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Tips to Save Money Online on Black Friday

Avoid store lines and hassle on sites offering coupons and sneak previews of discounts

Black Friday

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Online shoppers can save money beyond Black Friday, from Thanksgiving through the following Cyber Monday.

En español | The days immediately after Thanksgiving are some of the busiest for retailers, yet millions of consumers each year avoid the crowds and hassle during that time and still get their holiday shopping done.

Instead of browsing brick-and-mortar stores, these consumers shop online, where they can easily compare prices, apply coupons, and find wider selections as well as exclusive Internet deals. Even better, many online retailers throw in free shipping.

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If these advantages are enough to persuade you to forgo the malls this year, make sure you do some advance scouting of retailers' websites so you're ready for so-called Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. And when you see a good price, be ready to pounce. Retail experts say prices can change much more quickly online than in a store.

Jennifer Cope, 59, of Melbourne, Fla., created an online-shopping strategy that has paid off for her during the holidays. Over the past few years, she's scored dozens of cyber-deals on tech gadgets, tools, toys and more by researching products and prices ahead of time and tracking sales with online tools.

"I look through the Black Friday ads well in advance. I then make a spreadsheet listing gifts for friends and relatives and create columns with the best price and location," says Cope, who enjoys the convenience of shopping from her desktop computer.

"Buying online saves time and aggravation," she adds. "Some deals are better at the brick-and-mortar stores. However, I'm not going to wait in line for hours to get the absolute lowest price. My time is worth money."

Many others, apparently, have come to a similar conclusion. A National Retail Federation poll last year found that 4 out of 10 consumers made purchases online during the Thanksgiving weekend, spending an average of $178. Nearly half of them did their online shopping on Black Friday, making it the busiest retail day during that holiday weekend.

And online shoppers snared an average discount of nearly 37 percent from Thanksgiving through the following Cyber Monday, according to RetailMeNot, a coupon website.

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Black Friday shoppers typically bag the best bargains because many of the specials are in limited supply and are being sold at the store's cost or possibly at a loss, says Eugene Fram, emeritus professor of marketing at the Rochester Institute of Technology's Saunders College of Business, in Rochester, N.Y.

"You stand a better chance of scoring an online deal if you know what you want and research the item's price history ahead of time," Fram says. "Be prepared to move quickly when you find a low price."

The good news this year is that there are more opportunities than ever to claim great deals online, says Jim Willcox, senior electronics editor for Consumer Reports, in Yonkers, N.Y.

"The bad news is that it requires more work, because every year the deals period is extended longer before and after Black Friday and you have to constantly check ad circulars, online promotions and mobile offers," Willcox says. "Today, retailers monitor each other's prices and make sudden adjustments, so you may see prices change six times over the course of Black Friday week."

10 tips to save money shopping online

1. Set and stick to a budget. "Identify the maximum price you're willing to spend on the product. It's easy to get swept up by Black Friday pricing, but if it's not in your budget, it's not saving you money," says Regina Novickis, consumer expert at Los Angeles–based Slickdeals, which reviews deals and coupons.

2. Sign up for emails from the retailers you plan to shop from, which can inform you of upcoming sales.

3. Search for bargains and create deal alerts (which automatically email you when your preferred item is on sale) using sites such as TechBargains, DealCatcher and Slickdeals.

4. Get a sneak peek at Black Friday store ads via BFAds, BlackFriday.com and other sites. Also, scout out specials that have limited discounts or are available for only a brief time, such as Amazon's Lightning Deals.

5. Set up accounts and payment options in advance for sites you plan to purchase from, to accelerate the checkout process when it's time to buy.

6. Ask the online retailer, via email or chat, to match or beat a competitor's lower price, before checking out.

7. Take advantage of gratis shipping. "Note any free-shipping minimums, and see if you can combine purchases at that website to meet the minimum," says Jeanette Pavini, Coupons.com savings expert. Or enroll in a no-cost trial membership with a free- or expedited-shipping service, including Amazon Prime, ShopRunner and Google Shopping Express.

8. Hunt for coupon codes accepted by the retailer before checking out; try sites like FatWallet.com, RetailMeNot and CouponCabin.

9. Earn cash back or other gifts by paying with a rewards credit card.

10. Consider paying with discounted electronic gift cards you can purchase from vendors such as GiftCardGranny and CardCash.

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