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Shopping on Black Friday: Deal or Dud?

Posted by Claire | Friday November 16, 20127 comments

In one week's time, around 150 million people will hit the Black Friday sales spending somewhere in the neighborhood of $11 billion, if last year's stats are an accurate predictor.

In many cases, people will go straight from their Thanksgiving dinner tables to stand shivering in the frigid cold for hours and prepare for what usually devolves into sharp elbows and shouting matches over cheap TVs and game consoles.

Now, that sort of sounds like a judgmental statement, doesn't it?  And yet, last year I was among the shoppers who showed up 4 hours early to stand outside Staples for the sake of a laptop and some cheap accessories.  (More accurately, I sent my husband to Staples while I stood guard at our computer back home waiting for the early online deals to get underway--but who's keeping track?)

Truth is, there's a reason people are eager for the sales because there are good deals to be had.  There are also a lot of faux deals you'll want to save your receipts for, because come Monday morning you'll be trekking back to the store with a load of returns.

Keep these Black Friday Smart Shopper tips in mind before you leave the comfort of Grandma's feast for the insanity of the crowds:

1. Which types of products are worth shopping for on Black Friday?

This really comes down to some tough love with your shopping list.  Everything from electronics and furniture to clothing and household items will be deeply discounted, but in most cases you can trust that comparable sales will be available online on Cyber Monday or in the final stretch before Christmas.

Products to buy: TVs, game consoles, cameras, computers, large home appliances

2. Which types of products are okay to miss on Black Friday?

In my experience, smaller items like video games, movies, clothing, and small home furnishings are not worth fighting the crowds.  Cyber Monday is a better time to snag those deals, because even if you have to pay a few cents more at least you can do so from the comfort of your couch.  Consider the craziness of overfilled dressing rooms or trying to root through a huge bin of discount movies before you come to your senses and realize it's not worth the black eye.

3. How early should I arrive for Black Friday?

Certain stores like Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and Staples are hot destinations.  While some retailers have announced product availability guarantees for the first hour of the sale this year, most hot products are likely to sell out very quickly.  This is especially true if your store only allows a limited number of shoppers in at a time.  If you're shopping at high traffic stores, arrive several hours early if that hot deal is really important to you.

Secondly, find out if another location of the same store is less busy on Black Friday.  Sometimes driving to another neighborhood or even the next town might mean you don't have to stand in line at all!

4. Can I price-match, get rainchecks, or use coupons on Black Friday?

Most stores do not price-match or offer rainchecks on Black Friday (some won't even price-match with the online deals for their store's website), though some will price-match select products.  Your best bet is to thoroughly research your desired purchases and go to the store that's advertising the deal.  Coordinate your lists with a friend so that you can shop different stores during peak hours.

Be sure to double check the fine print, but coupons are generally accepted on Black Friday.  If you're using a lot of coupons in your transaction and it's a long line at the register, expect a few eye rolls and mutterings from your fellow shoppers.

5. Will these sales be available again?

In most cases, these sales will be available again, though perhaps in another form.  During December you'll notice many stores offering gift cards with purchase or high-value coupons (e.g. "40% off your entire purchase when you use your store card").  I bought all of my Wii games, remote controls, kids toys, and movies last year after Black Friday and got a better deal in nearly every case.  Large purchases like home appliances go on sale regularly too (New Year's Sale! Presidents Day Sale! Memorial Day Sale!).

6. Are Black Friday products really a good deal?

Most of the Black Friday store ads are already available online, so this is a great time to price-compare with the current posted price.  While you usually know what you're getting with a game console, TVs and computers are not for the inexperienced shopper.  Research the model you're planning to buy carefully: does it have the resolution you want? Does it have the cable connections you want?  The desirable brand may matter less if you bring home your new TV and realize you can't hook it up to some of your home stereo components!

Beware of add-ons: retailers sometimes hike their connector cables and remote control prices on Black Friday, assuming you'll impulse-buy them while you're there.  Which, of course, you will.

Final Thoughts:

Stand in line for your big ticket items that will really make a difference in your holiday budget.  It's not worth the stress to fight the crowds for smaller products that will only save you a dollar or two and for which you can find comparable deals on Cyber Monday. 

As always, ask yourself if you really need that product.  Just because something is a hot bargain does not mean that you should buy it in a Black Friday frenzy.

Remember what your time and effort is worth, and factor that into your price points.  If you are a Canadian cross-border shopper, by the time you add gas, hotel stay, and incidental expenses to your bill, it may be a lot more expensive than you realize.

Lastly, remember to shop locally!  "Small Business Saturday" is a newish trend to get shoppers to spread the love to small retailers on the day after Black Friday.  Money you spend in your community generally stays in your community and makes a big difference in your local businesses' bottom lines.  After all, a homemade piece of banana bread and artisan coffee will taste mighty nice after fighting Friday's crowds, no?

So tell us: are you a Black Friday shopper? Which deals are you excited to scoop?
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6 Comments

on November 21, 2012  nscott84  4,013 said:

I'm not into black Friday. I went one time last year and arrived literally 5minuted after it started. People were shoving each other, parking was a nightmare, and everything was sold out. One lady laughed saying that I should have been there 4 hours ago bevause I'm on "white folk time". Got to love Atlanta..

on November 19, 2012  mamaluv  STAFF said:

@cutie_marlena: I don't blame you for being a little nervous about that when you're 7 months along! I'd avoid Walmart and Best Buy because in my experience that's where the crowds are the worst. Make your brother brave that crush and head to Sephora with your SIL!

on November 18, 2012  shanaz  5,826 said:

I honestly don't understand the hype...

on November 18, 2012  cutie_marlena  3,161 said:

I live in Canada too, and I've heard a lot of stores are doing Black Friday sales here this year because they want to try and keep the shoppers from going to the states to spend their money. I considered going this year to the US for the sales with my brother and his American fiance, but I figured it might be a little too dangerous to be among those crazy shoppers while 7 months pregnant.

on November 16, 2012  fredamans  11,348 said:

I've not been a Black Friday shopper but may see what the buzz is about this year.

on November 16, 2012  takoda  28,627 said:

I live in Canada so I never bother to go over to the US just for this day. Lately I've heard on the news that your better off to wait until after Black Friday this year because store’s are suppose to be dropping prices even more closer to Christmas. Myself I think this is the worst part of Christmas! Every year it brings me more and more down to the point where I don't even care any more and just want it done and over with. It was different when my boys were little, it was still fun back then, but now I even try to put off decorating my house until the last minute. Sad ay!

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