Another year is almost at its close, but not before the holiday shopping rush rolls in that accompanies Black Friday weekend and Cyber Monday. Retailers have caught on to what types of deals are juicy enough to lure in shoppers, which is why it's up to consumers to execute a strategic plan of attack before Black Friday.
Last year, the National Retail Federation (NRF) estimated that shoppers spent $52 billion at retail stores and online over the Black Friday weekend. The NRF's latest study predicts the average shopper will spend $749.51 on gifts and other holiday-related goods this year. With such heavy expenses expected, shoppers need to be proactive in finding ways to save money when the big day finally arrives.
Savvy shoppers can appreciate a good discount, but it's the ones who plan their Black Friday escapade weeks in advance that walk away from stores with their targeted purchases in hand—and hundreds of dollars saved in the process.
Here are five strategies for a successful Black Friday shopping excursion:
1. Compare Black Friday Sales Early. In the early beginnings of Black Friday, consumers had no other option but to wait for Black Friday ads to arrive in the mail just a few days before sale day. However, the Black Friday phenomenon has gone beyond ad mailers, and many of the day's discounts are now leaked weeks in advance online and in stores, giving shoppers a "level playing field," according to Brad Wilson, creator of BlackFriday.BradsDeals.com.
To learn what each retailer has to offer, subscribe to their Black Friday e-mail feed. Most popular retailers, like Target, Amazon, and Walmart, provide an e-mail subscription service, so consumers can be first in line to see this year's deals.
However, Wilson warns consumers not to rely too heavily on limited quantity sales that contain fine print like "limit 50 per store." While the the price point may be the best deal when compared to other retailers, the time spent waiting and potentially not being among the first 50 customers to claim the product is risky.
Andrew Schrage of Money Crashers (a My Money contributor) agrees with Wilson's sentiment. "If any doorbuster specials are on your list, keep in mind that stores often stock very few of these items and they tend to sell out quickly," he says. "I personally tend to stay away from these because those crowds can be almost dangerous."
In a limited quantity scenario, the same item priced a few dollars more at a competing store may be a better bet than risking time for the sake of a few dollars saved, says Wilson.
2. Draft a Focus List. Any tenured Black Friday shopper will agree camping out at a store with hundreds of other discount-hungry consumers without a shopping list is a suicide attempt. In fact, a common misconception is that the enormity of deals available on Black Friday means shoppers are bound find savings, no matter what they pick up along the way.
BFAds.net founder Michael Brim explains how this assumption can cost consumers more money than they realize. "Many of the items contained in the Black Friday ads are great deals, and the most sought after items are usually sold at a [loss leader]," says Brim. "However, to make up for the loss-leaders, retailers have to sell other products at higher-than-normal markups. What that means to the shopper is that non-advertised—and even some advertised products—are sold at not-so-competitive price points compared to the weeks surrounding Black Friday.
"If one 'strikes out' on Black Friday," continues Brim, "they should try their best not to buy whatever is in arm’s reach just 'to get something.' Chances are that something is not discounted and will be cheaper later on in the holiday season."
3. Conduct Reconnaissance of Stores. Shoppers may think they know the layout of a neighborhood Target, but changes in product stock and a hoard of other shoppers can create confusion on Black Friday.
"Visit the store in question about one to two days before the sale," says Wilson. "This strategy allows consumers to learn the layout of the store beforehand for that extra edge over other shoppers." Performing a bit of recon not only helps in getting acquainted with the store's most current layout but it allows for shopping trips to be a straightforward, in-and-out experience.
4. Find Your Partner in Crime. Enlisting a trusted and determined friend is one of the best ways to save money on Black Friday and can bring more benefits than some shoppers realize.
"No one wants to go into battle alone," assures Brim. "Not only will [friends] help keep you sane while waiting in line, they’ll be incredibly useful once the doors open." Whether the strategy of the day is to "divide and conquer" or have a friend waiting in line at checkout while shoppers grab the goods, Brim says shopping will be "much more successful with another person on your team. Also, two cars means double the space to fit all the cool new things you purchased on Black Friday."
For greater savings, shoppers and their bargain buddy can plan ahead by downloading a smartphone app to help with comparison shopping. The Red Laser application allows customers to scan any item in the store and look up prices at competing retailers to make sure they’re getting the best deal.
5. Pack a Snack. It may seem trivial now, but consumers who forget to plan their meals in advance could be risking lost savings on account of a grumbling stomach. To avoid distractions like hunger, Wilson recommends shoppers pack food to sustain their energy while in line and in between holiday shopping trips. "For that matter, shoppers should also use the restroom before leaving home, so there are no issues while waiting in line," says Wilson.
Shoppers who keep their eye on the prize and prepare ahead are the ones that tally up the most savings at the end of the day.
Jennifer Calonia writes for www.GoBankingRates.com, your source for the best savings account rates, CD rates, personal finance news, and more.