(287593)

Tens of millions of consumers are expected to rush out today—even during heavy snow in the East and torrential rain in the West—to find those coveted holiday bargains that have been advertised for the past month.

For some, it’s a holiday tradition: Getting up early to shake off the post-Thanksgiving meal and score big on ordinarily high-priced toaster ovens and television sets. For others, it’s a day to order a few gifts online before returning to family matters. And then there are those who, warded off by news footage of bargain-mad consumers stampeding through checkout lanes, decide to skip the retail world altogether.

But before you brave the weather, traffic and limited parking spots, some new reports about Black Friday may alter what you think of as a “savings.” Black Friday sales are becoming more diffuse over the weeks before and after Thanksgiving. According to Adobe Analytics, a website that monitors both brick-and-mortar and online shopping trends, more people than ever are skipping the usual stress by shopping online. This year’s haul behind the keyboard may be more than $11 billion for retailers. Overall, Americans are expected to drop just over $91 billion in purchases today.

Last year, the volume of online shopping was $9.9 billion, representing a 25-percent increase from 2017 at $7.9 billion. While Walmart is expected to remain the king of Black Friday hype (as related to Google online searches), Amazon has made steady inroads for the past two years in accounting for half of all online transactions, according to Hitwise.com, another website that monitors consumer insights.

Black Friday began in an era when retailers had more power, and consumers had fewer options. Years ago, shoppers dedicated an entire day to deal-hunting, and once they were in a store, they were often likely to purchase more stuff. But with the rise of easy Internet shopping, customers can quickly search through multiple options, find the best deal in a mater of minutes, and get back to their lives.

For about a decade, more retailers have been opening on Thanksgiving, and despite the backlash, the trend appears to be here to stay. The National Retail Federation reports that more than 165 million shoppers participated in Black Friday last year. Many of the nation’s favorite retailers opened their doors yesterday, including Walmart at 6 p.m., Target (6 p.m.), Kohl’s (5 p.m.), Best Buy (5 p.m.), Macy’s (5 p.m.), Sears (6 p.m.), Dick’s Sport Goods (6 p.m.), GameStop (3 p.m.), J.C. Penny (2 p.m.), and, in getting a head start on all competitors, Kmart was up and running at 6 a.m. to greet a flock of shivering shoppers.

Black Friday, though, is not entirely the best day when deals can be found. According to Lindsay Sakraida, director of content marketing for Dealnews, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday are also good days to shop for bargains.

“Technically, as a single day, Thanksgiving is probably better than Black Friday,” Sakraida told CNBC last holiday season. “While Black Friday remains strong, there are a lot of other big deals that take place on Thanksgiving Day. The holiday is, unfortunately, the better of the two days.”

More and more stores actually rolled out sale prices last week, and that’s why Sakraida noted that consumers consider checking for sales as early as the first week of November. She said the best time to shop also depends on what you’re looking for. Dealnews tended to echo Sakraida’s comments in suggesting that while it’s a good idea to start your shopping early, today could be the optimum day to get deals on some of your most desired items.

Those consumers who have found that online shopping is more convenient—and cost effective—may want to look at something called “camelcamelcamel,” which is a a free Amazon price tracker, or do a Google search to get an idea of how different stores price various items. And while you’re at it, Sakraida suggests looking for similar items or versions of whatever you’re looking for: “If you’re dead set on one specific model, you may be blind to the other discounts that exist on very similar alternatives,” she said, adding that consumers should “keep and open mind and be a little flexible with what you end up buying, within reason, is definitely a good tactic.”

Shopping experts warn, however, to be watchful of the common “bait-and-switch” among retailers, particularly when certain items are in high demand and supplies may be limited:

—Don’t purchase sneakers because only one percent of athletic shoes cost less on Black Friday. Adobe Analytics reports that sneakers are, on average, about $29.72 more per pair than the lowest price on other days.

—Don’t buy a new car. Wait a month or so for “year-end” sales after dealers bring in new models;

—Avoid gift cards. Sometimes a store will give you one with a holiday purchase;

—Wait until January or February to purchase new furniture. That’s the time when retailers are trying to dump their old inventory and you could find a bargain;

—Gym equipment is wonderful, but wait until summer when prices are lower because more people are outside exercising;

Dealnews suggests that shoppers be aware of a number of circumstances where you may get deceived amid the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping:

—Price matching policies may be suspended. Be sure to comparison shop first. Once you buy it, you’re our of luck if you see the same product for less somewhere else;

—Advertised discounts can be misleading. If the manufacturers suggested retail price is $100, and the Black Friday price is $70, that’s a 30-percent discount. However, if the item was already widely selling for $80, your actual discount is only 12.5 percent;

—Some deals require a mail-in rebate. Most rebate programs have a time limit. Even if you file on time, expect to wait several weeks for the rebate check to arrive;

—“Doorbuster” quantities are limited. The real goal among most retailers is to get you to purchase other items with higher profit margins—primarily because you’re already in the store ready to spend;

—“Free shipping” requires a minimum purchase. Don’t miscalculate the amount of purchase before checking out because shipping costs are calculated after Black Friday discounts have been taken off at the cashier.