Black Friday strategies: 12 ways to prepare

Black Friday has become a week-long shopping extravaganza when even seasoned bargain hunters can overspend. Here are 12 tips on what to avoid, how to prepare, and how to make the most of Black Friday.

Charlie Riedel/AP/File
Ripan Bhowmik looks at cameras while shopping at Best Buy in Overland Park, Kan. Without a strategy going in, Black Friday can lead to overspending for even the most seasoned shoppers.

Black Friday is no longer the 24-hour event it used to be. Instead it's become a week-long shopping extravaganza when even seasoned bargain hunters can overspend. That's where we come in. With multiple Black Fridays under our belt, we're here to tell you what to avoid, how to prepare, and how to make the most of the biggest shopping day of the year.

Read and Compare Black Friday Ads

Last year, JCPenney was the first retailer to release a Black Friday ad, which it debuted on October 14. While mid-October may seem excessively early for some shoppers, the sooner you familiarize yourself with this year's Black Friday ads, the more prepared you'll be when the big day arrives. Likewise, by reading multiple ads — even for stores you typically don't shop at — you'll be able to compare sales and possibly use stores against each other for price matching. If that sounds like too much work, check back here while our staff analyzes the ads, separating the good deals from the duds.

Use Leaked Circulars to Showroom Products Before You Buy Them

The first Black Friday ads tend to debut in late October and early November. While we don't recommend buying items this early in the season, we do encourage consumers to devote this time to showrooming. That is, heading to stores to check out products you're interested in. For instance, if Walmart has a killer laptop deal, but you're unsure of the laptop's size/weight, head to the store to give it a look. You can also use this time to ask questions about certain products and similar items, which you can then use as backups should the item you want sell out. In-store foot traffic will still be light at this time, which means you'll be able to research at your leisure.

Start Shopping Early (Don't Wait Until Black Friday)

Black Friday is no longer a one-day event. The season starts the minute the first Black Friday ad hits the Internet. Likewise, the best sales will start in advance of Black Friday; some Black Friday deals are released early in the week, while the majority of deals will hit the Internet on Thanksgiving. (In fact, Thursday will have an overwhelming majority of Editors' Choice sales, too.) So don't wait until November 28 to begin shopping.

Decide if You Want to Shop Online or In-Store

Like its namesake suggests, the doorbuster is an incredible deal designed to lure shoppers into their stores. However, with each passing year we've seen more doorbusters available online, sometimes cheaper than their in-store prices. With that in mind, shoppers must decide if they want to shop online or in-store. While it's certainly possible to do both, the latter typically takes up more of your time, which could mean the difference between snagging an Editors' Choice deal online or missing it.

Know Your In-Store Gameplan

It's easy to lose track of time on Thanksgiving, and if you're going to venture to a store for a doorbuster deal, you can't afford to be even five minutes late. Know what time you need to leave, and how early you need to be there. The latter can be tricky since lines for stores vary greatly; every year someone makes the national news because they showed up at Best Buy several days beforehand, but many locations will feature far more reasonable lines. Still, waiting in line for a few hours isn't out of the question if you're in pursuit of one of those low-inventory deals. Think about what you're willing to commit to, and if it's realistical to get the deal you want.

Check Deals While in Line

Just because you've decided to shop in store doesn't mean you should ignore the internet. You might have compared all the ads, but there will still be a wide array of surprise deals that pop up during the big week, especially from Amazon. How awesome would it be to find online the deal you're waiting for, so you can actually just go home?

Avoid Impulse Purchases

We know: Avoiding impulse buys is easier said than done. But the best way to ensure you don't overspend on Black Friday is by avoiding unplanned purchases. In other words, know what you're shopping for and stick to it. Do you really need a $10 waffle iron and a folio case for a tablet you don't even have? Impulse-buy items are generally neither brand name nor particularly desirable in normal circumstances — they're mostly slightly more profitable goods that retailers hope you'll buy when you're also shopping for doorbusters. So avoid them at all costs because chances are you don't need them in the first place.

But Be Flexible and Come Prepared With Alternatives

While we don't want you to throw money at things you don't actually want, it's best to approach Black Friday with general category items you need, and work from there; for example, we are absolutely certain that there were be amazing TV deals during Black Friday, but there might not be a great discount on the very specific model that you want. However, a flexible shopper — perhaps someone who knows they want a certain size, resolution, and features list — should be able to find an option that fits the bill. Moreover, high demand and low stock can make getting some Black Friday deals near-impossible; having alternative options in mind beforehand allows a shopper to avoid scrambling for a substitute that just isn't that good.

Know Which Stores Will Offer Price Matching

Contrary to popular belief, Black Friday was actually designed to benefit retailers more so than shoppers. It's allegedly the one day of the year when retailers operate "in the black." That also means it's the one day of the year when stores will bend over backwards for your holiday dollars. To better compete, many stores offer price-matching policies, so if you spot the same item for less at a competing store, they'll price match for you. And this year, they're also extending the timeline for qualifying purchases. While not every store will honor competitors' Black Friday prices, many of the hottest Black Friday deals will be available from retailers like WalmartBest Buy, and Amazon, and those three will surely try and beat each other out for your holiday cash.

Beware Final Sale Items

While the prices may seem tempting, "final sales" are discounts on items that can't be returned. So if you purchase the wrong size or change your mind post-purchase, the store will not take back your merchandise. The best way to avoid these scenarios is by reading the fine print of every sale you come across or, if shopping in-store, asking a sales clerk. On the other hand, if you're certain about you want, final sales are a great way to save money.

Keep Track of Rebates and Store Credits

Mail-in rebates are a retailer's best friend as they allow stores to advertise products at a low cost, while still receiving full price for those items. For consumers, however, rebates can be a hassle as they require you to keep track of your purchases and receipts. This can be especially hard during the chaos of Black Friday, so it's in your best interest to keep a detailed manifest of all the rebates you need to claim, the dates they're valid, and any other pertinent information. While less of a hassle, consumers should also be vigilant of their e-mail as many store credits and gift cards are e-mailed weeks after your purchase.

Be a Polite Customer

No one wants to work in the retail industry on Thanksgiving Day, but for those unlucky few that must, what awaits them are long checkout lines, non-stop holiday Muzak, and unruly customers. While the average consumer can't help with the former, the latter is something that can be easily addressed with a little common sense. If there's something you can't find, ask politely — and be patient. Not only to sales reps, but to your fellow consumers as well.

Black Friday can be intimidating for even the most experienced shoppers. But with a little strategy and help from DealNews, you can rest assured you'll get the deals you want at the prices you want, regardless of whether you shop from the comforts of your home or in-store.

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