Black Friday can be overwhelming. For the last few years, what started as the biggest shopping day of the year has steadily grown into its own season. Deals steadily appear from early November onward now, and without a shopping strategy in place, you can miss the best ones.
Fortunately, I’ve got you covered. Whether you’re shopping Black Friday in-store, online, or both, I’ve rounded up some expert strategies to ensure your shopping experience is as smooth as possible. Read on to see when to start your planning, what you should have on hand, and even a few sneaky ways to snag extra savings.
BEFORE WE START, HERE IS A LIST OF THINGS YOU SHOULDN’T BUY ON BLACK FRIDAY
Black Friday deals often aren’t worth missing Thanksgiving dinner or tryptophan-induced slumber for. Even the National Retail Federation changed the methodology of its surveys after 2014, when 55.1% of holiday shoppers were in stores or online during the holiday weekend, down from 58.7% a year earlier.
However, it couldn’t hide the fact that spending over that holiday weekend slipped from $407 a person in 2013 to $319 in 2015. Of that 2015 figure, only $256.46 was spent on holiday gifts. It’s hard to fault Thanksgiving Day sales: The 34% of shoppers who left Thanksgiving Dinner early wasn’t that far removed from the 32% who did the same in 2013.
Online shoppers haven’t been overly enthusiastic about it, either. According to ComScore, the $1.6 billion spent online on Black Friday jumped 10% from the year before, but couldn’t match the more than $2.3 billion made on Cyber Monday and was little more than the $1.4 billion raked in on Green Monday a week later.
Meanwhile, the 9% growth of online Thanksgiving couldn’t mate the 32% growth of online sales on Thanksgiving the year before, with sales hovering around 1 billion both years. In fact, the $20 billion spent online from November 1 through November 26 last year was nearly ten times the $2.2 billion spent on Thanksgiving weekend.
A National Retail Federation survey from last October, meanwhile, found that 40% of shoppers started their holiday shopping before November, while a November 10 survey discovered that not only had 57% of consumers started their holiday shopping, but nearly 14% were more than halfway finished. Why? According to the NRF, most think it helps them spread out their spending (61.4%). Almost half (48%) choose to do so to avoid holiday crowds.
Are they worried about missing out on great deals? No. In fact, 41% are shopping early because prices and promotions are too good to pass up. However, not every item gets the royal treatment on Thanksgiving week.
NOT A GOOD TIME FOR FURNITURE
If you’re hoping Black Friday will score you a discount on that dining room set or sectional you’ve been looking for, forget it. The furniture sales cycle resets in July and August, when stores are getting their next season’s offerings and pushing out last year’s stuff at a discount. If you’ve waited until November, you’ve basically waited your way out of a deal.
The same goes for patio furniture and outdoor items. Home an garden stores start clearing space in September and October to make way for holiday and Black Friday offerings — especially appliances, which are dirt cheap right now — by November. You aren’t getting that grill, table or umbrella any more cheaply than you’d get it in April.
NO AIRFARE AND VACATION PACKAGES
Absolutely not Sure, you can likely still find great deals on hotel rooms, but just about every other travel expense started climbing in September and hasn’t stopped. You’re even reaching the point where those early travel “dark weeks” in January aren’t the great deals they were back in October.
Wait until January, when the holidays are over, spring break is still a long way off and both airlines and travel sites will want to fill seats and tours in the new year.
NO GIFT CARDS
Do not pay full price for a gift card. Black Friday has a few gift card deals, but there’s no impetus for retailers to sell you some at a discount during a time when they’re already slashing prices. You could get the exact same deal by purchasing those cards now, or you could indulge in the very practice gift cards were meant to encourage: procrastination.
Let the gift-buying world spin madly on without you: retailers chop the price of gift cards dramatically in December with the knowledge that there’s very little time left to shop with them. Also, if you aren’t going to take advantage of Apple’s penchant for dramatically dropping the price of iTunes gift cards later in the holiday season, someone else will.
NO GAMING AND HIGH-POWERED LAPTOPS
Oh, there will still be some deals, but retailers generally consider laptops of any stripe a back-to-school item. That means you missed your best opportunity to pick one up in September and will have to wait until July — when most schools are out and demand is low — to score a better deal.
