Black Friday used to be so simple—it was the day after Thanksgiving.
Now we have what you might call "The Black Friday Shopping Season" which starts on Thanksgiving. Or the day before. Or whenever a retailer wants to generate some buzz.
And just to mix things up a bit, some stores now stagger their doorbuster deals, with different items going on sale on different days and at different times.
This staggered approach might improve your odds of getting what you want, but it also gives retailers a better chance of getting you in the door—maybe more than once.
(Read more: Christmas shoppers, just wait—big toy deals coming)
So how are the prices?
Some of the deals already unveiled offer super savings. A few examples from the editors at dealnews.com:
- Element 50" 1080p LED HDTV for $229 at Target. They say this could break all price records and become the cheapest 50" HDTV ever.
- Apple iPad mini 16GB Wi-Fi tablet for $299 at Walmart. Plus, you get a $100 Wal-Mart gift card. DealNews calls this an "exceptional" promotion.
- Samsung Galaxy S4 4G Smartphone for free at Best Buy. To get this deal, you must sign a new two-year contract with AT&T, Sprint or Verizon.
"They don't put everything on sale on Black Friday, and those prices aren't always the lowest of the year," said Mark LoCastro, public relations manager at DealNews. "Some things you should wait to buy, if you can."
(Read only: Nothing in-between? The wealth gap alters retail)
LoCastro said the best prices on toys are typically in the first two weeks of December. And while many lower-end TVs are marked down to ridiculously low prices for Black Friday, the best sales on top-of-the-line models from premium brands like Sony, LG and Samsung, don't happen until early in the new year.
You need a plan to win this shopping event
You've checked the ads. You know the prices. And you've found a few doorbuster deals that you really want.
Before you decide to camp out all night, consider this reality check from shopping expert Edgar Dworsky, founder of Consumerworld.org.
"Almost all doorbuster deals are limited quantity and almost all of the ads say no rain checks, but most of them don't tell you how few of the items they have in stock," Dworsky said. "In some cases, it may be only two or three per store. That's why you absolutely must be there early. If you're not at the front of the line a couple of hours before the doors open, you're going to lose out."