On Friday, Nov. 23, millions of consumers will flock to stores to take part in the Black Friday shopping experience. They are drawn by the promise of bargains and the thrill of mixing it up with throngs of fellow shoppers.
Unfortunately, the bargains are not always plentiful. While stores promote deep savings on a handful of highly desirable items, the prices of everything else are not much different from a normal shopping day. Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org, suggests going home with a Black Friday deal will require some advance planning.
“Black Friday now starts on Thursday,” Dworsky said. “And for the first time, some stores are staggering their doorbusters, releasing different ones at different times. For Walmart, it is at 8pm and 10pm on Thursday and 5am Friday, while at Sears it is at 8pm and 4am. “If you don’t read their circulars carefully, you may show up at the store either hours early or hours late.”
Here are Dworsky's top 10 ways to get a Black Friday bargain:
Read the ads: Preview the Black Friday sale circulars before hitting the stores. Not only will they appear in local papers next week, many ad slicks are now online at numerous Black Friday shopping sites. Make sure there is a bargain worth getting up in the middle of the night for.
Evaluate the deals: Not all Black Friday advertised items are great deals. Others will become available the weekend before Thanksgiving, on Cyber Monday, or in mid-December. Compare the ads to what the item is selling for online. For example, Amazon.com has been offering Black Friday deals throughout November.
Research the Right Product: A low price on a lousy product is no bargain. Check Websites like ConsumerAffairs for consumer reviews. Some publications feature reviews by professionals.
Use coupons: To save the most, combine the primary ways to save: buy items at a good sale price, use percent-off/dollars-off coupons offered by some stores to lower that price even more, and look for items that also have a cash back rebate. Keep in mind some Black Friday sale items may not accept coupons. If that's the case the ads should say so.
Be an Early Bird: That may mean heading out on Thanksgiving night if you are shopping at Walmart, Sears, Kmart, Kohls, Macy's and Toys“R”Us. Just keep in mind the employees waiting on you will not be the happiest people in the world, having been dragged away from family celebrations by their bosses.
Beat the Early Birds: In some cases you may be able to start shopping before everyone else. Sears is letting its reward club members buy some doorbusters starting on Sunday, November 18. To plan for the real Black Friday, scope-out key retailers on Wednesday before Thanksgiving to learn each store’s floor plan in advance. Avoid the crowds by ordering online since some Black Friday deals may be available on Thanksgiving Day or early Friday. Be warned, however, that stores are not generally good about indicating which items will also be available online.
Check the Return Policy: Before buying, find out the store's return policy. While many stores have extended their return deadlines into January, others are clamping down by imposing restocking fees on certain categories of items, or by using a blacklisting database or returns tracking system to deny refunds to returns abusers.
Get a Gift Receipt: Make returns easier for gift recipients by asking the store for a gift receipt and include it in the gift box. Without a receipt, a refund may be denied outright, or may be limited to only an equal exchange, or to a merchandise credit for the lowest price the item has sold for in the recent past.
Use the Right Credit Card: Certain credit cards offer valuable free benefits. For example, don't be pressured into buying a service contract when you can get up to an extra year of warranty coverage free just by using most gold or platinum credit cards. Ask your credit card issuer what length warranties qualify for an extra year of coverage, if any. Some credit cards also offer a return protection guarantee.
Save More with Price-Match Guarantees: Keep checking the prices of the items you buy. Since many stores offer a price protection guarantee, you may be entitled to get back some additional money if the seller or a competitor offers a lower price before Christmas.