It's here again, bigger, earlier and as frantic as ever: Black Friday, which now starts on Thanksgiving, unofficially kicks off the holiday shopping season this week with a smorgasbord of merchandise. Here are five things you need to know before Black Friday:
Get ready to shop earlier than ever
Last year, shoppers were waiting in line outside stores on Thanksgiving before their turkey leftovers had cooled in the fridge. This year, people will be in line before the turkey's even out of the oven in some homes, as more and more stores are open earlier than ever.
With slow consumer spending and a shorter holiday shopping season because of Thanksgiving's later date this year, stores are scrambling to lock in shoppers' money early. Those who wait risk shoppers spending the bulk of their budgets at a competitor.
There are better times to buy
DealNews.com, which tracks shopping prices and sales, has a surprising list of things that are best bought days other than Black Friday.
Winter apparel is often marked down more in January, after the peak shopping season. Cameras will often be aggressively marked down after new 2014 models come out at the Consumer Electronics show in February. The best time to buy high-definition televisions? Late December, while retailers are making way for newer models. Toys? About two weeks before Christmas.
Use a credit card, check return policies
There are a few simple steps you can take to save yourself shopping angst.
If you can keep from going overboard, experts advise using a credit card instead of a debit card or cash. You can dispute a charge if an item never ships to you or doesn't work, and you have a better chance of getting your money back.
Another thing to read carefully are stores' return policies. They may be tightened up or otherwise different during the holidays, and vary from retailer to retailer.
Don't give thieves a holiday treat
Black Friday presents thieves with plenty of opportunities: Homes full of expensive new electronics, and goods and personal items left in cars in crowded mall parking lots. Signal 88 Security is advising shoppers to keep their purchases locked and out of sight.
The security company also said people should avoid leaving boxes out for trash pickup on your curb that advertise new big-ticket items. And Signal 88 advises people to write down the serial numbers of expensive items: If they get stolen, that can help police recover the items.
You might score deals if you hold out
Some retailers are already warning their investors that they might have to cut prices to move merchandise this holiday season. Best Buy's stock took a beating earlier this month when the company warned it might have to discount more steeply to match its competitors.
And retail analysts are predicting that more stores will follow suit. If retailers end up with a lot of unsold merchandise as the end of the holiday season rolls around, they could be forced to start steeply discounting their goods. Think 70-percent-off sales.