“Black Friday” is the nickname in the retailing world for the day after Thanksgiving when many people start their Christmas shopping, and stores offer some of their most enticing sales and promotions of the year. It is a day of terrific opportunities for consumers. But it can also be a day of frustration and regret, where you miss out on items you were intent on getting, and you end up having made purchases that in retrospect don’t seem like such great deals after all.
In order to best take advantage of Black Friday, you need to approach it strategically. Follow these top ten tips and you’ll be a savvy Black Friday shopper:
1. Do your homework.
Only go to stores for Black Friday purchases when you have to. Many stores will have the same items on sale for the same prices on their website for online purchases, often starting on Thanksgiving Thursday. Not to mention there are retailers like Amazon to consider that are solely online. So do your price shopping in advance, make purchases online where appropriate, and go to the stores on Friday only as needed.
2. Prepare a tentative route.
A key to Black Friday is logistics. Choose which store is most crucial to be standing outside at dawn when they open. From there, carefully put together a route that will enable you to most efficiently hit the most stores in the least time. Consider traffic patterns, parking, your estimate of how long you’ll be in each store, the timing of certain special temporary promotions, etc.
3. Bring the ads and your notes.
By the time Black Friday rolls around, you will have had access to numerous mailers, newspaper ads, and deals you found online (some stores have “secret” deals at their website-for in-store purchases, not online purchases-that they don’t put in their other ads and mailers, so that’s a place worth checking). You should have cut these out/printed these, and circled the items you’re interested in. Beyond that, you should have neatly organized notes about these intended purchases. For instance, you might have circled an $89 charcoal grill that’s on sale for a limited time as a “doorbuster,” and in your notes you remind yourself that if this store runs out, the same grill can still be purchased at almost as good a sale price of $92 later in the day at such-and-such store. Certainly your notes should include all store opening and closing times.
4. Work as a team.
There are so many sales at so many stores, and some of them very time-sensitive where only the people standing in line at 6 AM have any chance of getting the hot items, that unless you’ve figured out a way to violate the laws of physics so you can be in more than one place at the same time, you risk missing out on far more than you get. One way to mitigate this problem is to work as a team. If you have a spouse and a 16 year old daughter, for instance, that enables you to be in three places at once, which is certainly an improvement. Make sure everyone on the team is fully prepared with a copy of the ads and your notes. Keep in frequent cell phone communication throughout the day, so you can know what everyone has accomplished at all times, and you can make necessary changes to the itinerary as conditions change.
5. Be comfortable if you have to line up outside.
If you’ll only be outside ten minutes waiting for a store to open, no big deal. But to get some of the best early bird specials, it may be necessary to arrive an hour or more ahead of time to line up. If so, prepare so you won’t be cold and miserable in the dark. Dress warmly. Consider bringing such items as a folding chair, sleeping bag, umbrella, snack, thermos of coffee, and something to occupy your time, like a book, iPod, video game player, etc.
6. Bring sufficient funds.
Make sure you bring credit cards that each of the stores on your itinerary takes. (This is one of the points that can be covered in your notes: a list of which of your credit cards can be used at which stores.) Try to use the cards that currently offer you the best cashback or other perks. Bring cash, a checkbook, or other means of payment in case there is a problem with one or more of your cards.
7. Don’t overpurchase.
The psychology of Black Friday generates a kind of buying mania, and this is what the stores count on. Some of their most discounted sale items they’re even losing money on (called “loss leaders”), but their intent is to get you in the door with those so you’ll buy lots of other items too, that are profitable for them. But you can be disciplined and avoid being exploited. Think carefully before making any purchase that’s not on your list. Are you sure this is the best fallback item for that gift you were unable to get because the store ran out? Are you sure this supposed sale price of 30% off is really better than the price you might find on this item at other stores, online, or some other day between now and Christmas? Are you sure this off brand item for the really tempting price that you didn’t research ahead of time is really worth even this discounted amount? When in doubt, don’t buy.
8. Inquire about price matching.
It may be a long shot, as even many stores that normally have a policy to match other stores’ sale prices will suspend that policy for a special event like Black Friday, but if you find an item that you intend to buy at a later store for a better price, see if this store would be willing to match that price to save you a trip. If they think it’s the only way to keep you in their store making other purchases, they might just do it.
9. Be flexible when facing long lines.
Your time is precious on Black Friday. You have your route all laid out for a reason. There are stores you have to hit by certain times to make your key purchases. So if you find yourself in a store making one or two fairly small, not-so-crucial purchases early in the day, and you’ve budgeted twenty minutes for this store and a glance at the monstrous line tells you you’ll likely be stuck in it for a minimum of twice that long, your best move may just be to bail. You thereby miss out on fulfilling your intentions at this store, but it keeps you in the game for the later, more important, stores, and even gives you a jump of a few extra minutes to get to them.
10. Be sure to get receipts for all purchases.
Gifts not infrequently need to be returned, which generally necessitates having the receipt. Furthermore, many Black Friday promotions are in the form of mail-in rebates. For instance, a $400 printer might be on sale for $300, with an additional $100 mail-in rebate, bringing it down to half price. But for that too you’ll need to have the receipt. In fact, one of the first things you should do when you get home from your marathon shopping day is organize all your receipts and rebate offers. Get those forms filled out and mailed in; it’s easy to forget or lose things if you put that task off.
Armed with these strategies, you should be able to out compete most other shoppers, defend yourself against the stores taking advantage of you, and have a successful Black Friday.
Karen Whiting, “Black Friday Team Shopping Strategy.” Suite101.
“Black Friday Strategy & Advice.” 2010 Black Friday Ads.
“The Dealnews Black Friday Strategy Guide.” Dealnews.