The holiday shopping season can either rally your competitive spirit or fill you with dread. Retailers operate on the assumption, and fervent hope, that it’s the former, rolling out doorbusters and flash sales to lock down their share of the $730 billion that Americans are expected to spend this year.

With the clock ticking down to Thanksgiving Day sales and the five precious days that culminate with Cyber Monday, the game is on for consumers looking to score the best deals on the toys, games and gizmos on their shopping lists. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a Black Friday survival guide to help you sort through your gift-giving options.

Deals come to those who strategize

Retailers have become more creative in how they structure and roll out discounts, so finding the best deal starts with devising a game plan. That increasingly means scouring social media, monitoring your phone for flash sales and relentlessly comparison-shopping — whether buying in store or online — in addition to poring through retailers’ circulars and Black Friday deals. There are five strategies every shopper should know for scoring the best deals on Black Friday.

A rundown of the hottest toys

This year’s crop of the hottest toys of the season brings back favorites such as Hatchimals and L.O.L. Surprise! as well as an array of marvelously messy slimes and exciting options from the “Star Wars” and “Frozen” movie franchises. Spin Master, which counts Paw Patrol and Bakugan among its many popular offerings, has added the groundbreaking Owleez to its lineup — an interactive toy that can be taught to fly. Large retailers like Walmart, Target and Amazon are expanding inventories and exclusives, but even the mom-and-pop locations are bolstering their selections and offering services such as free gift wrapping.

Gamers’ delight

Keep in mind that not every deal is a good one this holiday season. The staff at Launcher combed through all of the announced sales that might be of interest to gamers, and we’ve highlighted our favorite deals. Instead of scanning the Internet for deals, we’ve compiled a roundup of the best bets for consoles, games, peripherals and more.

All things tech

Tech gifts can be utilitarian or fun — and often both. Be it a streaming subscription, the most sought-after headphones or a portable photo printer, tech reporter Heather Kelly covers all the bases in her holiday tech guide.

Thanksgiving/Black Friday store hours

Though more Americans expect to do their holiday shopping online, retailers still adhere to extended hours and doorbuster deals at their brick-and-mortar locations on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Target, Kmart, Kohl’s, Macy’s and other major retailers will begin the busiest shopping weekend of the year.

Cyber Monday is the new Black Friday

This year for the first time, most U.S. consumers — 54 percent — will forgo brick-and-mortar retail and do the bulk of their holiday shopping online. That shift has caused retailers to rethink their approach to the shopping day, with some setting up war rooms and watching consumers’ real-time reactions. That gives them the flexibility to quickly change prices or introduce flash sales hour by hour. At Lord & Taylor, executives say, it’s clear “that Cyber Monday is becoming more important than Black Friday.”

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