Getting the best out of Black Friday
“It’s the eye of the shopper
It’s the thrill of the deal
Rising up for the bargain-priced doorbusters
And the fast-moving shopper
Stalks her gift at a steal
And she’s down at the mall with the
Eeeeeyyyyyeeeee of the shopper
The Friday after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday in the retail world. While you may think that’s because the salespeople dread the onslaught of slathering, inexperienced shoppers, it really has a different meaning. It’s the day of the year when many stores go “into the black”. That is, some stores operate at a loss except at the holidays.
I managed a bookstore, as readers of my I Love My Kindle blog know. But I also managed a game store. The game store would do something like 80% of the sales for the entire year from Black Friday through about the end of the year. The store literally could not have stayed in business without those sales.
For a lot of retail people, it’s actually a fun day and weekend. It’s a challenge…like running a marathon. You may not enjoy it while it’s happening, but you are happy afterwards that you succeeded.
For shoppers, though, it can definitely be a difficult experience. One of the main complications for holiday shopping is people who don’t shop the rest of the year. There are many learned behaviors in stores…and those folks just haven’t learned them.
A classic example is walking up to the front of the line when someone is having a transaction to ask the cashier a question. Believe me, the rest of the line is going to really glare at you. Ideally, ask a sales clerk “on the floor”, not behind the cash register (unless there is no one in line). If you feel like you need to ask someone behind a counter a question, stand a few feet back from the register…the other shopper deserves privacy. Think of it a bit like the bank. Wait until the cashier engages you. They have to put the money away (if any was used) before they can talk to you. It’s not safe for them otherwise. That’s just one example.
Undeniably, you can get a lot of good deals on Black Friday. You may be able to match them online…but you may not. You may hate the idea of going…that’s fine, you can skip it and still do okay. But if you do decide to go, I’m going to give you some tips so you can tet the most out of it. My family goes every year, and we have fun. 🙂 We do it primarily to buy toys for Toys for Tots. It’s a great day to get bargains on those brand name toys (like Dora the Explorer) that underprivileged kids may not usually get. It can really make them feel more mainstream. Don’t forget the teenagers…they often get forgotten. One year, we got MP3 players for five dollars…sweet! Oh, be aware that things that need batteries or have small parts may be a challenge. You want something kids can easily keep with them…they may be in situations with a lot of kids, or need to move frequently.
Here then, are some tips for a valuable Black Friday experience:
1. Plan your stores
This is the most important thing. Figure out how early you want to start…we get to our first store at 4:00 AM. Find out when your stores are going to open. You don’t want to go to a store at 4, and find out it doesn’t open until 5:00 (slackers) 😉 . On the other hand, many stores have “doorbusters”. Those are special sales that typically are only available for a few hours. They are designed to get people in and out of the store. The sales are often really good…but with limited quantities. You’ll see the ads saying, “While supplies last”. Best Buy is apparently going to have the Barnes & Noble NOOK EBR (E-Book Reader) wifi-only model on sale for $99. That’s a savings of fifty dollars! I do prefer the Kindle for a lot of reasons, but for those who already have one NOOK in the family or want a second EBR, this is a great deal. The ad, though, says a “minimum of 10 per store”. If they do not limit purchases, one person could easily buy ten. Those could be for family members…but they could also be planning to give them to employees, or even resell them. My guess is that if you wait until the store has been open for an hour, they’ll be out of these.
This is the site I use for store hours:
Figure it is going to take at least half an hour a store. It could easily take more than that, depending on the lines. You can pick three stores for an hour…but you may only get to one of them. Find out if there is a bargain you really think you want to have…like the first ride you want to get to at Disneyland. Plan it out geographically…you don’t want to waste time driving back and forth.
For example, Sears, Macy’s, and Target all open at 4:00. 5:00 includes Sam’s Club, Best Buy, Kmart, Burlington Coat Factory, and Game Stop.
So, you could figure you are going to Target…and if you still have time go to Macy’s and Sears in that order. Regardless, you plan to get to Best Buy at 5:00. If you have time after Best Buy, you are going to Game Stop, and so on.
