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Black Friday's best buys: Where to shop

Mark TrumbullThe Christian Science Monitor

It's official: With Black Friday just around the corner, retailers are falling over themselves to attract your attention – and to distract you from things like work, family, and football. The consumerist frenzy known as the holiday shopping season is already in full swing. But for US shoppers, the bargain-hunt map is a bit fuzzy. Do the best opportunities lie in wait at stores this Friday, or online?

More to the point, do the terms "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday" mean much anymore? Those labels, while they still carry some meaning, are no longer to be taken too literally.

Yes, there'll be some very reduced price tags awaiting early-morning shoppers on Friday. And yes, lots of consumers will use their work computers for some personal shopping Monday, even as they're getting back to their day jobs.

But the blurring lines of these concepts is also more apparent than ever this year.

Talk of "Black Thursday" and "Cyber Weekend" hints at the fading of sharp distinctions. Big-name stores like Wal-Mart are pushing to lure customers on Thanksgiving night, and many have sales running early in the week.

Often, the bargain you can find in a store will be matched online, with free shipping to boot. Technology adds to the mix: Smart-phone apps allow consumers to quickly compare in-store and online prices.

“In-store sales at major retailers this week will be significantly influenced by mobile applications,” marketing expert Kenneth Wisnefski said in a statement released this week by the company he founded, WebiMax.

The mobile apps, by the way, include Amazon’s Price Check, which allows you to scan a bar code in a store and then view prices for the same product online, or to read online product reviews before buying.

Bottom line: By all means, go out and shop on Friday if you want, but don't neglect the opportunities that may be at your fingertips or in stores from now forward.

Some examples:

• Menswear purveyor JoS. A. Bank has a "3 days only!" sale that runs through Wednesday, with 60 percent off suits, sport coats, and outerwear, and "40 percent off everything else online."

• Similarly, electronics retailer Newegg has a "Pre-Black Friday Frenzy." The online store offers price matching, and it pledges that you'll be shopping "at prices that won't drop lower on Black Friday." How's that for an eager sales pitch?

• Sam's Club held a two-hour "Exclusive VIP Member Event" Sunday, for Business and Business Plus members, according to BFAds.net, a tracker of Black Friday deals.

• If you want a pair of black sunglasses (or another color) before Friday, the Oakley Vault has offered up to 65 percent off in its Pre-Black Friday Sale, according to the website Dealnews.