Navigating the New Rules of Discount Shopping

Just in time for the holiday sales crush, there are new rules for discount shopping. Author Mark Ellwood wrote the book "Bargain Fever". He says in the last decade the landscape for finding real deals has become more complicated. With nearly half of all merchandise sold on sale, not all discounts are the same. NBC 5's Kim Vatis questioned Ellwood about how to get the best deals in a discounted world.

Bargain Hunters love Black Friday, but is it worth the hassle? Are you really getting deals?
On Black Friday, going to the mall is great fun, but are you always going to get great deals? No. You are prone to little tricks that some retailers play. Largely you are likely to find an awful lot of stuff that wasn't there on Tuesday. It was brought in especially to sell at a cheap price. So in other words, is it a bargain? No. Is it cute and cheap? Sure.

You say the stress of the holiday and Black Friday makes us weak in the wallet. What do you mean?
There's a chemical in our brain called dopamine that I have nicknamed "Buy-Agra" because it makes us spend every time. It's triggered when we get more for less. When a restaurant sends you a coupon for a free slice of chocolate cake on your birthday -- cue the dopamine. When you see a 50 percent off sign -- even more dopamine. Once you've got dopamine in your brain, watch your wallet, because it's going to stay open.

What about online deals around the holiday?
The change this year of course is that more and more brick and mortar stores are open on Thanksgiving. It's not Thanksgiving anymore its "Gray Thursday." So the stores that aren't open, what's going to happen to their websites? I bet you're going to get great deals.

What are your tricks to getting the best deals online?
It's called Cart Abandonment. You've got to think of online shopping like a date with someone new and really cute. You must never put out the first time. Log into the website and put whatever you want to buy into the cart. And then close the browser window and walk away. What have you just done? You gained the system. Because that retailer is thinking drat I lost that sale, and the way they will close it is by sending you an email reminder telling you "oh, we think forgot something" and what are they going to do? They will close the sale with a coupon in your email.

What about specific sites that help you score deals?
No one should shop on line without installing "Poach It". Because every time you have a product in front of you on your browser -- hit the poach it button and it will claw the whole of the internet for any coupon that is available. "Shop It To Me" is my favorite sale tracking device. I decide what I want to buy at the beginning of the season, maybe a navy blazer, and I fill out the form saying tell me when it is on sale and I sit back and wait. When "Shop it to Me's" email comes in, I know I have got a sale.

You're not a fan of outlet malls, why?
Outlet Malls are full of products that have been specially made for them. It doesn't mean they are not cute, but does it mean that t-shirt that is an outlet exclusive is a bargain? Not really. It was always made to be cheap. Outlet Malls also use a really clever trick when it comes to price tags. Next time you are there, look at it. You can see how much a t-shirt costs. It will say $9.99, but above that price it will say something like compare at or retail value. Those words are like an elephant cupcake. They mean nothing. You need to look for a tag that says original price. Only if you see the words original price do you know that product was definitely sold at a real store and not just the outlet mall.

Why is it so much harder to get a real deal?
These days everything is on sale. In fact retailers sell between 45 and 50 percent of everything they have at some kind of promotion. For me the way to find out if you are really getting a bargain these days is that sale sign. Once you are hitting 30 percent -- that's a real deal. Anything less than 30 percent off is an insult. No one should ever pay full price for anything ever again.

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