Some call shopping on Black Friday America's favorite contact sport after football. So if you plan to go out bargain hunting, you'll need more than sharpened elbows. Often—though not always—electronics items, especially televisions, tablets, and computers, are at their lowest prices of the year, which means it's easy to get caught up in the frenzy and spend more than you really want.
Here's a Black Friday game plan—a list of holiday shopping tips that ensure you return home with not only the best deals, but also peace of mind.
1. Be prepared. Only rookies head for Black Friday shopping without having done their homework. This means studying the ads—in print and online—the weekend before Thanksgiving. It's still a bit early in the game, but Black Friday leaks are starting to appear. (We've already weighed in Dell's electronics deals.) You'll find tons of leaked ad scans on Black Friday–focused websites such as bfads.net, blackfriday.info, DealNews, GottaDeal, and theblackfriday.com. Some even let you filter your searches by product category. If you spot a great deal at one retailer, check it out on some of the comparison sites mentioned below to make sure you can’t do better elsewhere.
2. Don't focus on Friday alone. Black Friday has morphed from a single day of deals to a whole month of savings. In fact, many retailers offer specials in the days leading up to Black Friday, so it pays to start early. Come crunch time, this will also help you judge how good those Black Friday sales really are. The same goes for Cyber Monday, which now stretches into a week of online specials.
3. Compare prices. Sites such as PriceGrabber, PriceWatch, ShopAdvisor, ShopSavvy, and Shopping can lead you to a better deal elsewhere, so they're well worth a look. The app BuyVia not only lets you search for specific items at local retailers, but it sometimes provides coupons, too. Even Pinterest has price alerts that will monitor items you've pinned on certain websites and email you when they go on sale.
4. Be loyal. Stores often have loyalty programs that offer sales and promotions to their members first, and then let them earn rewards on what they buy. Sign up for Black Friday shopping alerts about coming promotions, coupons, and discounts. In some cases, you can even learn if products you want are in stock or eligible for a buy-online/pick-up-at-store option that saves you on shipping charges.
5. Be social-media savvy. The Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of your favorite retailers are a great way to find out about deals and promotions. Those retailers will often reward customers who "like" them or follow them with special alerts to Black Friday discounts and incentives. And, of course, texts, tweets, and posts are an easy way to share Black Friday shopping intel with your friends.
6. Load your phone with apps. Before you head out to the store, make sure your smartphone is fully charged and loaded with a few of the comparison-shopping apps mentioned above. In addition to providing pricing info, they can often be used to place orders or monitor items via a personal watch list. Many include a bar-code scanner to help you compare prices and a QR-code reader for coupon codes and special deals. Many of the aforementioned Black Friday sites also have their own shopping apps. And, retailers such as Amazon have apps that let you use a smartphone camera to scan products and price shop online. At some brick-and-mortar retailers, you can use that info to argue for a better deal.
7. Create a budget—and stick to it. Black Friday sales, especially the doorbuster specials available in limited quantities, are designed to get you into the store so retailers can sell you something else. Decide ahead of time how much you want to spend on your Black Friday shopping spree, and do your best to resist impulse buying, especially if you're not sure how good a specific deal is. If you find that you're too free with your charge cards, try buying with cash this year and see if you have better control.
8. Check all store policies in advance. It's always good to know a store's price-match and return policies. As noted in our 5 Black Friday predictions, we expect more retailers to price-match specific online and in-store deals this year. Target recently expanded its policy, and both Best Buy and Walmart will price-match to varying degrees. Other stores, however, might suspend their price-match guarantees during the Black Friday weekend, so read the fine print. When you check the return and exchange policies for Black Friday sales, make sure the store won't charge a restocking fee for any item you bring back.
9. Avoid pricey accessories. You've just scored an awesome 65-inch TV at an all-time low price, so don't blow your savings by splurging on pricey accessories or extended warranties. This is where retailers make their money. Hence the hard sell. If you know you'll need an HDMI cable, buy it in advance from an online retailer such as monoprice.com or bluejeanscable.com. That way you won't be pressed into overpaying at the store.
10. Be aware that the lowest-priced deals are not always the best. Doorbuster specials draw people in with visions of savings, but they might not offer the best product for their needs. This is especially true for big-ticket items such as TVs. Products like those, particularly derivative models created specifically for Black Friday events, might have lower specs or fewer features than standard products from the same manufacturer. While this might be fine for a second or third set, you probably want better performance and more features from your main TV. Better yet, you might find that a retailer has more wiggle room on a step-up model than a bare-bones set, so during your Black Friday shopping, don't be afraid to ask for a better price on the TV you really want to own.
We hope these tips make your Black Friday shopping excursion a little less stressful, maybe even more enjoyable. Go get 'em!
This article originally appeared on Consumer Reports.
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