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Amazon Black Friday: Here's how the sales work

The Amazon Black Friday sale is confusing, even for seasoned bargain hunters. Here are four ways to get the most out of it. 

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I'll just come right out and say it: the Amazon Black Friday sale is totally confusing, even for the seasoned sale sniffers here at Brad's Deals. After reading the online megastore's press release concerning their 8-day Black Friday sale (which starts this Friday, 11/20) we knew we were going to get a ton of questions from readers about when certain items would go on sale, how long each sale would last, and how to know what kinds of sales to expect on what days.

The short answer to all of these questions is: we don't know for sure. Even the Black Friday "ad" we got from Amazon was just a list containing, in their own words, "examples of some of the top deals that will be available at various times between November 20 and Black Friday." So basically, the list we have isn't even the full list of doorbusters, and Amazon will not be supplying curious shoppers with any kind of easy-to-understand, deal-breaking timeline, gotcha.

We do know that there will be a total of 20 "coveted Deals of the Day" to shop from on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, 10 on each day starting at midnight. But we don't know if all 10 will be available to shop all day from midnight on, or if they'll be released periodically throughout the day. Oh, and we have NO idea what these Deals of the Day will consist of. More mystery from the most mysterious Black Friday sale in the biz.

We don't even know exactly how often the deals will be released. Amazon's press release says the site will add new deals "as often as every 5 minutes," which means you can't even count on obsessively checking the site every 5 minutes. We're going to assume that language is in there because the sale postings might slow down overnight, but we really can't say anything for sure.

But despite all that, you shouldn't lose hope! With just a little bit of effort, you can navigate the ins and outs this tricky sale like an old pro, I promise. We did some research, and put together this handy list of 3 tips for conquering the Amazon Black Friday sale.

1. Get yourself an Amazon Prime membership--ASAP.

Prime members will get access to select Black Friday deals 30 minutes before the general public. While we don't (and probably won't) know exactly what these deals will be until they're posted on the site, Amazon said in its press release that "members will get the first pick of some of the hottest gifts and holiday essentials," so it's possible that many of the season's most popular items could be completely snatched up by Prime members before the the peasants without Prime memberships get so much as a shot at buying them.

If you're not willing to shell out $99 for a yearlong membership just to get early access to Black Friday deals--don't worry, you don't have to! Amazon offers a 30-day free trial Prime membership, so you can sign up today, use it throughout the next week, and cancel it after Black Friday is over if you so desire. Prime members also enjoy free 2-day shipping on most items, a vast array of TV shows to stream (including the much lauded Amazon original, Transparent, which I've been meaning to start), free music, free e-book downloads and unlimited photo storage. After a month of using the service, you may actually find yourself inclined to pay the $99 fee to keep it going, but even if you don't, there's no excuse for not using the FREE trial to get a leg up on other Black Friday shoppers. For more info on Prime membership, check out this blog post on why I'm so obsessed with mine.

2. Look through the 'Upcoming Deals,' make a list of must-haves and set reminders on your phone.

OK, so maybe this tip is really 3 tips in 1, so sue me. The sale hasn't yet started so I can't test this theory, but last year, I took an early peek at the Amazon Black Friday page and noticed that upcoming deals were posted in advance in the (whatdya know?) "Upcoming" section located under "Today's Limited-Time Deals." 

Now, to be clear, I don't know whether it will look exactly like it did last year when the sale kicks off on Friday. Even if it does, I also don't know whether deals in this section will be the ONLY deals that will be posted within each 24-hour priod, and due to the less-than-helpful way Amazon has described how this sale is supposed to work, I probably won't know until the sale kicks off on Friday. That being said, last year there were a TON of deals listed in the "Upcoming" section, so here's what I recommend the serious Amazon Black Friday shopper do:

Take a few minutes every morning and scroll through all the deals listed from the next 24 hours and then make a note of what you want, what time each sale starts, and whether it's a Prime Early Access deal. Then take out your phone and set alarm reminders for 5-10 minutes before each sale is set to start. That way, you'll have time to get to your computer (or tablet, or Amazon app on your Smartphone) in time to catch the sale before it's gone.