NO USED VIDEO GAME CONSOLES
Why? With the Xbox One S out, and Sony’s PlayStation Pro debuting in November, older versions of the One and PS4 will be bundled with games and available on the cheap. Even the PS3 will still be available new and really cheap.
NO OLED TVS
Yeah, maybe once we get a discount on one technology that people are taking their time adopting, we can go plunging into the other. Apparently there has been no discounts on an OLED set in nearly a month, and there likely isn’t one coming until next year at the earliest. We’ve just reached the stage where we have most of the country onto HDTVs and off of plasma: the replacement rate’s going to be fairly low among all but the most hardcore first adopters — and even they might sit this out until technology has caught up.
NO WINTER CLOTHES
No! Again, there’s a method to this sort of thing and you upset the balance when you go looking for sweaters, jackets and coats in November.
The best deals and deepest discounts always come in January, after the more foolish shoppers have overpaid for holiday gifts. Coats will go for 50% off on Black Friday, but they’ll fetch even less if you can stay patient and wait for the best deal.
NO HOLIDAY DECORATIONS
This seems like a no-brainer, right? Just wait until after the holidays. Well, we don’t blame you if you lunge for a subpar deal on Black Friday. Last year, Target offered $50 off holiday decoration purchases of $100 or more on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. That’s tremendous and it allows you to use those decorations immediately rather than shoving them into a closet, garage, basement or attic for a year. It won’t be the best deal available if it’s offered again, but there’s something to be said for instant gratification.
NO CHOCOLATES AND FLOWERS
Gross. If you want to take up on a Black Friday offer and hand the love of your life a dead bouquet a month later, be our guest. Maybe there’s an inner Goth that might like such a thing and would be as thrilled with it as he/she is with their 100th Nightmare Before Christmas viewing of the season. However, there’s no reason to go hunting for deals on perishables this early.
> NOW HERE IT GOES THE POSSIBLE GOOD THINGS TO DO
GET FAMILIAR WITH BLACK FRIDAY ADS
The Black Friday ads of 2016 has already been leaked, so now’s a great time to start making your shopping list. Then, double-check your list as new ads are leaked. You don’t have to memorize every single page of the ads, but it’s definitely useful to know what the top offerings look like. Be sure to check out retailers you wouldn’t normally shop as well, just to make sure you’re finding all the best deals.
START SHOPPING ON THANKSGIVING
Black Friday has become its own season in recent years, spanning much more than a single day. (But be skeptical of anything popping up in early November.) In order to take advantage of some of the best deals, you’ll need to be prepared to shop early. You’ll find the bulk of the best offers during Black Friday week, but pay attention on Thanksgiving Day: For four years now, Turkey Day has boasted more top-tier, Editors’ Choice sales than Black Friday.
On Thanksgiving and Black Friday, some stores offer perks to the first shoppers through the door. While shopping early in the week is important, you should also be aware of early bird freebies on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Some stores offer perks to the first shoppers through the door. For instance, last year Kohl’s gave the first 100 customers on Thanksgiving two Fandango movie tickets for free. Cabela’s handed out binoculars, smokers, coolers, and gift cards to the first 600 shoppers in line. Other stores handed out gift cards, tote bags, or even free coffee and doughnuts.
KNOW WHEN TO SHOP IN-STORE VS. ONLINE
In-store shopping on Black Friday can test anyone’s patience. Sparse quantities of doorbusters and extended periods of waiting are the reasons many avoid shopping that day. Make no mistake, though — your in-store mileage may vary based on your location. Stores in highly congested areas will likely draw bigger crowds, and those in smaller towns have the potential to be far less busy. And sometimes the in-store deals are just too good to pass up.
If the thought of facing crowds fills you with despair, you might think online shopping is the easier way to go. And generally, it is. But be warned it comes with its own pitfalls. Rotating deals that sell out fast, a lack of inventory transparency, and crashing websites are all common problems. Be sure to compare the prices of shopping both in-store and online — online could offer better prices, or simply match store pricing, meaning you can avoid those chaotic crowds.
