Ready or not, holiday shopping is here with the arrival of November 1st this weekend. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving on November 27th this year has the stores preparing right now for what they expect will be their single biggest day of sales for 2015. It kicks off the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas that will determine their fate for a successful holiday season.
I have been through Black Friday sales over 40 times in my retail career and have seen it all, from the bargains of a lifetime to sometimes completely foolish offerings purchased by a frantic public.
One thing that has changed over the years is that Black Friday has grown into almost a whole week of ads and savings when you include the day before sales and the day of sales, which have grown over the past few years. And then there’s the growing Small Business Saturday and blockbuster Cyber Monday with another opportunity to shop for great deals, this time from the comfort of home (or work, I won’t tell your boss). So check out my tips to help you be the best bargain hunter around this holiday season!
Black Friday Shopping Tips
Do your homework before Black Friday
You can begin to check out the ads from major retailers online right now, long before they hit your local newspaper. The competition has become so fierce that the retailers plan way ahead, and aren’t so inclined to keep them a secret as was true back in the day when “Macy’s wouldn’t tell Gimbel’s”. This gives you a huge advantage. You now have weeks ahead to research and compare prices to find the items you really want and need.
Use the opportunity to check online comparison sites such as pricegrabber.com to see whose deals are the best before you actually shop. Plus you’ll have time to read all the product reviews. You can then determine whether you are interested in the early bird sale items or even the Wednesday night before items as your booty for the event. And don’t forget, many retailers will be open on Thanksgiving Day (I know, I know, it’s a terrible practice but I have no control over it) for special deals as well. Each day will have its very own ads and doorbusters to compare.
Make a budget and stick to it!
I preach about budgets all the time and holiday shopping season is no different than anything else. It’s really easy to get caught up in the frenzy of holiday shopping, but realistically you have to restrain yourself a little so that you don’t dive off the high board into shallow water. You certainly don’t want to dig a deep hole of debt (or a deeper hole of debt) and ruin your finances for just a few minutes of excitement shopping. Make your list and check it twice, just like Santa. When your list is completed, it’s time to stop spending and go home.
There are a few ways to pay for your purchases. Cash of course is king and if you use it, when you run out, you’re done! Cash is a way not to overspend, but of course if it’s lost or stolen, you’re ruined. You could use your debit card that will protect you if you lose the card, but you could overspend that way and if you don’t report a lost/stolen card within 48 hours, you can be held liable for up to $500 in fraudulent charges.
The final choice would be a credit card. They’re better protected from fraud and loss, but you could be buried with a huge bill when you’re done if you’re not careful. I’d recommend using a credit card if you can be responsible with it. Not only will it give you better purchase protection, but if you use a store card (which you’d need to pay the balance in full, those cards have high interest rates) you may be eligible for special incentives and discounts. Don’t forget, using a reward credit card may also give you a cash back discount, with higher amounts on special categories. In any case, make sure you can pay off your card balances without incurring high interest rates and months of payments.
And finally, if you use a credit or debit card, be sure to keep a running total in your head (or on your phone or in a notepad) so that you know exactly how much you’re spending and when you’ve reached the end of your budget.
Bring the ad with you when shopping
To avoid any confusion with items, models, colors, prices, deals, etc., bring the ads or printouts along with you to compare. Many items look alike and stores often substitute items in deals to increase the selection. This may or may not be a good thing for you. If the item you want is gone or substituted, you may be out of luck. Most stores have limited quantities on the best deals and won’t issue rain checks like they normally do during the rest of the year. You can and should ask, but it’s not the usual case unless the store hasn’t yet received the item (which can happen). Make sure you also bring your store loyalty card, your desired credit card, and coupons with you as well. For lots of special promotions and coupons not in local ads, check online sites/apps like retailmenot.com.
Don’t assume everything you see is a bargain
Just because it’s Black Friday doesn’t always mean all items are a true bargain. Many items are specially produced just for these events and may be a stripped-down cheaper version of something you really wanted. There’s a saying that “sometimes the cheap can be expensive“, so if you buy cheap, you may be buying again sooner than you’d like to replace it. Be wary and compare item specifications to the ones you had your eye on before Black Friday.
Know the store policies before you buy
Check online or in the store itself for their policies, like returns, price adjustments, rain checks, use of coupons, competitive price matching, etc. The written policies trump anything you may be told by a well-meaning store associate. The policies should be found easily and will be provided to you if you ask. If you don’t like the policy, don’t make the purchase. If your bargain includes a rebate, make sure you find the area where the rebates are posted or ask at checkout time for the appropriate documentation. Get a gift receipt if that’s applicable so the person receiving your gift has time and ability to exchange or return the item if they need a different size or color, or it just wasn’t the right gift for them.
Don’t buy expensive accessories or extended warranties when you shop
Many purchases, particularly in the world of electronics, will have offers for extended warranties and lots of accessories to add on to the sale. Skip them. They are some of the biggest profit makers for retailers and are almost never discounted or necessary. I know you’re thinking, “but what if it breaks down and I’m at risk for a huge loss?”. Well, everything electronic has some sort of manufacturer’s warranty and when electronic items fail, they mostly tend to fail immediately or shortly after they are first used, so your risk is minimal here. Also, if you are purchasing with a major credit card, the card may offer an extended warranty at no cost (check with the provider for details). Lastly, with the way we purchase and use electronics, you’ll probably want to replace it with a newer, fancier model long before it fails!
Divide and conquer, and be prepared for a long day
Needless to say, you won’t be alone when you shop on Black Friday. Dress appropriately, be patient, and be prepared. It might be a good idea to split up your shopping party. By using a divide-and-conquer strategy, you might have a better chance of finding and buying more of the items in short supply on your list. Bring a bottle of water and some small pocket snacks if you’re heading out for a long trip. Set a meet-up time with your shopping buddies and compare notes on your treasure hunt. Then kick back and have a nice lunch to restore your batteries.
Keep in mind a couple of important points:
Cyber Monday is just after Black Friday and shopping online you may find many items on sale that were not on sale just prior. Although Cyber Monday shopping may not be the lowest prices of the season, you can do it from the comfort of your own home and still take advantage of discounts, online coupons, credit card rewards, and the like. In many cases, there will be free shipping as well, so it is a viable option.
Some items that have great prices in November can and will be greatly reduced as you get closer and closer to the Christmas holiday. It’s a fact that in order to clear inventory when the most people are shopping, stores will take markdowns right up to Christmas Eve. So knowing that, lots of people wait and shop at the end of the season. Would I recommend it? Probably not for your must-have items. But waiting can save you more if you can find what you’re looking for. It’s a gamble that could pay off if you’re willing to take that risk.
Want more specific Black Friday info? Check out the Penny Hoarder’s Black Friday portal. They even have a live around-the-clock blog for 48 hours starting at 3 pm on November 25th. 20 money-saving experts will be on hand to answer all your shopping questions. Don’t miss out!
Are you prepared to start your holiday shopping? What tips do you have to help get through the busy, hectic spree of bargain hunting this year?
Image courtesy of Thomas Sørenes at commons.wikimedia.org (with changes)