Mary Lynch hit the stores near her Illinois home the day after
Thanksgiving last year, looking for deals. She got what she wanted, but
when she looked online later, Lynch realized her bargains weren't so
special after all.
"I learned that I could have just gone online
for the same deals rather than dealing with long checkouts and hassle at
stores," says Lynch.
MORE: Meet some of FCN's Black Friday warriors
Black Friday hasn't just moved through the
following Monday and backward into Thanksgiving, it's also become as
much of an online holiday as an in-store one.
bulk of the buying still happens in retailers' brick-and-mortar
locations, but some retail websites are competing as aggressively as
stores and can offer better deals with less hassle.
continue to try to lure shoppers into their stores with prices on some
items that are the lowest you can typically find, but the products are
nearly always available only in very limited quantities. Toys R Us, for
example, will have more than 200 of these "doorbuster" deals, which CEO
Jerry Storch says are the most the chain has ever had.
bigger every year and becomes a more important part of the holiday
season," Storch says. "Nothing stands for value like Black Friday."
MORE: Stores prep for huge Black Friday crowds
It sure wasn't always this way and many retailers would just as soon
it wasn't anymore, says Chris Donnelly, retail practice chief at
consulting firm Accenture.
Donnelly, who has been a retail
consultant for more than 20 years, says the day after Thanksgiving used
to simply be a day with promotions such as "30% off sweaters." Once
retailers saw how big sales had become, they began to try to outdo each
other - especially Walmart.
This year, Amazon's Black Friday deals are the absolute lowest on many products, says Brad Wilson of BlackFriday.BradsDeals.com - and it didn't have to wait a month to have its circulars printed.
retailers "unilaterally all decided they didn't want to do Black
Friday, many would be pretty happy with that," Donnelly says. "But like
any arms race, no one wants to be the first one to lay down their
a survey out Monday, Deloitte said 60% of respondents plan to shop in
stores or online over the Thanksgiving weekend, up from 51% in 2011.
Among these weekend shoppers, 63% plan to shop in stores on Black Friday
and 23% said they will shop in stores on Thanksgiving, up from 17% in
last year's survey.
MORE: Black Friday Secrets Revealed
Despite some of the bad press Black Friday gets,
Wilson says the day really does have some of the very lowest prices of
the year. That makes an in-store outing worth it for many people, if
they've got the stamina and see deals on products they want.
could go blindfolded to the stores on Black Friday and feel confident
that you're getting a very good deal on almost anything you find,"
But the following Monday, Wilson says, does indeed have the lowest
online prices of the year on many products, which can make it worth the
wait. Last year marked the first
time Cyber Monday surpassed Black Friday as the biggest online shopping
day of the year - growing from 138 million visits to 177 million visits,
according to Experian Marketing Services, which tracks a custom
category of 500 leading retail websites.
So before you wind up in a swirl of store and Web sales, it pays to have your own battle plan. Five key steps:
1. Set a budget and make your list. If
you've already done some shopping, figure out how much you've already
spent and make sure you have the gifts you've already purchased
chronicled on your phone or old-fashioned note pad. Figure out your
must-haves and the top price you can - or at least should - pay for each
Planning is crucial to making sure you don't overspend
once you hit the stores, says Katie Ross, education and development
manager at American Consumer Credit Counseling. Black Friday sales can
lead to a lot of impulse buying, she says, so have a list of who you're
buying for, what you're buying and how much you can afford.
cash can help, Ross says. Bring only how much you've budgeted for and
stop when it runs out. "Don't go and spend money you don't have," she
2. Employ the best online and mobile tools to get the best deals. Toys
R Us, among other retailers, was still insisting last week it hadn't
"released" its Black Friday deals, but anyone with Internet access could
still find the toy chain's - and most everyone else's - splattered
across deal sites including BFads.net, Dealnews.com and BradsDeals.com.
That means you can do almost all of the price-comparing you need to from the comfort of your home computer or mobile device.
Some of the best apps for holiday shopping, says PCMag analyst Jill Duffy, include RedLaser,
a shopping-comparison app that lets you scan the bar code of an item
with your phone. It then searches for better prices at nearby stores and
online. She also recommends the app for coupon site RetailMeNot, which will send your phone notifications for coupons and deals at nearby stores when you walk into the mall.
every app has to be deal-centric to help on a shopping-crazed weekend,
though. Duffy also recommends Foursquare and Twitter to track what other
shoppers are saying about how crowded a store might be or whether hot
products have run out.
