Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday: Which day has better deals?

Holiday shoppers are all looking for the same thing on 2012 Black Friday and Cyber Monday. A new tablet? A Furby? A digital camera? They may be buying these hot items, but what they really want to find this holiday season is the best deal. That deal could come after the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, Black Friday, the weekend before Cyber Monday, or the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Navigating through the holiday sales has become trickier. Be a savvy shopper this holiday season and follow these expert tips to unearthing shopping gems and avoiding retail quicksand.

Careful spending

Consumers are not looking to raise credit card debt this holiday season. Instead, they'll be relying on money they already have or have saved up to purchase holiday gifts, according to the National Retail Federation. "More than four in 10 (43.4 percent) will rely on debit cards as their primary form of payment. An additional 25.2 percent will use cash and 2.8 percent will use a check. Nearly three in 10 (28.7 percent) will charge their gifts."

Researching the sales

Smart shoppers will be diligently researching Black Friday sales online before they head out. In previous years, bloggers posted "leaked" Black Friday ads and circulars before the deals were publicized. This year, large retailers like Walmart and Target are drumming up interest for their discounts by posting the deals on their websites.

With the prices and deals available early online from official company websites, Black Friday has the advantage over Cyber Monday, at least for impatient shoppers and hardcore deal seekers. Black Friday also appeals more to consumers who are looking for some splurging. According to Lab42, "46 percent [of consumers] purchase things on Black Friday that they want but wouldn't normally get."

Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday

So should you get up sometime after midnight on Thanksgiving (the morning of Black Friday) to start shopping the deals? "Lining up at a department store at the crack of dawn on Black

Friday isn't worth it. Retailers generally only offer a handful of hyper-discounted items on Black Friday, making it unlikely that a 3 a.m. line-up will pay off," explains PayPal Shopping Specialist Claudia Lombana.

"You're better off starting shopping before Black Friday. Head from the dinner table to the web on Thanksgiving Day," Lombana says.

According to SOASTA's Holiday and Economy Survey (Oct. 2012), "71 percent of shoppers believe they'll get better deals online that in stores." But Cyber Monday sales are typically kept secret until that day, and so far, retailers are keeping that tradition. If you choose Cyber Monday over Black Friday, it will be because you trust you'll find great deals with free shipping online, and your items will be in stock. Overloaded servers and out of stock items are the biggest downsides to Cyber Monday.

Black Friday tips

* Plan your shopping ahead - FatWallet's Brent Shelton advises making a shopping list to help you from overspending. FatWallet's Black Friday Deal Finder and mobile app alerts you to sales news, and you can save your personal shopping list. DealNews also has an app for that.

* Doorbusters only - "Remember that you only need to hit the stores early if the object of your desire is a doorbuster. If you aren't after a $5 coffee maker or a $200 flat screen, you can probably skip the morning rush and hit the stores in the afternoon once things have calmed down," says Brad Wilson, founder of BradsDeals.com.

* Devise a shopping plan - "Mapping out your shopping course for the day can save

time, money, and give you access to the top products before they go out of stock. Be sure to consider organizing your shopping schedule by stores' opening times and when the online sales begin," according to ShopAtHome.com.

* Check prices as you shop - "If you do find yourself in a store on Black Friday, use a bar code scanning app such as RedLaser to find out if a nearby retailer or online retailer is selling that item for less. In many cases, you can even purchase that item instantly from your smart phone," advises Lombana.

* Know the price threshold - "Brands set a minimum advertised price that their retail partners can't go below. Learn what it is by keeping track of an item over few weeks and looking at similar items. You'll get an idea of what the lowest possible price is so you can strike while the iron is hot, rather than waiting and wondering if there might be a better deal down the road," explains Wayfair.com's CEO Nirah Shah.

Cyber Monday tips

* Speed up checkout time - "Set up a Paypal account ahead of time for fast checkout, or map out the stores you want to shop at and create an account ahead of time, so you can do fast checkouts. You don't want to lose a good deal in your shopping cart (sell out) while you're filling out information needed to purchase the item," advises Brent Shelton of FatWallet.com.

* "Shop everything you can on your list on Black Friday (or Cyber Monday). After that, it's best to buy things one by one leading up to the holidays when you spot a good deal," says Wilson.

* Be cautious on public Wi-Fi networks - "Tempting as it may be to purchase a product while using a public Wi-Fi network, these hotspots can be virtual playgrounds for cyber criminals. Instead, use a personal VPN or wait until you're on a protected network before purchasing anything online or logging onto your bank website," according to Symantec (via email).