Kicking off your holiday shopping on Black Friday (or increasingly, in the days and weeks leading up to it) has become a tradition as revered by some Americans as having a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving Day.
Six in 10 consumers, amounting to more than 140 million shoppers, are likely to shop this weekend, according to the National Retail Federation. There are some great deals to be had out there for sure. But the savviest shoppers know that getting those deals on the busiest shopping day of the year requires some serious prep work and strategy.
Here’s what you need to know:
ONE: Start now.
The holiday decorations already adorning many favorite stores (some of which went up the moment Halloween was over) might be your first clue that the start of the holiday shopping season has steadily crept up earlier than Black Friday in recent years.
Many of the biggest stores are already offering discounts this week that you can grab without worrying about the lines and crowds that will hit the day after Thanksgiving. Wal-Mart, for example, began its pre-Black Friday sales on Friday.
“Black Friday is more of a season than a day now,” said Matthew Ong, Nerdwallet’s senior retail analyst. “Retailers want to extend the whole holiday shopping extravaganza, so that they can squeeze more money out of a shopper.”
TWO: Make a plan.
Write down the people you need to presents for, along with gift ideas or a specific budget for each item. Having a written list makes you less likely to overspend or blow money on impulse purchases.
Then see where you can get the best price for the items you need. The Black Friday circulars for most big retailers have already been “leaked.” You can find them on the site of your favorite retailer, or browse thousands of ads at BlackFriday.com/flyers.
Look through them to see which stores are offering the best deals for items on your list. Then plan out which stores you’ll hit, and in what order. That way you’re more efficient and less likely to forget an important purchase.
THREE: Give up your email address.
It’s no longer enough to “like” a brand or store on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. Your email address is valuable information to retailers, since it lets them market directly to you all year long. Signing up for their email list is your best bet for getting exclusive discount codes and printable coupons. “Email is still king for retailers,” says Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation.
If you can’t take the inbox clutter or don’t want them to have your personal email, consider setting up a separate email address just for retailers and other “junk mail.” If you use gmail, such correspondence often goes directly into your “promotions” tab.
FOUR: Put your smartphone to use.
Shopping apps are vital to smart shoppers throughout the holiday season. Use PriceGrabber, which lets you price compare any item with a barcode, and Shopular uses geotargeting to notify you of deals at your favorite stores when you’re near them. The app aisle411 provides searchable maps for more than 13,000 stores, so you can instantly find an item without wasting time scanning the shelves or trying to flag down a store associate.
FIVE: Go online early.
Cyber Monday may still get all the attention online, but plenty of retailers make their Black Friday deals available online starting on Thanksgiving Day, or sooner. An Adobe analysis found that online prices would be lowest on Thanksgiving Day, with an average discount of 24 percent.
Before heading out to the stores, see if you can save yourself a trip by picking an item online. One note: You’ll have to spend an average of more than $80 to qualify for free shipping. If your purchase amounts to less, the deal may not be worth it. See if the retailer has an in-store pickup option.
Before completing a purchase, do a quick search for online coupons. If you can’t find any, see if the site offers a live chat instant message feature with a customer service rep, and ask him or her if they have a code that could help you. “Sometimes the operators are just sitting there with a list of coupon codes that they’re ready to hand out to people who ask for them,” said Kyle James, founder of Rather-Be-Shopping.com.
SIX: Be wary of the store credit card.
Opening a store credit card often seems like an easy way to save 20 percent or more off a big purchase. Think carefully before you sign on the dotted line, however, since the inquiry can ding your credit score, and such cards often carry a high interest rate. The card may make sense if you shop frequently at the store and plan to pay off the balance right away. If you plan on applying for a mortgage or other loan in the next few months, however, this savings probably isn’t worth it. Almost half of consumers who open a store credit card told Credit.com that they later regretted it.
SEVEN: Price match.
As the retail landscape gets more competitive, more than 25 percent of big stores, including Wal-Mart, now price match their competitors, according to DealScience. Before making a purchase, see whether a product you’d like to buy is listed for sale at a better price somewhere else. Show that price to a cashier, and chances are good he’ll match it. Some credit card companies also offer price-matching guarantees that can protect you if you purchase an item that drops in price later in the season.
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