3. Download the Amazon Shopping and Prime Now Apps for access to "App Only" deals.

For the first time, Amazon will be releasing more than 150 Lightning Deals "on everything from electronics to kitchen gadgets" exclusively thought their Amazon Mobile Shopping App. According to the press release: "These deals can be found on the “App Only Deals” tab and will be released daily from 3 PM PT to 11 PM PT starting Thanksgiving through Wednesday, December 9. In addition, Prime members in 20 metro areas can use the dedicated Prime Now mobile app to enjoy free two-hour delivery on select Deals of the Day throughout the holiday season."

Amazon isn't the first big company to use Black Friday to boost their app downloads. Walmartreleased their 2015 Black Friday ad early for app users, and I have a feeling that next year we're going to see a lot more stores bust out this kind of app-only sale in order to get more people to shop on the go.

If you weren't into the lengthy process of tracking deals I outlined my previous tip, you have yet another reason to jump on the app downloading bandwagon. If you shop exclusively from the app, you don't need to make a handwritten list or set reminders on your phone for when each sale is going to start, because the app will do it for you. The "Watch a Deal" feature allows you to pick the deals you're most interested in and get an automatic notification to your mobile device when the sale goes live. Amazon thinks this feature will help shoppers spend more time with their families, but let's be real, this will more than likely result in a lot of angry grandmothers screaming "Get off your phone, Jimmy! You have to cut the turkey!" at Thanksgiving tables across the country.

4. Check back often and lean on us!

You might notice that none of the deals in the picture above have any prices on them, and that's because--last year, at least--the sale prices weren't posted until the deal went live. If that stresses you out, check how much the item is currently selling for and ask yourself whether you'd be willing to pay that price. You know the sale price is going to be significantly lower, so if the current price seems fair or even just a bit over your budget, it's probably safe to say you'll be OK paying the sale price.

You also never know when Amazon is going to bust out a crazy deal without warning, so as tedious as it may seem, checking the page or the app as often as you can is probably in your best interest. Experienced shoppers might know about the Amazon price tracking apps and websites that claim to do this work for you, but they're usually buggy and hard to use. I tried out a few during last year's sale didn't get any kind of notification when my item went on sale, so I don't recommend relying on these tools.

So what DO we know about the 2015 Amazon Black Friday sale?

We know what *some* of the sales are going to be, and if you want to see the full list, you cancheck it out here. Here are a few deals that stood out to us:

  • Amazon Fire Tablet -- $34.99 (currently selling for $49.99) It looks like Amazon is matching Best Buy's online-only price on this, so if you're looking for a Fire, one of these sales is probably going to be your best bet.
  • 32” LED TV -- $75 We saw this same deal at Amazon's lackluster Prime Day sale over the summer, and while $75 for a 32" TV is amazing (although the lack of a brand name means it's not a top tier TV to begin with), it's also pretty much impossible to get because everyone and their mother is going to be clambering for it the minute it drops. But if you're one of the lucky few who beats the odds, this is a great deal that we only see once or twice per year.
  • 50” 1080p LED TV -- $149.99 (App Only Deal) Another no-name TV, this deal is noteworthy because it matches Best Buy's price on its in-store only doorbuster 49" TV, AND adds an extra inch AND doesn't require you to stand in line in the cold to get it. Note that this is an app-only deal, and it will also go quickly. Without a Prime membership your chances of scoring this TV are probably less than zero, so sign up for a free trial if you're interested.
  • TCL 55” Roku Smart LED TV -- $348 (originally $719.99) This price matches Walmart's on the same TV, and it's one heck of a deal on both ends.

So how do you feel? Are you adequately prepared for Amazon's 8 days of madness? 

This article first appeared in Brad's Deals.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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