NEW YORK (AP) -- Get ready for Black Friday week.
Stores are making a big push to lure in bargain-hungry shoppers before the Friday after Thanksgiving, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. They are putting on special sales that further creep into Turkey Day -- and earlier.
For the first time, Disney Stores (NYSE:DIS), Sears (NASDAQ:SHLD), and Kohl's (NYSE:KSS) are among the stores offering at least some of the same Black Friday deals to customers a few days before Black Friday.
"It's no longer Christmas creep. It's Christmas crush," said Marshal Cohen, chief research analyst at NPD, a market research firm, referring to the bevy of Black Friday deals that shoppers will be able to buy earlier that week.
Many are also targeting smartphone shoppers with apps that make it easier to shop the deals. Macy's (NYSE:M) shoppers using the department store chain's new Black Friday app will even get alerted to special unadvertised deals while they're in line at the store.
But don't get caught up in the shopping madness. A smart and measured approach to buying will preserve your holiday budget.
"You need to keep your wits about you," said Jodi Furman, author of a blog called Livefabuless.com. "You can't allow the urgency and overwhelming excitement to carry you away. "
Here's how to do Black Friday the smart way:
Research the deals and compare prices. With Thanksgiving two weeks away, you should start mapping out a strategy now. Make a list of what you want and how much you want to spend. Check out decide.com, which uses data to help you decide the best time to buy a certain product.
Brad Wilson, an online deal expert and founder of BradsDeals, thinks stores are staggering sales events throughout Black Friday week to create a "lot of noise" and make it difficult for smartphone-toting shoppers to compare prices.
A few years ago, it was easier to make "quick and imperfect decisions," he said. "Now, the tables have turned and consumers have a transparent view of the landscape."
Use social media. Follow your favorite stores' Twitter feeds and click the "Like" button on their Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) pages. Stores will use their social networks to update shoppers on deals and store hours, says Carey Rossi, editor-in-chief of ConsumerSearch.com. Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE:WMT), for example, unveiled its Black Friday deals on Walmart.com, its Facebook wall and mobile app on Thursday. Those who sign up to get email, download the app or "Like" its Facebook page will be among the first to get early access to special Black Friday store items to buy online and via the mobile app.
Meanwhile, Kohl's Facebook fans will receive exclusive savings during the holidays through Friday flash sales.
Spread out the shopping. The hoopla isn't just limited to Black Friday anymore. It's further creeping into Thanksgiving, which falls on Nov. 22. But what's new this year is that a number of stores are now allowing shoppers to actually buy the early bird specials even earlier in the week.
Macy's, Kohl's, and Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) will open again at midnight following Thanksgiving. For the first time, department store chain Lord & Taylor is opening on Thanksgiving, starting at 10 a.m. New this year at Kohl's: Its online shoppers will be able to buy all early morning specials on Nov. 21, and like last year all day on Thanksgiving.
Sears said its stores will open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving and will stay open overnight until 10 p.m. Friday. For the first time, Sears will allow members of its free loyalty club called Shop Your Way to buy some of the early bird specials online as early as Sunday, Nov. 18.
Wal-Mart will start its first Black Friday sale at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, two hours earlier than last year. It then will have two more rounds of sales events, including a 10 p.m. sale on electronics and another sale at 5 a.m.
Wal-Mart is also guaranteeing shoppers that it will have three of the most popular items if they are in line inside the store between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. The three: an Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad 2 for with Wi-Fi plus a $75 Wal-Mart gift card for $399; an Emerson (NYSE:EMR) 32-inch LCD TV for $148 and an LG Blu-ray player for $38.
Use your smartphone or tablet. For the first time, Macy's, through a partnership with eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY), has a Black Friday app that will let customers browse and shop for specials specific to the local store. Starting Nov. 15, customers will be able to view Black Friday specials on their mobile devices and create personal shopping lists they can edit and share.
Starting Nov. 19, Wal-Mart will again have a Black Friday local store map available to view and print on Walmart.com and its local Wal-Mart Facebook pages. But this year, customers can view an interactive local store map on the Wal-Mart mobile app and click on items to see the price, product description and location in the store.
Keep your receipts. With a growing number of stores like Target (NYSE:TGT) offering price matching with certain online rivals like Amazon.com, you may find a better deal later and will have an easier time returning the more expensive item.
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