5 tricks for avoiding Black Friday "sales" traps

With the U.S. economy in somewhat better shape this year, many retailers eager to kick off the holiday shopping season have already launched their "Black Friday" sales. But experts warn that sprinkled among the real bargains are bogus deals aimed at tricking consumers into buying inferior goods at inflated prices.

"When you see something that's 50 percent off, you think you're getting a great deal. But it's not a deal if the 50 percent is coming off of an inflated price," said Kendal Perez, savings expert for CouponSherpa.com. "The whole purpose of Black Friday is to get people in the door so you can convince them to spend as much as possible."

Experts say these five tips will help you avoid the holiday sales traps.

1. Do a Santa. In other words, make a list and make it specific, Perez said. Before you get into the shopping frenzy, make a list of exactly what you want -- make, model, size, and any bells and whistles -- of each product. Start shopping online. Read the reviews and take note of the price and reviews of competing products. Why look at the competition? Because while retailers typically offer extraordinary deals on so-called "door busters," they only have a limited supply. Most stores will have a vast quantity of similar products on sale for those who missed out on the door buster. Some of these deals are also legitimate, but others are products of inferior quality or that lack important features. It's also not uncommon for retailers to inflate the regular price on the sticker so you think you're getting a bigger discount. If you've done your homework in advance, you won't be fooled.

2. Strategize. Black Friday is a great time to buy electronics, name-brand merchandise that typically isn't discounted -- think Apple and Dyson products, for example -- and things like small kitchen appliances, said consumer shopping expert Andrea Woroch. But clothing and jewelry is likely to get cheaper closer to the holidays. Be strategic about what you buy and when, she suggests. Reminding yourself not to simply load up your cart with anything that's marked down might also help you avoid a holiday credit hangover in January.

3. Pay with plastic. One of the least understood -- but potentially most valuable -- perks offered by some credit card companies are their price guarantee or price-rollback offers, said Jeanine Skowronski, analyst with BankRate.com. Citibank, Discover and MasterCard all offer some type of price protection that allows you to apply for a refund if you buy something and find out later that you could have gotten a better deal. The credit card price-guarantee deals vary, but the best of them can pay you back up to $500 per item if you overpay for a covered purchase. Before you head to the mall, call the 800 number on the back of your card and get the specifics of your card's coverage, Skowronski suggests. Then follow the rules, which usually involve maintaining your receipts and monitoring prices following the purchase. Sure, it's extra work, but with major purchases, it could be well worth your time.

4. Get the app. There are dozens of price-comparison tools you can load onto your phone that can tell you where to find the best deals, Woroch notes. A few of her favorites, all free:

  • RedLaser, which lets you plug in the bar code or product description to see if you can find a better deal nearby
  • SnapUp, which allows you to take a picture of a product you want. It will send you sales alerts when that item goes on sale
  • CouponSherpa, which tells you whether there are any additional discounts available for a product you're planning to buy.

5. Buy with discounted gift cards. It would be tacky to give somebody a slightly used gift card, which you bought at a discount at GiftCardGranny. But there's no downside to buying a gift using discounted gift cards. If you know you are going to shop at Best Buy or Pacific Sun -- or any retailer that offers gift cards -- check out the gift card resale sites. You can typically buy gift cards for 10 percent to 30 percent less than the face value, which can supercharge your Black Friday deals.