E-T Staff Report

1. Read the ads: (Check inside Thursday's Empire-Tribune.) Look for additional deals and savings on retailers' websites and facebook pages.

2. Evaluate the deals: Not all advertised items are great deals. To separate the ho-hum from the good ones, use Consumer World's pricing tools such as the Price Checker found at www.consumerworld.org, which allows shoppers to compare prices at many online stores instantly and www.pricehistories.com to compare today's price for an item to what was charged over the past six months.

3. Research the right product: A low price on a lousy product is no bargain. Check websites where professionals evaluate products, such as Consumer Reports, Steves-Digicams.com (for cameras), Ecoustics.com (TV/hi-fi equipment), PCMagazine.com (computers), best/worst toy lists, etc. Also, nothing beats reading customer reviews by real owners of the products you are thinking of buying.

4. Save with "Triple Plays": To save the most, combine the primary ways to save: buy items at a good sale price, use percent-off/dollars-off coupons offered by some stores to lower that price even more, and look for items that also have a cash back rebate.

5. Be an early bird: Plot your route from store to store based on store opening times, and since quantities are limited, arrive before the doors open. Send family members to different stores if opening times conflict. And don't forget the doorbusters.

6. Beat the early birds: Scope out key retailers on Wednesday before Thanksgiving to learn each store's floor plan in advance. Avoid crowds by ordering online since some Black Friday deals may be available on Thanksgiving Day or Friday in the wee hours.

7. Check the return policy: Before buying, find out the store’s return policy. While many stores have extended their return deadlines into January, others are clamping down by imposing restocking fees on certain categories of items, or by using a blacklisting database or returns tracking system to deny refunds to return abusers.

8. Get a gift receipt: Make returns easier for gift recipients by asking the store for a gift receipt and include it in the gift box. Without a receipt, a refund may be denied outright, or may be limited to only an equal exchange, or to a merchandise credit for the lowest price the item has sold for in the recent past.

9. Use the right credit card: Certain credit cards offer valuable free benefits. For example, don't be pressured into buying a service contract when you can get up to an extra year of warranty coverage free just by using most gold or platinum credit cards. Ask your credit card issuer what length warranties qualify for an extra year of coverage, if any. Some credit cards also offer a return protection guarantee (they will refund the purchase price within 90 days if the store will not), or a sale price guarantee (they will give you back the difference if an item goes on sale within 60 days of purchase).

10. Save more with price guarantees: The bargain shopping process does not end with a product purchase. Keep checking the prices of the items you bought. Since many stores offer a price protection guarantee, you may be entitled to get back some additional money if the seller or a competitor offers a lower price before Christmas.

The above Black Friday shopping tips are from Consumer World, an online guide with over 2,000 consumer resources that found online at www.consumerworld.org.