Black Friday is 19 days away, and shoppers already have started to refine their shopping lists, searching for ads online that reveal gotta-have gifts and rock-bottom prices at major retailers.
The holiday shopping season represents the bulk of many merchants' yearly sales, so luring shoppers early is important, retail analysts say. Dozens of Black Friday websites entice shoppers with early releases of ads.
And retailers count on shoppers poring over their newspaper inserts. Papers' Thanksgiving Day editions often are the largest of the year.
"This is the one time of year when consumers have the opportunity to see all this sales stuff in advance," said Brad Wilson, who has a website called BradsDeals.com. "It gives people three or four weeks to strategize about what they are going to buy."
Online sneak-peak ads for Black Friday come out earlier every year, he said.
"Consumers love the game of it all," Wilson said. "They want to find the best deals. And they want to be able to get to the right stores at the right time."
Shoppers caught up in the adrenaline rush of getting the best Black Friday deals — like last year's $97 flat screen television — will be in for even better deals this year, Wilson is predicting.
"The bargains have gotten better every year for a while," he said.
The Iowa Attorney General's office warns consumers to be savvy shoppers and read the fine print when using ads to map out shopping strategies. Officials there and at the National Retail Federation offer these tips:
• Read store ads carefully. Is the store offering sale items at a limited quantity? Can you get a rain check if it's an out-of-stock sale item?
• Use the Internet to compare prices, not just the Black Friday ads but also retailers' regular websites.
• Take the ad with you when you go shopping to make sure you find the precise item at the price advertised. It's often a good idea to go to the store now to see if the items you want have the quality and features you desire.
• Check to see if your favorite retailer offers an option to buy online and pick up in store. That will allow you to skip the frenzy and head to the customer service counter.
• Focus on bottom-line prices, not discounts. Discount claims may not reflect real savings if the seller inflated the original price of an item.
• Know retailers' return and exchange policies. Some have a specified number of days in which to return items. Others will give the recipient credit for their after-holiday clearance price without a gift receipt, and some won't let you return an item bought online to a physical store.
Some of the websites that already have started posting Black Friday ads:
• Brad's Black Friday
Great deals before Black Friday
1. Holiday treats and gift baskets
2. Space heaters and furnace installations
4. Winter generators
5. Bluetooth speaker docks
Worst purchases before Black Friday
3. Bedding and towels
4. Anything made by Apple
5. Gaming, movies and multimedia
Source: Matt Granite, WKYC-TV, Cleveland