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Serious buyers prepare for Black Friday

| Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009

On Black Friday, savvy shoppers like Sheri Gimigliano don't do anything halfway.

Last year, she and some family members pitched a tent at 10 a.m. Thanksgiving Day outside the Best Buy in Ross.

Crazy• Not really. The second group in line pitched a tent 15 minutes later.

The strategy paid off. Gimigliano and her family scored bargains on three laptop computers and one desktop model. They also got deals on four televisions and two bundled Nintendo DS games, as well as some DVDs.

"Once we got into the store at 5 a.m., the managers were great," says Gimigliano, of Robinson. "They had taken our lists of what we wanted and got it all in a cart for us so we could just check out. We were out of there within a half an hour."

That kind of total commitment is crucial for those intent on taking advantage of the best sales on Black Friday, the much-hyped start of the holiday shopping season. Late risers or browsers might find some bargains, but they're just as likely to get a headache, sore feet and road rage.

This year, 75,000 people are expected at Prime Outlets-Grove City on Black Friday, which starts Thanksgiving night with a Midnight Madness Pajama Sale.

"I'm cautiously optimistic, but it's looking very good compared to last year," says marketing manager Michele Czerwinski.

Mapping out a plan

Those who know exactly what they want are likely to fare better on Black Friday.

"Go online before you hit the road," says Janet Bodnar, a former Pittsburgher who's editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine in Washington, D.C. "You can find out where the best deals are in your area. You can really stake out a position instead of trying to go blindly from one place to another."

The magazine's Web site -- -- has links to sites such as . It also has a link to , a Web site that allows users to sign up to be notified by e-mail whenever a particular item goes on sale.

In 2007, Cheryl Beckas, her sister, daughter and a family friend each bought a $600 Toshiba Satellite laptop for $230. She surfed Web sites like and , which often list the best sales from Wal-Mart, Lowe's and Toys 'R Us.

"Basically, we scan through all of the ads that come out," says Beckas, of Shaler. "We even look online at the different sites."

They camped out in the parking lot at Best Buy on a blustery Thanksgiving night. They brought a tent and kerosene heater and shared their provisions with others. Beckas recalls one woman in the line passing out after drinking too much box wine. It's all part of the experience, she says.

"It's fun because you get to know others, and you're not bored," Beckas says.

Just the beginning

Black Friday is not the biggest shopping day of the year in terms of sales. That designation goes to the Saturday before Christmas, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, a global trade association with 60,000 members in the United States, and abroad.

Kathy Grannis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, says the organization is forecasting a 1 percent decline in retail sales for November and December. That's an improvement over last year, when sales were down 3.4 percent.

"Our forecast this year is not as dire," Grannis says. "What we're hearing is that there will still be a lot of great bargains and discounts on Black Friday, even though we're already starting to see competitive prices in most retail stores now. Black Friday is the one day that retailers really do have to pull out all the stops. Their consumers kind of demand it."

This year, retailers such as Sears have been promoting Christmas clubs. Others offer layaway plans as an alternative to credit cards. Blu-Ray players, e-readers and netbooks are expected to be some of the hottest-selling items this year, according to the Consumers Electronics Association.The association expects the average price of electronics to be down 25 percent this holiday season.

"It's more fun and challenging than it is about shopping," says Joe Witucki of Harrison, who shops every Black Friday with sons Jared, 20, and Jake, 16. "If we come home empty-handed, they still would have had a blast. But I don't think we've ever come home empty-handed."

If you don't like crowds, you can shop another day, says Kiplinger's Bodnar.

"This year, there's going to be plenty of deals anyway," she says. "You're not going to have to get there at 5 a.m. on Black Friday.

"The one word of caution is that their inventories are not really deep this year. They don't want to get stuck with a lot of stuff. You don't have to go out on November 27th, but I wouldn't wait until Christmas Eve."

Mapping out a plan

Black Friday tips

• "We start counting down the days to Black Friday after Halloween. After Thanksgiving dinner, we write down our lists of gifts to buy for family members. Then we look at store ads and cut out any store coupons. We organize our purses with our Christmas Club money, coupons, store ads, and any gift cards. " -- Leeann Negley, Lower Burrell

• "We're always shopping for something we're going to use or give as a gift. We don't buy on impulse. We set ourselves a budget." -- Paula Harford, Harrison.

• If you're camping out or waiting in line, know where the nearest bathroom is, such as a nearby fast-food place or 24-hour gas station. "There are cops that do patrol the areas. You will be arrested. They check for that." -- Cheryl Beckas, Shaler

• "If you're willing to give up those early deals, I truly believe that the best time to shop on Black Friday is heading out at dinnertime, when everyone else is faded and standing in line at the Red Lobster. There are still bargains, but the ones that are not to be believed are gone." -- Nancy Berk, clinical psychologist, O'Hara

• "Bring in the ads with you. That's a really good idea. You see the ad at home and you think it's at Target, but when you get to Target they say, 'We don't have that,' and you get upset and a big fight happens. Then you go home and find out, 'Gee, that ad was for Wal-Mart.'" -- Freeman Hall, author of "Retail Hell -- How I Sold My Soul to the Store, Confessions of a Tortured Sales Associate (Adams Media; $22.95).

• Lock your car, and keep all bags in the trunk instead of on the seat, where they may tempt thieves. -- Sgt. William Barrett, Ross Township Police Department

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