The nuts and bolts of Black Friday sales

NEW YORK — Ready. Set. Shop.

The day after Thanksgiving, or Black Friday, kicks off the holiday shopping season. Each year, retailers open their doors early and offer shoppers deals of up to 70 percent off on everything from electronics to clothes. And shoppers typically turn out in droves.

Before you head out to the stores this year, there a few things you should know about Black Friday:

Q: How did the day get its name?

A: Accounts differ on the origin of the term. One theory is that it had roots in the 1960s in Philadelphia where it was used to describe the heavy pedestrian and car traffic on the day after Thanksgiving. The most common theory, though, is that the day got its name because it’s usually when retailers turn a profit for the year, or operate in the “black.”

Q. Is Black Friday the biggest shopping day of the year?

A. ShopperTrak, which monitors customer traffic and sales at 25,000 stores nationwide, says that Black Friday has been the top sales day every year but one since it started monitoring holiday data in 2002; the only exception was in 2004, when the busiest day was the Saturday before Christmas.

Q. What’s new?

A. Black Friday mania is seeping into Thanksgiving Day. Nearly 1,000 Gap stores will be open on Thanksgiving. Toys R Us will open at 9 p.m. And several other stores will open at midnight that evening, including Target, Best Buy, Kohl’s and Macy’s. Wal-Mart, whose supercenters already operate around the clock, also is opening most of its other stores by 10 p.m. Thanksgiving evening.

Q. Will you get the best deals of the season on Black Friday?

A. Not necessarily. Stores have discounts that are just as good throughout the holiday season. And there are even better deals to be had after Christmas Day. But the problem is if you wait too long, you might not get exactly what you want since stores have kept their inventories lean this year.

Q: Do I have to stand in a long line to get good deals?

A: No, many Black Friday deals are available online as well.

Q. What are some of the best deals stores will be offering on Black Friday?

A: Wal-Mart will offer deals on toys, home accessories and clothing starting at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. It also will sell Barbie, Disney Princess and Bratz dolls for $5 each on Black Friday. Macy’s is offering $65 Justin Bieber limited-edition holiday fragrance gift sets, which include the singer’s new holiday CD and an exclusive downloadable track. Toys R Us will be discounting many toys up to 50 percent, including Lego construction sets.

Q. What’s the best strategy to get those deals?

A. Plan, plan, plan. Most stores already have their hours and Black Friday deals posted on their website, so you can figure out where you want to go and what you want to buy. Wal-Mart’s website even has maps of each of its stores and highlights where the advertised specials will be located. And you can even plan where to park: Mall of America, the largest mall in North America, will be tweeting updates on where to find parking spaces. It will also be opening at midnight following Thanksgiving.

If you can’t make it to every retailer, you can ask family and friends to go to stores for you. Additionally, follow your favorite stores on Twitter and Facebook to get any alerts on shortages or special offers while you’re shopping. And, lastly, wear comfortable shoes.

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