With Thanksgiving fast approaching, many of us are already thinking about turkey and football. But others—and you know who you are—are contemplating a different contact sport: Black Friday shopping. And this year the deals are starting earlier, with some retailers opening at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day—something not all employees are happy about.
Regardless of when your Black Friday shopping spree kicks off, the game plan is to get the best deals you can on the items you really want. Often—though not always—electronics items are at their lowest prices of the year on Black Friday, and it's easy to get caught up in the shopping frenzy and spend more than you really want to. So here's a list of Black Friday shopping tips that should help ensure you get not only the best deals, but also some peace of mind once you bring the item home.
1. Be prepared. This means studying the ads before Black Friday. By now, many of the major retailers have released their Black Friday in-store specials, so check one of the comprehensive Black Friday-focused websites such as bfads.net, blackfriday.info, theblackfriday.com, and gottadeal.com to see whether you're getting the best deal. Some sites let you filter your searches by product categories, such as TVs.
2. Shop online first. Why leave the family and your comfy couch if you don't really have to? Before you brave the crowds at the stores, check to see if the retailer is offering the same—or even better—deals on its website. In past years, some of the biggest retailers have offered online sales during Black Friday week that have included many of the same items offered as part of their in-store Black Friday events and often combined with low- or no-cost shipping deals. And some retailers will offer online exclusives you couldn't get even by walking into one of their retail locations.
3. Sign up for e-mail alerts. Many retailers now use e-mail alerts to encourage store loyalty and frequent shopping. Sign up for alerts that will let you know about upcoming promotions and to receive coupons or discounts. Shoppers can also learn if the products they want are stocked and available, or if an item is eligible for a "buy online, pick up at store" option that can save shipping charges.
4. Use social media. Before you decide to buy, visit the Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of your favorite retailers and see if they're offering any incentives, such as discounts, when you "like" their page or follow them. Also, if you have friends who'll be shopping on Black Friday for similar items, text, tweet, or post to a social-media site the best deals you encounter, and hopefully they'll return the favor.
5. Get appy. Before you head out to the store, make sure your smart phone is charged and loaded with a few key comparison-shopping apps (such as ShopSavvy, ShopKick, and RedLaser) that will let you see special deals and compare prices while you're in the store. Many include a bar-code scanner that lets you scan and compare prices, plus a QR-code reader that can sometimes get you coupon codes or special deals.
If you see that an item is cheaper at a nearby store, try showing that price on your phone to a store manager and see if he or she will match that deal. Also consider the Black Friday App, from dealnews.com, for up-to-date Black Friday info, and try Evernote if you need to make and take a shopping list with you to help you keep on track.
6. Create a budget—and stick to it. Many Black Friday sales, especially doorbuster specials that are typically available in limited quantities, are designed to get you into the store so retailers can try to sell you something more profitable. Decide ahead of time how much you want to spend, and resist impulse buying in the store, especially if you don't know how good a deal you're really getting.
7. See if you can get a price-match guarantee, and check store return policies. Often, stores say they're suspending price-match guarantees during the Black Friday weekend, but you should ask for one anyway. After all, these are supposed to be "the lowest prices of the year!"
And to be safe, check your local chain's return and exchange policies to make sure that they aren't different for a Black Friday special. Sometimes, Black Friday sales are final, meaning the item can't be returned. Other items may have a shortened return or exchange policy, or one where you can get only a store credit and not a refund. Also, make sure the store isn't charging a restocking fee on a returned item.
8. Check the warranty. If you're loyal to a certain brand, you may feel you're aware of its standard product warranty. But even major brands offer special "derivative" models during promotional periods such as Black Friday, and they may alter the terms of their standard warranties for these sets.
For example, the term may be much shorter, or the repair provisions could be different: If a problem arises, there may be no in-home service for larger products, or you might have to pay shipping if the item needs to be sent to a service center. If so, make sure you're comfortable with the terms, and find out in advance what will happen if you need your electronics item repaired. You don't want to discover unexpectedly that it will be your responsibility.
9. Buy the item you really want, and avoid pricey accessories. Items designated as "doorbusters" draw us in because of their low prices, but they may not be the best products for your needs. In electronics, for example, this is especially true of bigger-ticket items such as TVs, which you'll be living with for a number of years.
Doorbuster items, particularly derivative models created specially for the event, usually have lower specs and lack features found on a manufacturer's standard lines. While this may be fine for a second or third set, you may want better performance or more features for your main TV. Also, a retailer may have more wiggle room on price for a step-up model than a bare-bones set, so you may still get a great deal on a TV you really want to own.
But one of the easiest ways to blow your great deal is to pad the deal with pricey accessories. This is where retailers make their money, so avoid the hard sell. If you know you'll need an HDMI cable, buy it ahead of time from an online retailer such as monoprice.com or bluejeanscable.com and avoid the temptation entirely.
10. Avoid the old bait-and-switch trick. If you're really buying only on price, stick to your guns and don't get pushed toward a more expensive model. Retailers will sometimes advertise a great deal on a certain TV but then denigrate it once you're in the store, hoping they can push you to a more profitable model.
We hope these shopping tips will help make your Black Friday shopping excursion a less stressful, more enjoyable outing. Happy shopping!
—James K. Willcox