Black Friday is no longer a day; it’s a season.
Sales started weeks ago at many retailers and will keep running all weekend. Hype has reached a fever pitch. And though consumers are armed with more information than ever, it has never been more difficult to figure out what the real deals are and where to find them.
Whether you decide to shop on Thanksgiving or hold on to tradition by waiting until Black Friday, here are some tips to help you cut through the noise:
Remember: Not everything is a bargain. In fact, many things aren’t. This year, the average Black Friday discount amounts to 40 percent, according to fatwallet.com. But discounts climb as high as 70 and 80 percent off as Christmas approaches, especially on apparel, toys and beauty products. In many cases, it will serve you well to hold off until later for better deals.
The only exception is specific, must-have specialty items that may sell out. Time and again, desperate parents end up paying a premium in the resale market for the out-of-stock toy Santa has been promising their little one all year.
Pick your days wisely. Of the three most-hyped days – Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday – the best deals can be found on Thanksgiving, according to dealnews.com. That is especially true when it comes to major electronics, such as televisions, cameras, computers, android phones and iPads.
No matter where you stand on the “Don’t Shop on Thanksgiving” debate, there is one upside to kicking things off on the holiday: Fewer people show up. Last year, many people waited until after dinner to hit the stores, so limited-availability doorbusters were available longer and there were thinner crowds to navigate.
Consider staying home Thursday night. Many of the deals you would find in stores on Thanksgiving are also available online. Many will even be available through Friday.
Watch out for price-matching gotchas. Several stores such as Target, Walmart and Amazon offer price matching this year. But each has its own rules. Watch out for fine print that excludes price matching during Black Friday weekend. Most retailers agree to match prices only from a specific list of competitors and only during a certain time frame.
Beware of products made specifically for Black Friday. Many stores specially manufacture items to sell at deep discounts on Black Friday. That makes the one-of-a-kind products harder to research and compare. Black Friday models are often of inferior quality, lacking features and made with cheap parts. Deal expert Andrea Woroch once bought a SmartTV on Black Friday only to get it home and realize it had no HDMI ports.
Do your homework and make a list. You’re going to be tired. You’re going to be surrounded by frantic shoppers. You’re going to be bombarded with signs screaming that the product you’re walking past is the deal of the century. The only thing that will keep you from succumbing to the hype is a well researched list.
Before you go out, know what you want. Compare prices using an app such as PriceGrabber or a search engine such as google.com/products. Then use that info to organize your list by store.
Organize your coupons. Label an envelope for each store you plan to visit, and put your coupons inside. Write your shopping list on the outside of the envelope.
If you have texts with promo codes or apps with digital discounts such as Target’s Cartwheel, keep them open on your phone so they’re easy to access and you can keep the line moving.
Time it right. If you want to score doorbusters, figure out what time the doors bust and get there at least an hour in advance, preferably two.
If you want to hit the all-night sales without waiting in line or fighting the crowds, shop in the wee hours between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. when stores typically see a lull. If you wait until the following morning or afternoon, stores will be mobbed.
Have a game plan. Once you’ve figured out your timing, draw up a schedule of which stores to visit first.
Go where the bargains are. WalletHub surveyed 8,000 Black Friday deals at 30 stores and found JCPenney had the best overall offers, with an average discount of 68 percent. Next was Kohl’s, with an average discount of 67 percent, followed by Macy’s, 56 percent, and Kmart, 50 percent.
That said …
Percentage off is just a number. It’s easy to get thrown off your game when you see a high-percentage discount. But sometimes all a deep discount means is that an item’s original markup was sky high.
Be nice. Be patient with store employees and fellow shoppers. It’s Thanksgiving weekend, not a cage match. You don’t want your Black meltdown going viral on YouTube.