Forget "Avatar," Go Shopping

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We know everyone's psyched to see the new multizillion dollar James Cameron techno-eco-thriller with all those blue people.

But here's a better offer: buy a cheap flat-panel tv and get endless viewing pleasure. Yes, if you haven't noticed, flat-screen tvs and lots of other electronic gear you've always coveted - camcorders and notebook computers and the like - are flying off the shelves at bargain basement prices!

That's right. Flat-screen tvs are going for an average 22 percent less than last year, according to market research company NPD. Average price now? $535. Notebook computers are off a whopping 26 percent, to an average price of $500. Want a camcorder? They're down 33 percent.

Call it "gadget deflation," the Wall Street Journal says, noting that price cuts are moving merchandise at retailers like industry leader Best Buy - but cutting into the company's profit margins. Whatever you call it, it's good news for budget-minded consumers who've been flooding stores since Black Friday to pick up pre-Christmas deals.

What's hot? First time buyers of flat-screen tvs are out in droves, while those who already have one are going for a second, smaller model for the bedroom (uh-oh). Also popular: any mini-version of previous hits, like netbook computers and Flip camcorders.

The big question for shoppers is whether to buy now or bet on even steeper markdowns post-Christmas.
The word on the street is that these might be the best bargains you'll find. With leaner inventories and price cuts starting so early in the season, "retailers might not be as aggressive after Christmas," suggests NPD industry analyst Ross Rubin.

'Tis certainly the season to go gadget crazy.
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