Retailers will tell you the holiday season is their "Super Bowl."
Black Friday used to be the biggest game in town, but that's started to change in recent years. Stores are offering deals earlier and earlier. In particular, online bargains and phone apps are making the Black Friday frenzy less and less relevant.
"I love my smartphone. I carry it everywhere. I even sleep with it at night," said Jackie Harper, a bargain-hunting blogger who runs the site FreeIsMyLife.com.
She's not alone. Consumers have much more information at their fingertips, and they're able to use that information to grab holiday deals before Black Friday and without leaving the house.
"There's a lot more competition earlier even before Black Friday," Melissa Buckles told Ruth to the Rescue.
Buckles runs the website EveryDaySavvy.com.
Team of experts offer shopping advice
The Ruth to the Rescue consumer unit assembled a team of bargain hunting bloggers to answer the question: Do you have to go to the stores on Black Friday? All four of the bargain-hunters said, not really! In fact, you don't even have to wait for Turkey Day.
"Don't think you have to wait until Thanksgiving Day. I would start looking now. Now is the time to start shopping," advised Buckles.
"Stores are price-matching. Stores are pushing out deals earlier to get you to shop there before you shop at stores on Black Friday," said Tatanisha Worthey of AMittenFullOfSavings.com.
"Toys R Us just said if you're a rewards member you can shop on Sunday before Black Friday and get the same prices," said Jolyn Felten of BargainsToBounty.com.
Saving all year long
The bargain bloggers all agree, you should be doing your holiday shopping research right now. While doing research is easier than ever, you still need to do the work to save as much money as possible.
"I would say the number one tip, I think, is to be prepared," said Buckles.
All of our experts agree you have to be prepared to get the best savings, the best quality and the products that will make you and your family become satisfied shoppers. They also say new technology has made it so easy to do that homework.
"I have a section on my phone just for shopping apps, but I have about 12 apps that I use continuously, so I love apps," said Harper.
Those apps can send you alerts about new prices and better bargains and they can help you compare prices.
You can also search for websites that aggregate all the deals out there. Each of our bargain-hunting bloggers has sites that can lead you to freebies, coupons, or special sales.
Our Ruth to the Rescue panel also agrees you should read product reviews online. There's a whole world of opinions on social media to consider and sites like Amazon make it so easy to find information.
Felton says her readers on BargainsToBounty share their experiences and help each other.
"I had readers comment, 'We got that last year. It was terrible. It didn't work. Don't waste your money on it.' There are some door busters that aren't worth getting," she said.
The following tips were featured on a list from Consumer Reports for Black Friday Shopping.
The Ruth to the Rescue panel review the list and agreed the advice can be applied to bargain hunting all year long.
1) Be prepared
2) Sign up for email alerts and loyalty programs
3) Shop online first, compare prices, and read reviews
4) Use social media. Retailers will often send special deals to "friends" and "followers"
5) Use the shopping apps that make life easier.
6) Create a budget and stick to it
7) See if you can price-match, but read price-matching policies very carefully.
8) Check the warranties
9) Buy items you really want and avoid expensive accessories
10) Avoid bait and switch. If the item you wanted because of a great deal is gone, don't be swayed into buying something more expensive.
Two more tips for Black Friday shoppers
If you do hit the stores on Black Friday, our panel had three more pieces of advice. First, they repeated the caution that you should make that shopping list and stick to it! Don't let the stores lure you into overspending.
"They get you in and they keep feeding you deals, supposed deals and then you just keep shopping," said Harper.
Second, when you're shopping in the chaos of Thanksgiving, Black Friday, or other busy shopping days, you need to go to the stores with a plan.
"When the crowds are so thick that you can't move, that's not really a good time to browse your favorite store," said Felten.
You should know what stores you'll visit, what items you're looking for, and how to get into and out of the stores quickly.
"And, even have a backup plan," added Felten. " What if the items on your list aren't there? What are you going to do then?"
Third, if possible, approach the stores with a divide and conquer strategy. "If you can team up with family members, then someone can get in line or someone goes to electronics while someone goes to toys, advised Buckles.
While Black Friday is no longer the only time to grab the greatest deals, it can still be fun if you enjoy being part of the madness. Some people enjoy the social aspects of the big event.
"I think a lot of it is still fun... that fun aspect of going out with girlfriends or with other people or family member," said Worthey.
And, whenever you shop, remember it can be fun and you can save money! Happy Shopping!