Is Super Bowl XLV finally going to nudge you off your La-Z-Boy and into a retail showroom for a new, perhaps bigger, TV? If so, here are 10 quick tips for making your HDTV shopping experience as super as the game itself.
1. Read the fine print. Ads for the Super Bowl are already out there, so scour them for hard-to-meet terms and conditions. Some may stipulate that deals are in-store-only specials. Others may be available only during select hours, or require you to pay the full price up front, then file for a rebate (which can involve an arduous redemption process). Also, check to see whether the item you want is available "in limited quantities," which will likely be sold out by the time you get there.
2. Look for a store with a price guarantee. Be sure to find out whether the store's price guarantee is in effect for sale items. With many stores, you have a 30-day window, but with others it may last longer. You'll be protected against any price drops either by that store or its competitors for that period of time. That'll help you sleep better at night.
3. Get the TV delivered in time for the game. Check the last date of purchase required to receive guaranteed delivery or installation before kickoff. No one wants to host—or attend—a Super Bowl party where the chips and dip are the featured attraction.
4. Don't let a low price be the only reason for purchasing a TV. Broaden your options by deciding on a few models you'd like to own—and the features you think you'll need—before you start your Super Bowl TV shopping. With several good choices in mind, you'll have a better chance of finding a set you'd really like to own, not just one that that's comparatively cheap. If the set you want isn't a Super Bowl special, ask if the retailer can do anything with the price. There may be some wiggle room on other—often better—sets that aren't included in the promotions. The retail margins may be better on these sets, so the store could shave a few dollars off the price and still do better than with one of the promoted models.
5. Don't try to save money by opting for a smaller screen size. It may be tempting, but we'd guess that few if any TV owners wish they had purchased a smaller set, while many wish they had gone larger.
6. See if the deal is also available online. Check the store's website to see whether in-store deals are available online, enabling you to avoid the hassle and crowds. But make sure there's enough time for the TV to be delivered, or find out if they will let you order online and pick up locally. Also, some stores may have Web-only specials not available to in-store shoppers.
7. Use one—or several—of the online shopping "bots." These can connect you to dozens of retailers selling the product you seek, sometimes at significantly different prices. Among the better-known bots: PriceGrabber, BizRate, DealTime, Froogle, MySimon, Shopping.com, Shopzilla, and Yahoo Shopping. BizRate and Shopzilla are affiliated, as are Shopping.com and DealTime, and you'll generally get the same results in each of those pairs. Compare the total purchase price, including tax, handling, and shipping, rather than just the price of the TV. Many sites let you sort the list by total price.
8. Check the store's return policy. Make sure that Super Bowl specials aren't exempted or shackled by high restocking fees should you want to return the purchase.
9. Don't incur financing fees. If you're financing the TV through a store's "no payment, no interest" promotion, make sure you pay off the set within the allotted time. Most of these programs will back-date interest to the time of purchase and charge very high interest rates, which could easily wipe out any sales savings.
10. Pay with a credit card. Some credit card companies will mediate on your behalf if there's a dispute between you and the store. Also, many credit cards will double the manufacturer's warranty, giving you a free extra year. Try to pay the charge off immediately, though, so the interest doesn't wipe out your savings.
—James K. Willcox