6 essential tips for online Black Friday shoppersIt’s all too easy to get lost in the madness of Black Friday—especially this year, with big-box stores like Wal-Mart and Toys “R” Us throwing their doors open as early as 10 p.m. on Thursday night. (So much for seconds at Thanksgiving dinner.)

In spite of what you might think, many of the best early-bird and door-buster deals are actually available online. Last year, for example, Wal-Mart warned anxious shoppers that it wouldn’t have the same deals online as it did in stores; by late Friday, however, almost all of the same sales appeared on Walmart.com.

That said, there’s still an art to sniffing out the best post-Thanksgiving (or even pre-Turkey Day) deals online. Follow these six steps to save time, gas, and money on Black Friday, starting with…

1. Jot down ideas using online gift lists
Stumped on what to put under the tree for that special someone? If you’ve hit a brick wall, you may find inspiration from the gift lists on sites like Daily Candy and Gifts.com.

And once you’ve found some great picks, keep ’em organized using an online shopping list; try the one on Wishpot.com, for starters, or go mobile with The Christmas List for iPhone.

2. Find the best price
Make sure to take advantage of comparison-shopping sites like PriceGrabber.com. And when you do, make a point of selecting any necessary parts for gadgets, household appliances, and toys—like, say, essential attachments, batteries, or even power cords. That way, you can prevent retailers from masking the true price of a given item by skimping on those not-so-optional extras.

3. Find out when the sales begin
It’s called “Black Friday,” but that doesn’t mean the best deals won’t start early—as in, say, on Thursday, Wednesday, or even earlier. To keep up with who’s slashing prices on what—and when—check out Black Friday Ads, which keeps tabs on the biggest sales during Black Friday week.

4. Get a head start
Yes, even online, the early bird gets the worm when it comes to nabbing the best gifts before they’re swept off the shelves by frenzied Black Friday shoppers.

To keep fellow shoppers from beating you to the punch, check out your fave sites before Friday and add items to your shopping cart. When the starting gun goes off, just click the “checkout” button.

5. Grab some coupon codes
Don’t forget about sites that offer coupons and discounted prices on all types of gifts. I suggest trying RetailMeNot and CouponCabin, for starters.

6. Shop on your phone
Online stores are now offering mobile-only deals aimed at those waiting in long lines at the mall. Stay a step ahead by staying on the couch this Friday.

Bonus tip: Relax
All your shopping is finished, you got the very best deals, and now you can kick back on Black Friday rather than get into a fist fight in the mall parking lot or lose your kid in Target again. Congratulations!