Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — is traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year. But for hardcore bargain hunters, Wednesday is...

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Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — is traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year.

But for hardcore bargain hunters, Wednesday is probably even more important. It’s the day obsessive Black Friday shoppers begin to finalize battle plans for bagging the best bargains.

Not content to wait for the ads in their Thanksgiving Day newspapers, these shoppers turn to more than a half-dozen Web sites posting advance copies of major retailers’ advertising circulars before they’re publicly available.

Days, even weeks, before Black Friday, sites like BFAds.net, GottaDeal.com and BlackFridayAds.com are competing to be first to leak news about the best doorbuster deals from Target, Circuit City, Costco and dozens of other stores.

Among this year’s hottest bargains revealed so far: a Compaq Presario notebook for $299.99 at Circuit City (regularly $679.99); an HP all-in-one printer at Circuit City, $129.99 (regularly $279.99); and a prelit 6 ½-foot Christmas tree at Sears for $99.99 (regularly $199.99).

The Web sites are increasingly popular. BlackFridayAds.com has 80,000 visitors per day. GottaDeal’s Black Friday site has more than 105,000 registered members.

And last year, BFAds.net had some 3 million visitors the day before Thanksgiving.

In addition to offering sneak peeks at the sales, the sites provide a variety of tools for deal-chasers:

• Customized, printable shopping lists and comparison pages to size up the features of sale products.

• A ranking system on BFAds.net that lets visitors rate whether they think the sales are a good deal or not.

• Black Friday deals already available to buy online, so you can skip the lines.

• A most-wanted list that shows the top items BlackFridayAds.com users have placed on their shopping lists. The No. 1 item: selected DVDs at Wal-Mart for $1.88.

Also helpful are the message boards at BFAds.net, a window into the world of extreme shoppers who gather to swap tips and refine their techniques.

Strategy tips

One member described her Black Friday strategy, which involved a friend to hold her place in line, walkie-talkies, a binder listing store hours and desired sale items, and a prioritized roster of stores to visit.

The casual shopper uses the site to compare prices and create a shopping plan for the big day, BFAds.net founder Michael Brim said.

For the more diehard shopper, Brim recommends a couple strategies to ensure you get the Black Friday bargains. Hide your desired items in random places throughout the store before the big day — say, inside a refrigerator or laundry hamper at the back of the store. Then stroll into the store an hour before the sale ends, grab your items and head for checkout.

Unless another shopper or store employee, hip to this scheme, thinks to look inside that refrigerator and gets your items first.

Or buy your Black Friday items a week in advance. Return during the sale and head for customer service to request a price-match for your purchase. (Some stores don’t allow price-matching during Black Friday sales, Brim notes.)

Retailers respond

Black Friday ads have been available in previous years in remote backwaters of the Internet frequented by bargain hunters.

But since 2004, an increasing number of Black Friday Web sites have made that sales information more accessible.

Some retailers take a dim view of their insider information being exposed.

“It’s nice to see a lot of enthusiasm around Black Friday, but it’s unfortunate when proprietary information is being released against the retailer’s will,” said Scott Krugman, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation.

Posting the ads early alerts competitors to the retailer’s sales strategy and may allow them to adjust their prices accordingly, Krugman said. Or the information could be wrong, leading to disappointed customers and damaged store reputations.

Retailers are particularly sensitive in the weeks leading up to Christmas because 20 percent of retail industry sales occur during the holiday season. Black Friday is so named because it’s traditionally when retailers aim to move out of the red and into the profitable black for the year.

Brim said retailers occasionally demand the removal of their leaked ads from his Web site, and he complies to avoid a fight.

But most stores appreciate the extra advertising.

“I think we’re giving them a lot more traffic than we’re taking away,” said Brim, who runs the Web site from his apartment at California Polytechnic State University, where he is an engineering student.

Brim said he finds ads by trolling online message boards and from anonymous submissions to his Web site. He assumes the leakers are involved in creating or printing the ads.

He’s careful to say the sales are all speculation until the ads are officially released — but “we do have a very good track record.”

If you’re not hearty enough to brave the lines, don’t despair. Black Friday prices typically set the tone for next year’s prices on those items, Brim said.

“If it’s going to hit that price once, it’s going to hit that again sometime in the future.”

Jolayne Houtz: 206-464-3122 or jhoutz@seattletimes.com