It's no secret that Black Friday means long lines, crowded aisles, and general chaos. Everyone who plans to hit the stores come Black Friday should be prepared. Here are 16 tips for effectively and efficiently conquering the crowds and corralling the best deals without letting the day take too big a toll on your time and your wallet.
PLAN THE ATTACK
Black Friday is a shopping day like none other, so have a plan in place before leaving home. That requires some advance research. Look at the gift list and determine which stores are offering the best deals. Rank the Black Friday specials on must-have items, with the most critical gifts at the top. If, for example, the Nintendo Switch trumps other planned purchases, and Walmart is advertising the lowest price, head there first.
PLOT A SPECIFIC ROUTE
When possible, plan to hit up stores near each other to avoid driving all over town and running into the inevitable parking lot gridlock. This tactic will save time as well as money on gasoline and wear and tear on easily frayed shopping nerves. Setting and sticking to a route, however, may require some flexible rearranging of gift priorities.
SHOP WITH A BUDDY
It pays to shop with a buddy on Black Friday. For one, long lines are a given no matter where or when you shop, and if you've forgotten something, a buddy can hold your place. Moreover, holiday shopping is hectic and having a friend along can help lighten the mood and keep your overtired body and stressed-out mind from making rash decisions. And if you're eyeing two spectacular Black Friday deals at the same venue, split up so each can snag one of the desired items.
DON'T BRING THE KIDS
Despite wanting to spend time with the kids on the holiday weekend, Black Friday shopping with children is not ideal. There will definitely be complaining — especially when standing in the longer-than-usual lines, and let’s face it, they could slow you down wanting everything that they see. To keep Black Friday shopping stress to a minimum, it’s best to leave the kids at home for this one.
With a plan in place, find out when the targeted stores open. Arrival time should depend on the list. If you're after a doorbuster deal, chances are the supply is limited, so you should be one of the first shoppers through the door. Yup, that means arriving before the store opens and standing in line; at least two hours ahead is a safe bet. Even if you're just shopping around, an early arrival means beating the worst of the crowds and getting the best pickings.
If you expect to wait in line for the doors to open, be prepared to hold your spot no matter what. That means dressing for the weather, bringing a snack and a drink, having a book or a buddy, and perhaps even toting a beach chair. Whatever helps you stay in place is an absolute necessity.
Be sure to scour the ads before heading out and keep them on hand. Some coupons are good only for Black Friday, and you may want to refer to them as the day progresses. Use your phone to snag extra coupons that pop up at the last moment.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Once inside, be ready for action. If you're focused on just one Black Friday special, know exactly where to find it (that means scouting the store layout ahead of time). If a deal sells out before you get there, have a backup item in mind. For example, if you're targeting a hot TV from Best Buy and the supply dries up, knowing about other TV specials will save you from leaving empty-handed or settling for something you don't really want.
JUDGE THE DOORBUSTERS
"Doorbusters" usually seem like amazing deals, and often they are. But sometimes they can be duds — off- or no-name brands with less functionality or styling than meets your standards. Research the doorbusters before standing in line for an item that may not be all it's cracked up to be.
Many people avoid Black Friday shopping, and perhaps they're onto something. Increasingly, e-commerce is an appealing alternative. Even before the appointed day, check websites to see if retailers will offer similar discounts online for Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Maybe, just maybe, you can catch a few extra hours of sleep and shop from the comfort of home this holiday season.
The whole point of Black Friday shopping is to get in and get out as quickly as possible and return home with the gifts on your list. That requires discipline. Don't stop to gawk, ponder the lesser deals scattered about, or grab things that aren't on sale. Stay focused and on track to save time and money.
CHECK THE PRICE-MATCHING POLICY
Many retailers suspend their price-matching policies for Black Friday and the remainder of Thanksgiving weekend. To save time and short-circuit grumbling by others in line behind you, check the policies for exclusions. Even if Black Friday prices are included in a store's guarantee, searching for a competitor's ad on your phone in the heat of the moment is unlikely to turn up what you need. Bring along the physical ad (from a circular or printed out at home) to be sure of getting the best price.
KNOW THE RETURN POLICY
Some stores alter their return policies during the holidays, and knowing them is helpful. While you should always get a gift receipt, you should also know exactly how long your gift recipient has to return an item. If it’s only 30 days and Black Friday falls on Nov. 23 this year, then your recipient won’t be able to return the item after Dec. 23. If they receive the gift on Christmas, they literally won’t be able to return it. So, if you’re on the fence about a purchase, it may be better to wait until closer to the Christmas holiday to give them leeway on returns.
USE A SHOPPING BAG INSTEAD OF A CART
Stores are going to be crowded on Black Friday. There is no way around it. But getting around the crowded stores will definitely be easier without a big, bulky cart. Instead, use the bags many stores like Kohl’s have for shoppers, or take your own reusable grocery bags or totes to use.
THINK BEYOND THE HOLIDAYS
Naturally, the holidays will foremost in shoppers’ minds. But what about other occasions on the horizon? Birthdays, wedding showers, anniversaries, and other events involve gifts. If appropriate items are on sale for Black Friday, buy them, too, or else you could end up paying more later.
DON'T GET DISCOURAGED
If your heart is set on a particular doorbuster and you miss out, have faith. Black Friday is just the start of the holiday shopping season, and deals abound right up to Christmas Eve. Just move to the next item on your list. A curated shopping list and a plan of attack will help maximize net savings on Black Friday even if you miss out on one or two specials.