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Black Friday planner: Shoppers, get your game face on!

Sandy Huffaker / Getty Images file

Last year's scene at a San Diego Best Buy store. Expect similar lines this year.

The most hyped and hectic shopping day of the year is just hours away. If you intend to fight the crowds to grab some bargains, you need to have a plan. 

A number of major retailers are opening earlier than ever – moving the start of Black Friday to Thanksgiving. Some have staggered the door-buster sales. 

The newspapers are filled with special Black Friday circulars. You can see most of what’s available  at sites such as bfads.net, blackfriday.com and blackfriday.gotadeal.com

The editors at dealnews.com analyzed these ads and concluded that some products are being offered at all-time low prices – but not all.  For example, you’ll find the best prices on toys not on Black Friday, but instead two weeks before Christmas. Dealnews put together a list of 10 things not to buy on Black Friday

At least half of all Americans have started their holiday shopping already. The big retailers have taken notice, with some opening their doors Thursday night to kick off Black Friday deals. NBC's Janet Shamlian reports.

Hate crowds?  You might be able to shop from home. While some door-buster deals can only be snagged at the store, most Black Friday specials can be found online.  Dealnews found that 70 percent of the deals available at Wal-Mart and Target stores on Thanksgiving last year were also available online for the same price or less.  

Let’s go shopping! 
Here’s a rundown of what’s happening at some of the nation’s biggest retailers (in alphabetical order): 

  • Best Buy: The electronics retailer starts its Thanksgiving Weekend sale at midnight on Friday. To make things easier, they hand out tickets two hours before the store opens. BestBuy.com is open on Thanksgiving. 
  • JCPenney: This is the store’s only sale of the year. Prices on hundreds of items (online and in the store) will be reduced for one day only, starting at 6 a.m. on Black Friday. Store employees will hand out holiday buttons that offer the chance to win one of 20 million gifts, including gift cards, merchandise and vacations. This promotion starts on Black Friday and runs through Christmas Eve. 
  • Kmart: The store’s three day sale is the earliest of the bunch and there are three rounds of doorbusters – both in-store and online. Round one is on Thanksgiving Day from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the stores and 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. online. Round two goes from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. at the stores and 7 p.m. until 5 a.m. online. Round three, on Black Friday, runs between 5 a.m. and 11 a.m. at the stores and 4 a.m. and 1 p.m. online. Did you get all that? 
  • Kohl’s: Things get going Wednesday as 500 Early Bird specials went on sale at Kohls.com. The stores open at midnight on Friday. Shoppers get $15 Kohl’s Cash for every $50 they spend in store or online, with no limit during this “Operation: Black Friday” sales event. Kohl’s “Dream Receipts” promotion starts on Friday and runs through Christmas Eve. Every day, one shopper at each store and online will be picked at random and Kohl’s will pick up the tab. No purchase necessary. 
  • PetSmart: Pet parents will find Black Friday deals online beginning Thanksgiving Day. Some pre-Black Friday items, discounted by as much as 75 percent, are already available online. Retail stores open at 7 a.m. on Friday. 
  • Sears: The bargain-hunting (both online and in the stores) starts at 8 p.m. on Thursday and continues through 10 p.m. on Black Friday. Sears says it is offering more than a thousand doorbuster deals during its 26-hour sales event broken into two groups. Some go on sale at right away. The rest are available starting at 4 a.m. Black Friday. Check the Sears Thanksgiving and Black Friday circular for a savings pass or online purchase code that gives you an extra 10 percent off when you spend $40 or more on clothing, intimates, sleepwear, accessories, fragrances and cosmetics. “Shop Your Way” members get extra perks for this sale. Check out the deals and door-busters at sears.com/Black Friday
  • Staples: The world’s largest office products company promises savings online and at the store. Early Bird Deals are available on Black Friday from 5 a.m. until noon. Find savings of $200 or more on select HP personal computers with Windows 8.  Online orders are shipped for free. A new service this year: you can reserve products online and pick them up at the store, normally within two hours of ordering. 
  • Target: Black Friday starts at 9 p.m. on Thursday. That’s the earliest Target has ever opened on Thanksgiving Day. Also new this year, additional doorbusters will go on sale at 4 a.m. on Black Friday.  Shoppers who spend $50 or more on apparel, accessories or home products between 4 a.m. and noon on Friday will get a $10 Target gift card to use on a future purchase. Target says its website will have exclusive discounts starting Thanksgiving Day. 
  • Toys R Us: The fun starts at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Look for the Thanksgiving weekend circular in newspapers on Thursday. Those sale items will also be posted at Toysrus.com. You can see some of the deals right now on the company’s Facebook page. The first 200 customers in line when each store opens will receive a free “Great Big Goody Bag” filled with stocking-stuffers and valued at $30. For those who don’t want to give up their Thanksgiving to shop, Toys R Us and Babies R Us will offer a new selection of doorbuster deals at 5 a.m. Friday morning. 
  • Wal-Mart: The doors open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night, two hours earlier than last year. This is just the first of three Black Friday sales at Wal-Mart. The electronics event begins at 10 p.m. and the third wave of door-busters starts at 5 a.m. on Friday and lasts through the weekend. Something else new this year at Wal-Mart: the “1-Hour In-Stock Guarantee” on Thanksgiving night. Customers who are inside the store or in-line between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. are “guaranteed” to get super-low prices on the Apple iPad2, an Emerson 32” TV and LG Blue-ray player. If any of these items sell out before 11 p.m., and the customer pays for it before midnight, the product will be shipped to that Wal-Mart store for pick up before Christmas.

Your iPhone or Android is probably in your pocket no matter where you go, so why not take advantage of it during your shopping trips? NBCNews.com's Rosa Golijan shows you how.

(You can print a simple list of Black Friday 2012 store hours at Cheapism.com)

More Black Friday Resources

Herb Weisbaum is The ConsumerMan. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter or visit The ConsumerMan website.

If you're ready to begin the holiday shopping blitz, TODAY contributor Elizabeth Mayhew has tips on what to buy this month, including the best deals on electronics you'll find on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, as well as low prices on cookware and kitchen appliances.