from the long lines and avoiding customer melees. It's a brilliant idea.

Meanwhile, Best Buy has announced it will sacrifice profitability to match rival discounts throughout the entire season. So price matching is all over the place. And this year, there's going to be "dynamic price matching," which means (in theory at least) that retailers will seek out the deals at competitors and lower their own prices accordingly.

Know what to buy and when to buy it
Walmart's announcement of price matching starting on Nov. 22 has prompted other retailers to start rolling out deals earlier too, either in store or online. Here's a quick look at what will be available and when:

Kmart
Shop Your Way member Black Friday pre-sale starts Sun., Nov. 24 at midnight until Nov. 24 at 11:59 local time
40 percent off the RCA 42" LED TV; sale price $299.99 (reg. price $499.99)
Buy one get one 50 percent off all Monster High Toys
Thanksgiving morning: 6am-5pm
More than 40 percent off the Android 7” Tablet; sale price $39.99 (reg. price $69.99)
20 percent off the Seki 50” LED TV; sale price $399.99 (reg. price $499.99)
Thanksgiving night: 7pm-3am
40 percent off the RCA 42" LED TV; sale price $299.99 (reg. price $499.99)
Buy one get one 50 percent off all Monster High Toys
Black Friday morning: 6am-noon
Up to 40 percent off Audio speakers (reg. price $24.99 - $99.99)
33 percent off the RCA 46” LED TV; sale price $399.99 (reg. price $599)

Macy's
Deals directly on Thanksgiving Day
Cuisinart 11-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set for $99.99
Keurig Single Serve Brewer for $99.99

Sears
Shop Your Way member Black Friday pre-sale starts Friday, Nov. 22 at 7 p.m. until Nov. 23 at 11:59 p.m. CST
50 percent off Kenmore 25 cu. ft. French Door Bottom Freezer Refrigerator Stainless Steel ENERGY STAR®; sale priced at $1299.99 (reg. priced at $2599.99)
Half-off the Craftsman® Bolt-On™ 20 Volt MAX* Lithium Ion Drill; sale price $59.99 (reg. price $119.99)

Toys "R" Us
Deals directly on Thanksgiving Day
Disney Infinity Starter Packs for $37.49

Know the historical pricing patterns

As a general piece of advice, you should let the calendar be your guide during the week of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. After analyzing several years of data, DealNews.com has determined the key items to buy on Thanksgiving vs. Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday. This pattern is expected to remain consistent this year despite the unusual retail conditions:
On Thanksgiving, look for the best deals on smartphones, HDTVs, and video games
On Black Friday, the best deals will be on laptops/computers, data storage, and kitchenware
On Cyber Monday, look for deals on clothing and shoes
During the Black Friday weekend, it's going to be all about sales on tools and appliances

Showrooming
Showrooming is a term for using your smartphone while out at a store to comparison shop right then and there for whatever you're thinking of buying. It's a booming trend in the world of retailing that can save you big bucks. Here are some sites to visit and price your purchase on while you're out and about:

NewEgg.com
Google.com
Amazon.com
Costco.com
BHPhotoVideo.com
Walmart.com
BestBuy.com
Crutchfield.com

What does the future hold?

Many people feel annoyed by the annual retail salesfest of Black Friday encroaching too far on Thanksgiving. What happened to the American institutions of family and football that usually mark the fourth Thursday in November? You've got to realize this is only happening because people in the past have shopped in huge numbers when retailers tested the waters with earlier and earlier openings. The whole thing reminds me of the comic strip Pogo that used to say, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

If you don't like the idea of shopping on Thanksgiving, don't go out and shop. You can vote with your dollar and maybe turn the tide for future holidays.
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