Black Friday is again upon us, and with it come promotions that promise the best deals of the year on everything from televisions and smartphones to sport utility vehicles and kitchen appliances. According to the National Retail Federation, 164 million Americans plan to do some shopping between Thanksgiving and the following Monday, aka Cyber Monday. And Black Friday looks to be the busiest shopping day, with 116 million Americans saying they plan to head to stores and malls to take advantage of the sales.
But before you line up for that midnight door-crasher or log on to your computer, bleary-eyed, in the wee hours of Friday morning, you may want to take the following steps to help ensure that you're getting truly great bargains this weekend, rather than simply getting swept up in the holiday shopping hype.
1. Research and prepare
This might seem obvious, but take some time before the holiday weekend to check out the regular prices of items in stores and online. That high-definition television you've got your eye on might not actually be on sale over the holiday weekend. It helps to write down all the items you want to buy and the budget you have to spend. Do some advance scouting and find out where the items on your wish list can be found and then compare prices. If you know how much a particular item normally sells for, then you can tell whether it has actually been discounted on Black Friday.
2. Helpful apps
There are a number of free apps that provide information on where you can find legitimate Black Friday deals in your area. One such app is ShopSavvy , which not only tells you about sales, but also functions as a bar code scanner. While shopping in a store, you can scan bar codes with the app and compare prices for a particular product at several different retail outlets. There's also Price Cruncher, which tells you instantly if an item you're thinking of buying is a good deal, and also whether you'd get more of a bargain if you bought it in bulk. And there's The Coupon App, which provides deal information, coupons, and online promotion codes from more than 100,000 retailers in the U.S. and beyond. Larger retailers such as Walmart have their own apps that enable users to download coupons and see maps showing where an item they want is on sale.
3. Free shipping and no sales tax
Sale price isn't the only thing you should look for when hunting for deals on Black Friday. Many retailers sweeten the pot by providing free shipping on items sold during the Thanksgiving weekend. That can save you big bucks, as shipping can cost you around $5 to $10 per order. While many retailers offer free shipping throughout the year on orders above a certain dollar amount, they often remove those requirements on Black Friday.
4. Return policies and warranties
More than a few consumers have ended up with buyer's remorse after Black Friday, gradually realizing that they overpaid for a product or that it doesn't work as intended. That's why it's important to check whether an item comes with a return policy and/or warranty before you buy it, especially if it's a big-ticket purchase. Many deeply discounted items or previous-year models are marked "final sale," meaning they can't be returned. Many more items come with no warranty.
On the flip side, some retailers may throw in extended warranties of five years or longer, free of charge, on products they're trying to clear from their inventory. In any case, the point is to check and confirm the return policies and warranties before you pull out your credit card.
5. Be selective
While Black Friday through Cyber Monday may be the biggest and most hyped sales weekend of the year, it's not the only one. Keep in mind that sales continue through the New Year, and there will be discounts available on products ranging from skis to clothing to laptops in the week immediately after Christmas. There are big sales events the rest of the year, too -- many of which are offered by specific retailers such as Amazon, which holds its "Prime Day" each July and offers reduced prices on everything from children's toys to mattresses . Of course, you want to act quickly on Black Friday to ensure you get the best deals available. But it also pays to be selective and maintain some perspective. There will be other sales and more opportunities to shop. After all, retailers will always want your business.
John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Joel Baglole has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.