17 Secrets for Scoring Black Friday Deals
Black Friday's a contact sport—here's how you win.
If Black Friday frenzy feels like it’s getting more intense with every passing year, you’re not imagining things. Adobe Analytics found that almost $8 billion was spent at U.S. brick-and-mortar retailers last Black Friday, with another $6.6 billion spent online—a 16.8 percent increase over the year prior. Which brings us to the upcoming Black Friday, which is shaping up to be the biggest shopping day of the year, if not of all time.
However, while almost everyone who turns out to shop will secure some sort of a deal on Black Friday, not all discounts are created equal. With retailers eager to move massive amounts of inventory, they’re liable to resort to tricks, traps, and evasions to make sure you buy what they want you to, not necessarily what you actually want.
Fortunately, with a bit of expert knowledge, it’s easy to cut through the gimmicks and get right to the savings. So, before heading out—or surfing the web—to nab those products you’ve been dreaming of, make sure to scan this list of insider secrets.
“Carts = gridlock,” says Cherie Lowe, a personal finance blogger at Queen of Free and the author of Slaying the Debt Dragon, “and you need to be a mean, lean shopping machine.” With reusable bags on hand, she explains, “you’ll be able to quickly maneuver through the aisles and find the items you need more quickly.” Because when it comes to securing the deals of the year, speed is everything.
Bring Family and Friends
Want to make the most of your Black Friday shopping? Don’t hit the stores solo. “One person can hold larger items in a cart in a less trafficked area of the store while another darts around for deals,” explains Lowe. Make sure to “schedule a time to chat about where you’d like to go and which deals you’re hoping to score.” After all, a team needs to be on the same page to work together effectively.
Put Together a Plan
“When will the stores open? Are there deals that occur only during specific time periods?” These are just two of the many variables to consider when scheduling your Black Friday, explains Lowe. “Whether you sort this information on your phone or with pen and paper,” she says, “you need to create a hit list and rank what items are of most importance to you.” By making a plan beforehand, you can help to evade some of the stress that inevitably affects all shoppers on the busiest shopping day of the year.
Use Shopping Apps
Your biggest asset when it comes to scoring Black Friday deals is right there in your pocket. “With everything from weekly ads to store ads to price comparison options,” says Lowe, “you’ll want to spend some quality time with your smartphone.” On her must-download list? Lowe lists favorites like Bfads, Black Friday FM, and The Black Friday. By helping to compare and keep track of deals, she explains, these apps allow you to spend your energy on more important things—like getting to aisle 5 before your neighbor does.
Sign Up for Loyalty Programs
“If you’re going to be spending money,” says Lowe, “you should definitely take advantage of any rewards programs your store offers.” Once you know where you’ll be shopping, she urges, “investigate any rewards programs…[to] sign up for ASAP.” You work hard for your money, so it’s important to make it work just as hard for you.
Look for the Unusual
Taking a different tack than your fellow shopper can save you big in the long run. “Everyone else can have the toys, TVs, and clothes,[but] you need to be on the lookout for the unusual items,” as they tend to be the most heavily-discounted on Black Friday, explains Lowe. It’s the lesser-in-demand items, she explains, that often receive the largest markups. So keep your eye out for the obscure, and score the deals that no one will believe when you try to tell them.
If you’re committed to saving big on Black Friday, it pays to have a plan. “Black Friday is big business,” says Lowe, “and marketers have our number.” Before heading out, she warns, “resolve to stay out of traps like using credit instead of debit or cash, not setting a budget, or buying ‘gifts’ for yourself.” These traps do nothing but get in the way of real savings, so it’s time to bring all your willpower to the table and scrupulously avoid them.
Use Gift Cards
Want to save big on your Black Friday haul? Make gift cards the only plastic you’re using. “The best money saving shopping tips generally follow a two part process that involves stacking discounts together,” says Lou Haverty, a personal finance expert at Financial Analyst Insider.
“First purchase a gift card to the store you plan to purchase from,” he explains, “and then you use the gift card to make the final purchase.” By receiving discounts from both, he estimates, “you can easily get 30 percent to 50 percent discounts in total.”
