Bargain hunters: Don't shop on Black Friday

The hype surrounding Black Friday deals is so intense that one shopper says she gets store floor plans and maps out her shopping path in advance like a paratrooper going into enemy territory. Given that Black Friday shopping now starts in the dead of night -- Target and Kohls will open at midnight, and everybody from JCPenny to Macy's and Sears are throwing open their doors at 4 a.m. -- the shopping reconnaissance seems somehow appropriate.

But research by Consumer Reports and Decide.com -- a price analysis website -- indicates that Black Friday isn't necessarily the best day to score a bargain. In fact, if you want to buy the magazine's top-rated electronics, cameras and television sets, you should bide your time. The lowest prices hit between Cyber Monday and Dec. 13th.

On the other hand, if you want a cheap TV -- an off-brand, not-so-highly-rated set -- Black Friday is just the ticket. The huge mark-downs you'll see advertised are most often on second-rate merchandise, according to Consumer Reports.

This, of course, underscores what we wrote earlier this week - retailers are using the Black Friday/Cyber Monday hype to act badly. Do your comparison shopping in advance via the web to avoid being taken by false "benchmarking" - where products are marked up just to be marked down in an eye-popping, psychologically hard-to-resist manner - and other consumer rip-offs. (See Black Friday do's and don'ts for more tips.)

Retailers are also using the shopping hype to draw attention to a few off-beat gifts that you may have forgotten to put on your shopping list. For instance:

Think your family is radioactive? Just wait until Christmas. GreenDeals.org is attempting to launch "Green Tuesday" - a day when you can get special deals on jewelry made from recycled nuclear bombs. (I did not make that up.)

Gander Mountain, a retailer of hunting gear, is advertising "Camo Thursday." Exactly what will be on sale is hard to tell from the home page, which advertises everything from used handguns to hunting apparel. But you might want to have those handguns dusted for prints before you give them to a loved one.

Ace Hardware and Pep Boys are also offering Black Friday deals and giveaways for the tinkerer on your list, according toDealNews.com

Makers of a host of smart-phone apps are pushing products that promise to lead you to deals like a cheap metal detector might lead you to lost quarters on the beach. If you're interested, check out ShopSavvyFatWalletFreePriceAlerts or SaleLocator. So what if you spend your Black Friday savings on coffee and gas?

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