Shoppers visit Target on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, in New York. Despite signs that the economy is improving, big store chains like Wal-Mart and Kohlís donít expect Americans to have much holiday shopping cheer unless they see bold, red signs that offer huge discounts. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews) - AP

Black Friday: 5 things to know going in

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 shopping.

This holiday season will be crucial for many retailers. Predictions for how much consumers will spend remain weak or modest.

That's pushed retailers to open their stores earlier on Thanksgiving. But just because retailers are glum doesn't mean shoppers should be: The weak shopping season means deals could be more plentiful this year.

1. 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.

2. THERE ARE BETTER TIMES TO BUY SOME PRODUCTS: Although some of the rock-bottom special prices advertised on Black Friday seem like the best you'll ever see, there are actually better times to shop for many items, experts say., which tracks shopping prices and sales, has a surprising list of things that are best bought days other than Black Friday.

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 top-brand high-definition televisions? Late December, while retailers are making way for newer models. Toys? About two weeks before Christmas.

3. SHOP WITH A CREDIT CARD, CHECK RETURN POLICIES, KNOW IN-STOCK 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.

4. 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.

The security company also said people should avoid leaving boxes out for trash pickup on your curb that advertise new big-ticket items, such as a big flat-screen TV. Also, write down the serial numbers of expensive items: If they get stolen, that can help police recover the items.

5. 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.

While there's no guarantee that retailers' worst fears will come true and they'll be forced to slash prices, if something is out of your price range, check back in a few weeks. If it's still sitting on a shelf, you're likely to see an even bigger discount.

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