Beware of Lackluster Deals
“Buyer beware,” warns Sara Skirboll, a shopping and trends expert at Retail Me Not, “not every Black Friday deal is worth it!”
“Things like furniture, the latest gaming consoles, spring airfare and gift cards may be slightly discounted,” she explains, “but you can find better deals closer to Christmas…or at different times of year.” Instead, focus on items that generally do not receive discounts throughout the year, like personal care products or pet goods—Black Friday is their time to shine.
Visit Niche Stores
That specialty store may be your best bet when it comes to scoring major savings on Black Friday. “Lines outside places like Walmart and Best Buy are always massive,” explains Dustyn Ferguson, personal finance blogger and founder of Dime Will Tell, “and unless you show up extremely early, good luck getting many of the good deals.”
“Instead,” he suggests, “skip the popular stores and go to less popular locations. The more specific a store’s offerings, the less busy it will be.” Places like GameStop or Kiehl’s, he explains, will also have great deals, but fewer shoppers eager to scoop them up.
Sign Up For Mailing Lists
If you want to score the best Black Friday deals, you may have to provide some personal information first—namely, your email address. “With Black Friday being crazy busy,” says George Hartley, CEO and co-founder of marketing app Smartr Mail, “we’ve seen merchants try to get a head start on the day by running their marketing campaigns a day earlier.”
“If I was a shopper,” he explains, “I’d sign up to email lists to catch the exact moment items go on Black Friday prices.” With ample warning, you can make sure to plan out your Black Friday so you don’t miss a single deal.
While it may seem counterintuitive, skipping those long lines at your favorite big box stores may save you more cash in the long run. “Stay at home!” advises Skirboll.
“Plenty of retailers will be offering Black Friday deals online,” she explains, “[and] you get the benefit of being able to price compare the items you want in just a matter of seconds!” Not to mention the benefit of staying in your comfy PJs all day.
Make Sure Savings Apply To The Right Items
“Some doorbuster deals may seem like huge savings,” warns Skirboll, “but only for off-brand or lower quality items.” Before rushing to a store for a much-needed item, make sure their deals apply to the higher-grade product that you actually want. There’s no sense in buying a third-rate TV just for the Black Friday discount when you could probably snag a first-rate one somewhere else.
Keep Your Eye on Two-Way Shipping
When shopping online, advises Skirboll, “look for two-way free shipping.”
“While most retailers have caught on that free shipping is a must,” she explains, “be sure to check the return policies before you hit ‘purchase,’” otherwise returning an item may cost you. When it comes to gifts, after all, it’s always better to play it safe with the return policy.
Create A List Beforehand And Stick To It
Writing down exactly what you set out to buy can be a major boon when it comes to scoring the best Black Friday deals—and not blowing your budget in the process. “The best way to get the most out of [Black Friday],” says Syed Farhan Raza, founder of SFR Digital, “is to buy less and focus more on what you actually need”
“Create a wish list,” he urges, “and stick to it.” Not only will this make sure you get what you need, but it will also help keep you on track—avoiding all those things you definitely didn’t need but ended up grabbing because of their steep discount.
Watch for Bloated Discounts
“It’s a common tactic for retailers to inflate the value of a discount by comparing the deal price with the highest possible price for the item in question,” says Louryn Strampe, senior deals analyst for Thrifter.
“In many cases,” she warns, “the item will never actually see that high price tag in stores.” In fact, with so many supposedly-slashed prices flying around, retailers will do anything to catch your eye, including telling white lies about what that item cost in the first place. To avoid getting duped, Strampe recommends using apps like BuyVia or websites like CamelCamelCamel to review an item’s pricing history before purchasing.
Beware of Older Products
While there are plenty of items you might be comfortable buying a season after they first hit the shelves, Black Friday isn’t the time to snag those older models. “Be aware of deals on older products,” says Strampe. While these deals may appear fruitful, she explains, you can often purchase older items online for just as cheap throughout the year.
One example, she says, is Target’s $25 deals on video games. “If the game in question is from 2016,” she warns, “you can probably find it for $25 or even less at other points throughout the year.”
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