Black Friday Deals: A Savvy Consumer’s Guide

It’s almost here: Black Friday 2010, the busiest shopping day of the year. Love it or hate it, Black Friday is a day that is synonymous with bargain-hunting, door buster specials, long lines and frenzied consumerism.

Black Friday Shopping by djLicious on Flickr

Online retailers as well as brick-and-mortar stores are rolling out special Black Friday deals to attract customers and beat out the competition. Given the current economic climate, many 2010 holiday shoppers are more focused than ever on taking advantage of the special deals and deep discounts that businesses offer to lure customers into their establishments.

Create a Plan of Attack

Savvy shoppers can make the most of Black Friday by researching promotions ahead of time and then creating a plan of attack. Preparation is the key to maximizing savings. Businesses advertise their Black Friday offerings in newspaper circulars, online, and in direct mailings.

Compare these Black Friday ads to identify the best deals. Major retailers such as Walmart, Target, and Best Buy will go head to head with promotions of similar items.

Veteran Black Friday shoppers know that many of the most prominently advertised items are “loss-leaders,” or items steeply discounted or even sold at a loss in order to get customers in the door. These deals will often have the caveat “while supplies last” somewhere in the fine print. Some stores print the number of items available, such as “minimum 5 per store.”

If a store is only going to stock a few items at the sale price, it is probably best to avoid frustration and disappointment and seek another retailer.

Rainchecks: Beware the Fine Print

Another item buried in the fine print is the raincheck policy. Many sale items are advertised as “no rainchecks.” If the policy is not explicitly stated in the advertisement, and a sale item sells out, ask a manager for a raincheck that will enable you to buy the item at the stated sales price when restocked. The manager may decline to give the raincheck, but it is worthwhile to ask.

When to Shop, and When to Sleep

Arriving early is a Black Friday tradition, and many stores take advantage of shoppers’ enthusiasm by offering special sale hours. Some stores open at 3, 4, or 5 a.m., while others begin Black Friday sales at midnight or earlier on Thanksgiving night. Early bird or insomniac shoppers may find thinner crowds and shorter lines during the late night or early morning hours.

Check advertisements and store websites for notices of special sale hours. Always be very wary of crowds that gather at a store’s entrance at opening time. Injuries and even deaths have resulted from crowds pushing to enter a store in hopes of grabbing a door buster deal.

Never remain in a crowd that becomes rowdy or agitated. Personal safety should always take precedence over Black Friday deals.

Consider Shopping Online and Avoiding the Crowds

Remember that you don’t necessarily have to elbow through a crowded shopping center to make the most of Black Friday deals. Online merchants, including cyber-giant Amazon, are attempting to take a bite out of the traditional mega-stores’ bottom line by offering Black Friday deals all week long.

With free shipping as an incentive, many holiday shoppers find it is more cost-effective to shop online and forego the frenzy at the mall.

Electronic goods are always a hot commodity on Black Friday. When shopping for deals in electronics beware of similar models with fewer features. These items, called “derivatives,” are from the same manufacturer, and may look nearly identical, but are different in subtle ways.

Cameras, televisions, and laptops are all electronic items that should be carefully compared to the “standard” model to make sure that an item with fewer features or lower quality is not purchased by accident.

Create a Shopping List

Frugal consumers should always approach Black Friday sales with a list in hand. The list should have the desired items, model numbers, and the regular prices to enable a quick evaluation of a sale item’s value. Stores count on the fact that many shoppers will succumb to impulse purchases once inside.

Don’t become caught up in the emotion of Black Friday and come home with items that were not on your list. The list should also be prioritized so that you focus on acquiring the most expensive items first and save the lower-priced items for last—thus maximizing savings.

Of course, you can save 100% on everything in the store and simply sleep in. While I’ve taken advantage of Black Friday deals in years past, the last couple years I’ve done just about all my Christmas shopping online.

I don’t particularly like crowds, and I especially don’t like crowded shopping, early in the morning with lots of pressure to score a deal. I’d rather take my time, read through Consumer Reports ahead of time, and make a quality purchase intentionally.

For more hearty shoppers, stay safe and be frugal!

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