And if you're still worried you're not
getting the best deals in stores, price-matching policies can help with
even more savings. Target and Best Buy will match prices with online
competitors at certain times during the holidays (but beware the fine
print), and Walmart will match in-store prices of local competitors.
If you use your Citi card and register purchases with your online
account, the card company will search for a better price for up to 30
days. If they find one, it will refund you the difference. PayPal is
offering a similar service for the holidays for customers who use their
PayPal account at checkout, though it's up to shoppers to find the lower
3. Decide if you need to go to stores at all. Even
the most highly promoted doorbuster deals can often be found online for
less. Editors at Dealnews.com last year found the same deals online for
the same price or less about 70% of the time. Amazon's deals this year,
for example, are near impossible for any retailer to beat, says Wilson.
And retailers are working to optimize their websites for tablets
as well as smartphones and improving website response times, says
Compuware Chief Technology Officer Steve Tack.
For some, however,
shopping on Black Friday (or even Thanksgiving, these days) is as much a
tradition as it is a strategic shopping tool.
it comes to big electronics, especially TVs, some people worry that
shipping costs and installation make it necessary to buy in person from
brick-and-mortar stores with service options. That's not always the
case. Sites including Amazon and electronics retailer Newegg.com often
make sure shipping costs, when included in the price, keep them
competitive with stores. Merle McIntosh, a Newegg senior vice president,
says the site will also sometimes subcontract with companies that do
When buying large equipment, read the fine
print of included services, such as installation, before purchasing
what seems like a steal.
"If the guy is not going to help you
bring the 300-pound treadmill in the house, that's not going to be such a
great deal," says ConsumerSearch.com editor-in-chief Carey Rossi.
are other reasons to be on guard - or on your computer - as shopping in
stores means dealing with large crowds and can often lead to theft and
"We unfortunately see the down side of what happens to
customers on occasion during days like this," says Christie Alderman, a
vice president at Chubb Personal Insurance. Along with physical
violence and parking-lot crashes, "There are plenty of ladies who get
their Michael Kors clutches snatched in the food court and their Visas
swiped by the teenager working at the department store."
4. Plan which stores to visit and when, if you choose to venture out. Retailers
are making their staggered deals incredibly confusing this year, which
makes prioritizing more important than ever. Rank the deals you need or
want to get the most, and consider when the stores offering them are
open - and that product goes on sale.
Long lines to get and pay
for products may make it impossible for you to get to a second store in
time for those deals. It may be necessary to divide and conquer if
you're shopping with family or to settle for one store's deals. Allow
yourself enough time so you aren't driving too fast or recklessly in
parking lots, where insurers find there is an uptick in fender benders
this holiday weekend.
5. Save some money for Cyber Monday - and the rest of the holiday season. Most of all, don't worry if you decide to forgo all of the holiday madness over the holiday weekend.
is just the kickoff for sales leading up to holiday sales," says Rossi.
"How often do we see some tablet at Walgreens we've never heard of that
we only see on Black Friday?"
Around the second week of December, "more quality products you want will go on sale," she says.
year, most of the things on Lynch's list are Apple products, which she
knows won't go on sale. For the rest, she may shop on Black Friday, but
it will be on her computer.
Mike Fridgen, CEO of Decide, which
tracks the best time to buy products, says it's actually usually before
and after Black Friday weekend for many hot items. Don't wait to buy
popular toys, he says, as stores often run out of them and then prices
go up. Luxury items such as watches, handbags and Ugg boots also tend to
increase in price closer to the holidays, he says.
Friday and Cyber Monday is the time to buy small kitchen appliances such
as blenders or juicers, he says. At least one item that's a steal this
weekend, though? The Xbox, which Fridgen says has consistently dropped
in price around Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
With the growth in
e-commerce, Fridgen questions whether Black Friday will continue to
have a place as the kickoff to holiday shopping.
"If (customers) are doing it because they think they're getting deals," he says, "the data just doesn't support that."
disagrees. He and 24 employees regularly look up what the best
historical price is on deals they mention. And "the day we cite the
most, by far, is the prior Black Friday," he says.
The number of
people who shopped online and in stores "grew 50% from 2007 to 2011
because the deals were real," he says. "Consumers, especially
price-sensitive ones, are too smart to be fooled."