Saving Big

A Consumer’s Guide to Getting the Best Deals During the Holiday Shopping Season

This season promises a more diverse selection on sales for consumers. Although the state of the economy is not the best, it will not prevent shoppers from getting their Black Friday deals.

Businesses have found ways to still meet their quota of sales and hopefully appease all of the early birds out to get the worm. According to Quixel Research in Portland, you might find even lower prices on some merchandise than last season.

Electronics are a major buy for all ages this Christmas. Televisions will be high on many people’s wish lists with choices including high-definition TVs, plasma TVs, LCD TVs and projection sets. In order to ensure big sales, CompUSA will open at 12:01 a.m. on the Friday after Thanksgiving. This year they will be having an online-only sale on Thanksgiving Day as well.

The big sales this season will be online. Many stores will have free shipping with no conditions. Often times, you have to spend a specified amount to redeem free shipping offers, but during the holiday season businesses often make enough sales to offset the cost of shipping. The stores with weak sales so far are: Macy’s, Nordstrom, Abercrombie & Fitch, Chico’s, Ann Taylor and The Limited.

Retail analysts predict that due to the “weakest fall shopping season in a decade,” the sales will be big. Consumer Report offers these tips for the holiday shopping season: 1. TIME YOUR BUYINGAvoid Midnight Madness sales, which can be high risk propositions, with deep discounts on a limited number of hot ticket items. Sales are first come, first served, which could mean hours of waiting on line or leaving the store empty handed. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and the following Cyber Monday are the days when merchants get serious about sales. For “hot” products that might be in short supply, it’s best to buy as soon as buyers see them. And shop in the morning when crowds tend to be light and before the merchandise has been picked through. The early morning is good for the Web too, where CR last year found retailers sometimes offering special savings.

2. GO ONLINE TO SAVE BIGUse several shopping “bots” to compare product prices at dozens of retailers. Better known bots include BizRate, DealTime, Google Product Search, MySimon, Shopping.com, Shopzilla, Amazon.com and Yahoo Shopping. If possible, sort by price because bots often put retailers that pay a fee at the top of the results page. Download coupons at FatWallet and DealTaker.com.

3. BE LEERY OF BANK GIFT CARDSThey’re more likely to expire and tack on fees than cards offered by individual retailers. Some cards depreciate in value if unused. When giving a gift card, it’s wise to pass along the receipt, too, in case the card is lost and needs to be replaced.

4. GET A GIFT RECEIPTGift exchanges do happen, so be prepared by providing a gift receipt. That will ensure that the recipient gets a proper store credit. Purchases made in November and December are often eligible for extended return or exchange privileges.

5. BE SURE YOUR GIFT IS WANTEDA recipient returning electronics gear in an opened box might pay 10 to 15 percent or more of the purchase price as a restocking fee. Computer software, music CDs, and movie DVDs generally can’t be returned or exchanged for another title once the seal is broken.

6. APPLY FOR REBATESShoppers who are entitled to a rebate should act fast. Four out of 10 people eligible for rebates forget to collect the necessary paperwork, follow the wrong procedure, or wait too long to file. What shoppers will typically need is the product serial number, a sticker or label, an original receipt, UPC code cut from the carton, and an official form.

7. AVOID PRIORITY SHIPPINGUsing last year as a barometer, the deadline for free shipping from major retailers will expire about December 18. Keep in mind that ordering one-day service can add $20 or more and doesn’t guarantee delivery within 24 hours. The arrival date is calculated from the moment the package is shipped, so factor in two or three days of processing time.

8. SAY NO TO EXTENDED WARRANTIESMost products don’t break during the first three or four years of ownership, Consumer Reports research shows. If breakage does occur, the repair cost is typically about the same as the warranty cost. For added protection at no cost, buy with a credit card. Consumers can extend the manufacturer’s original warranty free for up to one year with most gold and platinum cards.