Top 5 tips for getting the best Black Friday 2009 deals

Black Friday 2009 deals: Our Top 5 tips for snagging the best ones at Wal-Mart, Target, and other retailers.

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    Bob Childress shops with his daughter Isabelle at a Wal-Mart in Deptford N.J. Wal-Mart has already reacted to other retailers' early "Black Friday" sales by lowering some of its own prices.
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"Black Friday" deals have already started this year and they're coming fast and furious. To get the best ones, it helps to have a strategy. Here are our Top 5 tips for snagging that holiday deal:

5. Go online. Most of Black Friday’s good deals are available online as well as at the store, says Michael Brim, founder of BFAds.net, a website that tracks Black Friday ads and sales. “Unless you want one of the bargain-basement door busters, unless you’re there for the thing that Best Buy or Wal-Mart are going to have [only] 10 of, the majority of the sales are available online.” Often, companies will advertise their in-store-only sales on their websites. So even if you plan to shop bricks-and-mortar stores, it pays to check their websites first.

4. Plan ahead. "No one wants to sit in traffic on Black Friday, so make sure to map out the stores that you want to hit," counsels dealnews on their new Black Friday strategy guide. "Know when they open, when they close, and if applicable, what hours during the day their best sales will take place."

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3. Get a shopping buddy. Black Friday shopping used to be characterized by a bruising free-for-all as shoppers jostled to grab popular items. “In prior years it was a contact sport," Mr. Brim says. "If you’re quick and you’re big and a gritty shopper, you can hop from place to place to place and get three or four items if you’re at the peak of your game.” Now that big retailers have instituted a ticket system, where customers line up for tickets of particular products, the key strength is numbers. First, having multiple friends fan out to different ticket sites is a must. Next, Black Friday pros use a buddy system: an “explorer” who charges through aisles looking for particular items while another mans the shopping cart in a central location. “If there is any chance of chaos on Black Friday, you don’t want to have a cart with you," Brim says. "It may work well as a battering gram but when there are 14 other carts in there you won’t have room to maneuver.”

2. Love the deal - or leave it. This year's retail scene is so competitive that you can afford to be choosy. If you can't get to one retailer for an advertised sale, chances are other retailers are trying to match it. Check online for up-to-the-minute information (see Tip No. 5) but don't be afraid to ask a competing retailer to match it. "The trick is proving it to them," dealmaker.com says. "Know your store's price-matching policy and if possible, carry circulars with you to prove that their competitor has a better deal."

1. Shop early. Preparing for a Black Friday outing? Shop online on Thursday first, counsels dealnews.com. "In years past, we've seen some deals sell out before Black Friday." So that means going online as early as possible -- after 9 p.m. Wednesday for West Coasters. Actually, you should be keeping an eye for great gifts months in advance, says Julia, aka Bargain Babe, who runs the BargainBabe blog. "Buying early is one strategy for keeping within your budget."

On the other hand, here are two old school shopping tricks that don't work so well anymore:

1. Casing the joint. Going to a store before Black Friday to familiarize yourself with the terrain is not a bad idea, but don’t be surprised when the laptop you want is stacked next to the microwaves, for example, Brim says. “A lot of the big items are consumer electronics and usually that’s one part of the store. To prevent the mass mobs, they may put the DVD players next to the Washing machines.”

2. Strategic restocking. If you see the item you want during your reconnaissance mission, don't try to stash it in a dryer or oven for easy recovery during the Black Friday melee, Brim says. Stores are now keen to this trick and do more stringent checks on products.
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-- David Grant is a Monitor contributor. Keep up with this year's Black Friday economy by following us on Twitter.

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