2. Plan a time for breakfast
The last big wave of stores is 7:00 AM. If you can wait until 7:30 or 7:45 to go to a restaurant (or go home and unload and eat), you’ll be better off. Getting a snack first might make sense, of course.
3. Bring lists
This one is important. My family has great fun doing “wish lists”. It’s really the one time of year we here from pretty much everybody…nieces, nephews, cousins. Ours tend to be narrative, including what’s going in your life. Even if you don’t do that (and a lot of people like to be totally surprised), get sizes from everybody. Not just sizes, but compatibilities. What do I mean by that? Find out what videogame system they use, what EBR (E-Book Reader), Blu-Ray vs. DVD, and so on. You don’t want to get something they can’t use, and it’s confusing to keep it all straight. Print it out, put it on your portable data device (like an iPad or Kindle)…or if you are more techie, consider using Google Docs. That can work really well if you have internet access in the store. Those documents are easy to make and can be private just to you and the people you choose (and, you know, Google itself). We have a Google spreadsheet with the people for whom we want to get gifts and whether or not we’ve gotten them, and a Google Document with the with lists,
4. Charge and bring your cellphones
You may split up…some way to reach the other people in your party is important. It can be really hard to cut through the store to get to a particular place…you need that flexibility. Have a meeting place outside of the store if you do get separated somehow…the car could work.
5. See if you can get shopping apps for your smartphone or other device
There are a lot of apps out there. You can scan the UPC (Universal Product Code) on something you want to buy, and your phone can tell you where to get it cheaper close by. Your phone knows where you are…
6. Turn around and look at your car after you park
That is the key to finding it when you go back (if you don’t have a GPS gadget that can find your way back to your car for you…those are getting relatively inexpensive). Walk a few car lengths towards the store…and turn around and look back at the car. Whenever you reach a fork, where you can go one of two directions, you may want to turn around. You want the view to where you’ve been to be in your memory. Of course, also note the floor on which you parked, a space number, all of that. If worse comes to worse, you may have something on your keychain that can make your car honk for you.
7. If you can afford it, look for emergency gifts
We usually get a couple of gifts to have on hand in case somebody shows up we didn’t expect. A gift card can be good, but there are a lot of possibilities. I’d get something you might want if you don’t end up using it. 🙂
8. Be prepared to come back
It may be that you’ll get something on your receipt that gives you a discount if you come back later in the day or the next day. You don’t need to get everything today.
9. Have one person get in line while the other person is shopping
This can be a huge timesaver. It can take a half an hour just to get to the cashier. One of you may want to get in line for the cashier as soon as you enter the store. Bring a book or something else to do. The other person shops (checking in with the cellphone, if necessary). That’s so much more efficient than having you both walk around the store and then get in line. The person in line, depending on the store, may want to get in line with a shopping cart. That makes it easier for the other person to join you…especially if they don’t have to fight through the line with a cart themselves. They can keep dropping things off in the cart, if necessary.
10. Get ready for Cyber Monday
Since 2005, the Monday following Black Friday (which is the Friday following Thanksgiving…at least in the US) has been called Cyber Monday. It’s a very busy online shopping day. Originally, that was partially because people waited until they got back to work, where they had faster internet connections. 🙂 That’s no longer true for many people, of course…my internet connection is faster at home, and there may be limitations on shopping at work (and more sophisticated ways to detect it). Still, you can count on bargains online. In another post, I’ll tell a little about how to get online coupons and do comparison shopping online.
So, there you go…ten tips to make Black Friday a day you look forward to every year…and how you can save time and money.
Oh, and I do recommend this site:
You can see scans of ads, search for products, and so on. It appears that what they do is legal (or I wouldn’t promote them), although some stores wish they wouldn’t.
My Significant Other also loves getting the newspapers on Thursday (Thanksgiving) when they have the Black Friday ads. If you aren’t as much of an internet person, that’s a good option as well.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.