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Black Friday: Last-minute shopping tips

Consumer Reports News: November 25, 2009 01:14 PM

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Even though electronics goods are often at their lowest prices of the year on Black Friday, there are still a few tips to help insure you get not only the best deal, but also some peace of mind once you bring the item home. Happy shopping!

Shop the ads before Black Friday
By now, most of the major retailers have released their Black Friday specials, so check one of the comprehensive Black Friday-focused websites, such as bfads.net, blackfriday.info, theblackfriday.com, and gottadeal.com, to see if you’re getting the best deal. Some sites allow you to filter your searches by product categories, such as TVs.

Shop online
Also, before you brave the crowds at the stores, check to see if the retailer is offering the same—or even better—deals on its Web site. Amazon has a number of Black Friday-week TV deals, and Walmart’s online sale, for example, includes many of the same TVs it’s advertising as Black Friday deals in its stores (plus shipping for 97 cents on many models). Also, some retailers will have online exclusives you couldn’t get walking into one of its retail locations.

Shop close to home
If you find the best deals are in stores, you don’t necessarily need to drive all over town to get them. Our research shows that in many cases, the prices for highly promoted sets from major brands such as Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony vary by only a few dollars from chain to chain. So you can safely shop at the closest retailer without feeling that you’re missing out on a bargain.

Check the return policies
You may be familiar with your local chain’s return and exchange policies, but make sure that they aren’t different on a Black Friday special. Sometimes Black Friday sales are “final sales,” meaning the item can’t be returned. Other items may have a shortened return or exchange policy, or one where you can only get a store credit rather than a refund. Also make sure there isn’t a restocking fee on a returned item.

Check the warranty
If you’re loyal to a certain brand, you may feel you’re aware of its standard product warranty. But even major brands offer special “derivative” models during promotional periods like Black Friday, and they may alter the terms of their standard warranties for these sets. For example, the term may be much shorter, or the repair provisions could be different—such as no in-home service for larger sets, or you have to pay shipping if the TV needs to be sent to a service center—if a problem arises. If so, make sure you’re comfortable with the terms, and find out in advance what will happen if you need the set repaired. You may find that it will be your responsibility.

See if you can get a price match guarantee
Often stores say they’re suspending price-match guarantees during the Black Friday weekend, but you should ask for one anyway. After all, these are supposed to be “the lowest prices of the year!”

Check specially priced “bundles”
Often retailers—and sometimes, manufacturers—will combine two or more items into a specially priced package they say will save you money. But you should check the individual prices of these items at both the store and its competitors to see if you’re really getting a great deal. Our research during the past week uncovered some real savings, but also bundles that barely saved any money at all. Also, make sure you really need everything that’s included in the bundle. For example, we found several deals that combined an HDTV with a low-cost sound system that included a standard DVD player. With prices for Blu-ray players—and Blu-ray HTIBs— falling rapidly, this may not be as great a deal as it first seemed.

Buy the TV you really want
Items designated as doorbusters draw us in because of their low prices, but they may not be the best set for your needs. Remember you’ll likely be living with this TV for a number of years. Doorbuster items, especially derivative models created specially for the event, usually have lower specs and lack features found on a manufacturer’s standard lines. While this may be fine for a second or third set, you may want better performance or more features for your main TV. Because so many shoppers are looking for the cheapest TVs, which provide little margin for the retailer, the sales staff may be more willing to cut deals on better models, where they have more pricing wiggle room. And you may find that you’ll actually get a better deal by buying a slightly more expensive set that ultimately proves more satisfying for you and your family.

But avoid the old bait and switch
That said, if you’re really only buying on price, stick to your guns and don’t get pushed toward a more expensive model. Retailers will sometimes advertise a great deal on a certain TV, but then denigrate it once you’re in the store to buy it, hoping they can push you to a more profitable model. Also, don’t get pushed into buying pricey accessories, such as costly HDMI cables, that will negate any savings. I helped a friend buy a TV this weekend, and it took three specific requests to get the salesman to show her moderately priced cables, which were hidden away, out of sight. Even better, buy the cables ahead of time from a Web site such as monoprice.com or bluejeanscable.com and avoid the temptation entirely.

We hope you have a fun, satisfying shopping experience this holiday weekend. The “comments” section of our blog is a little harder to find these days—go to the very end of the entire blog to post a comment—but we’d love to hear from those with any great shopping stories to share. —James K. Willcox

   

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