Shop like an American from the comfort of your home

For Canadians, Thanksgiving already seems like a long way off, but if you have cable TV, you're probably aware that the American version of Turkey Day is right around the corner. And as with most things, Americans do it bigger — and they totally outdo us by capping it all off with an extra indulgence. First, they stuff themselves with turkey and root vegetables (we seem to have that part covered) and then, they shop like their lives depended on it.

But then, if you've been seeing ads from American retailers on TV, it's easy to see why: door crashers, limited-time offers and the deepest discounts you'll see all year — on everything. What's changed from years past is that American retailers are spreading these deals south of the border - so much so that Canadian retailers are increasingly following their lead.

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Want to slash your holiday spending? Here's how to do it, Yankee style.

What's Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

You can't expect to reach retail nirvana without a little enlightenment, so let's talk terminology. First up, Black Friday. In the U.S., this refers to the day after Thanksgiving (Nov 23rd this year). Rather than spending it sleeping off a mild turkey coma, Americans get up early and hit the shops for the first official day of holiday shopping. That's why it's the biggest shopping day of the holiday season — or for some retailers, even the entire year. This one crazy day has the power to put a company's books "in the black" (re:positive net income) - as opposed to in the red (re:losing money) - which is how this spending smorgasbord got its name.

Cyber Monday (Nov 26th this year), on the other hand, is a bit of a newer phenomenon. It refers to the Monday following Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and it's believed to be spurred by shoppers' return to work where high-speed Internet connections allow them to extend their weekend shopping sprees online. And, in true Black Friday fashion, it tends to be the biggest online shopping day of the year.

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Black Friday in Canada

A recent study commissioned by Staples Canada found that 40 percent of Canadians planned to shop online between Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year, almost double the number who actually did so last year.

According to Adrienne Down Coulson, General Manager for online retail hub ebates.ca, Canadians are expected to hit up online shopping in a much bigger way than ever before, mostly for the better deals that can be found online.

"American merchants are realizing that there's a huge opportunity to reach Canadian shoppers," Coulson said. "Canadians are already shopping on our site way more than they were last year, and we haven't even reached Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We expect traffic on our site to double - if not triple - on those days."

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So Canadians, it seems, are taking the Black Friday bait American retailers are so blatantly throwing our way. But are we just falling for clever marketing? Not according to Couslon.

"Believe the hype — there are better deals," Coulson said. "Especially if you're a planner and you know what's on your list, you'll find a lot of door crasher items at a deep discount — like 30, 50 or even 70 percent off."

Ready…set...SHOP!

If your mouse finger is itching to start hunting down some hot holiday deals in cyberspace this year, there are a few caveats for Canadians. Here are some key things to watch out for:

  • Shipping and duties

Canada is not Timbuktu, but sometimes it seems that way when it comes to getting something shipped from the U.S. Fortunately, many American retailers have wised up and are (finally) cutting their shipping costs around the holidays, even for Canadians.

"This time of year, we do see more retailers offering promotions on shipping to Canada, but it's important to look for sites that are well optimized for Canadians, whether it's a Canadian flag, a Canada toggle or a .ca address," Coulson said. "Also be sure to look over your shopping cart carefully before you click 'purchase' to ensure you're comfortable with any extra charges."

With that said, Coulson says that a lot of the discounts are so steep around this time of year, the shipping costs might not even be an issue.

"More of the big brands are catering to Canadians really well," Coulson said. "At this time of year, the discounts may be deep enough that even with shipping, it's worth your money to shop online."

[More: Myths of outlet mall shopping: Are the bargains really worth the drive?]

As for duty, look for companies that'll ship via USPS (U.S. postal Service); the packages will arrive via Canada Post with lower or no charges. And if you live close to the border, you can always use a U.S. mailing service (which provides a U.S. address to ship to) and then drive across the border to pick it up.  This works particularly well for large items.

  • Security

Although Canadians are getting increasingly comfortable with online shopping (Statistics Canada says the number of Internet orders is climbing consistently), some people are still a little leery about entering a credit card number.

Coulson recommends sticking to big merchants you trust, and only entering credit card and payment information in a secure shopping cart session. (You'll know you're there by the padlock symbol that appears beside the address bar in your browser; the website address should also start with "https" rather than "http".)

"The 'S' is for security," Coulson said. "When that's there, there's nothing to worry about."

You should also know that major credits cards generally have no or very low tolerance policies when it comes to fraudulent use of your card. In other words, if a crook gets your number, you won't be on the hook for their purchases.

  • Timing

While many stores in the U.S. are reportedly opening their doors as early as 4 a.m., if you're shopping online, there's no need to rush. Coulson says the online deals will be starting Black Friday at the earliest and will persist through the weekend and Cyber Monday. And when it comes to buying electronics, Coulson says, wait until Monday.

"That's when the electronics stores will offer the best deals," she said.

  • Strategy

When it comes to making your shopping both fast and frugal, a game plan is key. Make a list before you pull out your credit card. That way you can do a precision job of shopping without even leaving your house — and score the online deals you covet, before others snap them up.

We're catching up

These days, there's hardly anything Americans won't buy online. Canadians aren't quite there yet, but when it comes to getting the best deals, you can bet we won't be far behind. Now, who's up for a second round of Turkey and stuffing?

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