There may be just one Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving -- but retailers are offering deals pretty much every day this week.
"It's become Black Friday Week," says Deborah Mitchell, executive director for the Center of Brand and Product Management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Like Super Bowl Sunday, the main event is later in the week, but everyone is gearing up and excited now." Not all the best discounts, however, are saved for the big day, and shoppers who stick to Black Friday may find they've missed out, she says. "Smart shoppers will be looking every day."
The wider spread of sales throughout the week, both before and after Black Friday, has another advantage for shoppers. While stores typically suspend their price matching policies on Black Friday, most will meet a competitor's advertised deal on other days this week. They may also offer a credit on an item recently purchased for the difference between the purchased price and new sale price, says Edgar Dworsky, the founder of ConsumerWorld.org.
But there's a catch, say retail experts. Many of the deals are blink-and-you'll-miss-them opportunities which are available for a few hours, or until a limited supply runs out. Here's what to look for each day now through Cyber Monday:
Many stores have already kicked off their Black Friday countdowns, offering one-day deals that come close to -- or in some cases beat -- their Friday prices, Mitchell says. Best Buy, for example, had a 55" LG LED HDTV Monday for $898, a 31% discount and $100 cheaper than a planned Samsung door-buster for Black Friday of comparable quality. Amazon.com (AMZN)
Big pre-Black Friday sales, including those from Newegg.com and Target wrap up on Wednesday. Shoppers also may benefit from waiting until midnight, when many Thanksgiving online-only deals could go into effect, Dworsky says. Since most retailers have specified turkey-day deals, but haven't offered details on availability, it may only be worth it if you're already up late making the pies. "Last I checked, Nov. 24 still had 24 hours in it, so you could wait up for nothing," he says.
Shoppers stuffing the turkey at 6 a.m. may find their time waiting for the bird to roast well spent shopping. Kmart will be open from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m., and Best Buy plans to release a number of online-only sales that day. Gap Inc. (GPS)
On the later side, Toys R Us will open its doors for Black Friday at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving, followed an hour later by Walmart (WMT)
More deals are rolling in at midnight this year, with retailers including Kohl's, Target (TGT),
Shoppers have added incentive to keep their mobile phone on hand this year. Stores including Bon Ton, Macy's and JC Penney have said they plan to have more mobile coupons available. Toys R Us announced last week that it will offer shoppers who check in on Foursquare special "swarm" deals including $50 off the $170 Imaginarium City train table and 40% off the Incredible Edibles toy line.
Big-box stores will continue some of the same sales they offered on Friday, with a different round of door-busters. Given limited inventory this year, shoppers shouldn't count on these items being in stock, says Dworsky. You may find deals on items that are less likely to sell out. Sears, for example, has a door-buster of 30% off Kenmore Elite appliances until 1 p.m. on Saturday as well as $200 off a broad range of Craftsman tool sets.
It may be worth browsing mom-and-pop shops, too. Many are participating in American Express's "Small Business Saturday." The card company is offering a $25 credit to shoppers who register their card and spend $25 at a small business that day. Plus, many stores are offering their own deals, including 20% off at McNally Jackson Books in New York and up to 25% off designer denim at AB Fits in San Francisco.
Savvy shoppers should check out eBay in the early morning hours, says Tim Dubroy, a spokesman for eBay market data firm Terapeak. "We noticed a couple of years ago that sales are higher on the Sunday after Thanksgiving than on the Monday after," he says. eBay sellers scanning Cyber Monday ads often price their items competitively. Last year, for example, a Dell Zino HD desktop sold for an average $340 on eBay on Sunday -- $9 less than the Dell.com Cyber Monday price that several gadget blogs touted. Sellers also matched a $399 Amazon.com deal for a Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 digital camera. For the best deals, bid or buy before 2 p.m. Eastern, when prices rise as more shoppers head online, Dubroy suggests.
"There's been so little talk of Cyber Monday this year that you have to wonder if it even exists," Dworsky says. The National Retail Federation reports that 45% of retailers plan to offer a coupon or percentage-off sale, about 38% will have a limited-time promotion and 30% will offer free shipping on some orders. (In comparison, last year 49% had special offers, 41% offered one-day sales and 22% had free shipping on all purchases.) Still, it's worth browsing the sales, if not necessarily waiting for them, he says. AT&T plans to offer several smartphones -- including the HTC Inspire and the LG Thrill -- for a penny when consumers sign a two-year contract, similar to a deal Amazon.com has scheduled for Black Friday weekend. Clothing chain Express offers 30% off all online purchases plus free shipping, which is 10% less than its Thanksgiving and Black Friday morning in-store offers.