DRAFT YOUR IN-STORE GAME PLAN
Successful Black Friday plans don’t include diving into the crowds and hoping for the best. Create a list of the items you’re shopping for, and which stores will have them. However, don’t forget to check the little things. For example, know the hours of the stores on your list — many will likely open Thursday night, and some discounts will only run for a certain amount of time. If there’s a major discount running only until 6 am, that store should take priority over others. However, very popular items like video game consoles or TV deals will need to head up your list, as those are more likely to have a limited supply in-store.
BE PREPARED FOR LONG LINES
Shopping in-store on Black Friday means you’re sure to encounter at least one significant wait, so make sure you bring entertainment. Add an upbeat playlist to your phone, or download a new audiobook. That said, a good general rule is to carry only the essentials. That thermos of coffee might sound like a great idea when you’re thinking about waiting in the cold, but having to haul it around while you’re shopping will probably be more of a hassle than anything else.
DOWNLOAD APPS TO DOUBLE-CHECK DEALS
While you’re standing in those long lines, why not double-check that you’re actually getting the best price? Rotating deals are huge on Black Friday, especially on sites like Amazon, so you might find even better savings online. If you do find a better price, you might get the store you’re at to match or beat it. Or simply buy the item on your phone and then duck out of that long line of cranky customers. Either way, we suggest downloading the DealNews app in order to stay on top of the latest deals on the go.
AVOID IMPULSE PURCHASES
Impulse purchases can be a real problem when shopping in-store on Black Friday. You might be there for one great deal, only to see another item near the registers or by the door that seems like it’s too good to pass up. Often these “bargains” are actually unnecessary budget busters.
BEWARE FINAL SALE ITEMS
Many Black Friday sale items are marked “final sale — no exceptions.” But what if you bought it in the wrong color? You’re probably out of luck. Some items are returnable, but you could be hit with a restocking fee of 15% or more — especially on electronics. Be familiar with the store’s return policy before you buy.
Some final sale items are returnable, but you could be hit with a restocking fee of 15% or more — especially on electronics.
HAVE BACKUPS READY JUST IN CASE
Being flexible with your shopping list is incredibly important when it comes to avoiding Black Friday disappointment. The biggest doorbusters are often in limited supply; even if you wait in line hours ahead of time, you could still miss out. It’s better to have a backup (or two) that you can grab if your first choice is gone. When you’re making your list, find similar items and you’ll already have something in mind if you aren’t able to snag your first pick.
ORGANIZE THOSE RECEIPTS
A number of the deals you’re planning to chase on Black Friday could involve discounts in the form of mail-in rebates or store credits. Retailers tend to rely on these offers during Black Friday because they can advertise significantly discounted products, but still rake in the full price for those items.
However, redeeming those offers can be tricky for disorganized customers. Don’t let the chaos of Black Friday cost you! We suggest tucking your receipts and rebate forms into a special envelope or section of your wallet. When you’re home, create a spreadsheet with all the pertinent details for each rebate, including the product, store, dates the offers are valid, and anything else you might need in order to bag those savings.
LOOK FOR COUPONS
Before You Go Before you head to the stores, make sure you’ve found all the savings you can. Look for promo codes, whether at the manufacturer’s website, a store’s website, or right here on DealNews to round up those extra discounts. If you’re shopping in-store, don’t forget to check your local paper and online circulars for printable coupons to take along, too.
GET SOCIAL WITH YOUR FAVORITE STORES
Whether you prefer Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or another platform, start following your favorite stores on social media now. Keep a close eye on these accounts, since coupons, sale previews, or even Black Friday ads can appear on social media. These can net you some serious savings on individual items or even your entire purchase, and they might be something you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
THINK ABOUT HOW YOU’LL PAY
In recent years, data breaches have become a serious worry for many shoppers. While chip-equipped credit cards are supposed to be more secure, not all retailers are able to handle EMV technology yet. Carrying cash has its own risks, especially if you’re purchasing big-ticket items.
Before you choose a card to pay with, look into the available fraud protection. It’s important to know how much you’ll be liable for if your card is stolen and used for unauthorized purchases. Be sure to see if your preferred card has an option for sending you alerts via text, email, or phone if an abnormal purchase is made. Signing up for a service like that before you start your holiday shopping could save you a headache later. Also consider which of your cards offers the best rewards, whether they’re cash back, points, or frequent flyer miles.