If the excessive Black Friday advertising has you overwhelmed, don't fret, we're here to help. We've been scrutinizing the quadrillion press releases and ads that have been bombarding us in e-mails, on TV, in last Sunday's paper and in any other existing media form you can think of to come up with a few of our best picks and a glimpse of what to expect if you venture out into the holiday shopping madness.
We're surprised to say some stores have come up with some genuinely appealing offers that might even make us get out of bed to go shopping this year.
Black Friday, the official kick-off to the Christmas shopping season, is in transition...as it should be, after a Wal-Mart worker was trampled to death last year when a store opened for the-day-after-Thanksgiving sales.
The harder economic times have caused some retailers to reassess the first-come, first-serve sales environment that has caused mild-mannered folk to become violent.
In the name of customer safety, not profits, most stores will be opening their doors at midnight, technically Friday morning, instead of the traditional 5 a.m. They're hoping to avoid free-for-all melees that may happen once shoppers pressed up against the glass doors are allowed to enter the building. The theory is more time will make for a calmer customer. We're not convinced a simple time change will make a difference but we're hoping for the best.
Wal-Mart decided they weren't taking any chances and will not be closing at all for the Thanksgiving holiday. However, Black Friday sales still will not start until 5 a.m. We hope they have a contingency plan to handle mini-mobs and line-cutters at the different department counters.
Many retailers, jonesing for a monetary fix in these bad economic times, have revamped their hours and typical commercial tactics in hopes of getting your attention and your hard-earned dollars. If you've tuned them all out and are now trying frantically to put a strategic shopping plan together, our tips may help.
Looking for a new TV? Then Target may be the place for you. They are selling 32" Westinghouse HDTVs for $246. These TVs are normally priced at $429.99 according to Target's website.
Target will be closed on Thanksgiving Day and will open Friday morning at 5 a.m. In hopes of preventing unruly behavior, they are distributing high-focus items throughout the store and handing out maps to customers as they are let in the door.
Obviously, you want to shop at a store with less foot traffic to increase your chances of getting more deals. At Target, you may have a too-good-to-be-true chance.
Barry Moseley, assistant manager at the South Main location, which sees about 200 to 300 folks waiting in line on an average Black Friday morning, tells Hair Balls most stores get about the same number of sale items. So, the location at San Felipe might have 45 instead of 55 Westinghouse HDTV sets, but your odds of getting your hands on one are better -- according to Target's Candice Spore, the San Felipe store averages fewer than 50 folks waiting for the doors to open each season.
How about a pony for $99? Not a real one silly, but it is three feet tall with a moving head, wiggling ears and blinking eyes. It even makes clopping sounds when you sit on it to simulate a ride. It's a deal for considering the Fur Real Friends -- Smores Pony normally sells for $299.99. However, there was one comment from a customer on the site regarding "terrible shedding" so you may want to read some reviews before making that purchase.
Toys "R" Us will also open its doors at midnight but they have been really promoting their online advantages this season. They began offering an online preview of previously unadvertised deals Wednesday on their site www.Toysrus.com and offering folks to sign up to receive more exclusive offers via their Facebook page. You may get a box of crayons if you're one of the first 300 customers at each location as well. One more incentive is a fighting chance to get your hands on a Zhu Zhu Pet hamster that stores are having trouble keeping on the shelves (just ask Wal-Mart). Toys "R" Us is stocked up with the Christmas "hot item," but is limiting sales to one per household.
They will be open 24 hours straight, closing their doors at the stroke of midnight when Black Friday officially ends.
Even the outlet stores are getting in on the Black Friday action. Houston Premium Outlets is featuring a Midnight Madness sale, with some stores opening as early as 10 p.m. Thanksgiving night.
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Ann Taylor, Kate Spade, OshKosh B'gosh, PacSun, Van Heusen and Bass have the best deals. They're offering 50 percent off your purchase and it includes everything in the store. That may be worth the trip outside the loop.
If you're like most folks when it comes to buying electronics, you may want to check out the new mobile shopping service by Retrevo. The new SMS and Twitter service called RetrevoQ promises to help you make the best electronic gadget decisions with real-time recommendations, fair price information and a range of prices for a product -- all sent within seconds to your mobile phone or twitter account. This is a service that could be helpful to you year-round. Find out more at TechCrunch.
Finally, some personal safety tips from McGruff and the National Crime Prevention Council. Do not buy more than you can carry. Ask a store employee to help you carry your packages to the car. Only shop online with companies you know and trust. Consider alternate options to pay for your merchandise, such as onetime or multi-use disposable credit cards or money orders, at online stores and auction sites. Have your keys in hand when approaching your vehicle. AND do not leave packages visible in your car windows.
Or you can honor the consumer holiday with a Buy Nothing Day Potluck dinner. Either way, be safe this holiday season. And don't drink and drive!