Are you ready for Black Friday?
While the traditional start to the holiday shopping season is pushing into Thanksgiving this year, with stores like Sears, Walmart and Target launching their door-buster specials on Thursday, savvy shoppers can snag deals even sooner.
And with the inevitable crunch of shoppers crowding store aisles and limited supplies of some of the sweetest deals, it pays to have a plan before you venture out.
“It’s become much more sophisticated,” said Julie Clark, the marketing manager at the Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls, which is opening its doors at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving. “It’s about planning out the strategy, planning out where you want to be and when you want to be there.”
But don’t let the hype cloud your judgment. A smattering of websites makes it easier than ever before to compare prices and deals days in advance. Shoppers out in the stores can use their smartphones and tablets to check competitor prices before they buy. And keep an eye out for last-minute deals that retailers may offer through social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter.
“Consumers now have the power to check prices and availability,” said Pam Goodfellow, the director of consumer insight for BIGInsight.com.
Here’s how to make sure your Black Friday week buys really are good deals:
• Plan and compare. Most retailers’ Black Friday ads are available online, either through the retailer’s own site or at a handful of websites that have carved a niche as clearinghouses for Black Friday deals and information.
Sites like gottadeal.com, fatwallet.com and blackfriday.com not only post store circulars and store hours, but they also have features that let shoppers sort through deals from all the stores they track, allowing consumers to search, for example, for all deals on televisions. Dealnews.com offers analysis of the “deals” offered by retailers like Walmart, Best Buy and Radio Shack. Sites like bradsdeals.com, bfads.net and blackfriday.com offer Black Friday circulars and store hours.
And then there’s slickdeals.net and fatwallet.com, a pair of deal sites whose discussion forums should be a regular stop for any savvy shopper, regardless of the time of year.
• Think beyond Black Friday. Kohl’s is making some of its Black Friday deals available online after midnight Wednesday. Sears made some of its door busters available to members of its Shop Your Way Rewards program beginning Sunday, and more will be offered Wednesday.
Beyond that, retailers from Walmart to Newegg.com and Best Buy already have been offering a steady stream of pre-Black Friday deals.
• Get social. Be sure to “like” your favorite stores’ Facebook pages and follow their Twitter feeds. Stores will be using social media more than ever this Black Friday to keep shoppers updated on last-minute deals and discounts, said Matt Shay, president of the National Retail Federation.
Kohl’s said its Facebook fans will receive exclusive savings offers during the holidays through Friday flash sales. Expect retailers to send text messages offering discounts to shoppers who have signed up to receive them. The Fashion Outlets plans to use TVs in its concourses to keep shoppers updated on the posting from the mall’s stores, Clark said.
• The lucky few. Be wary of door-buster deals that only come in limited quantities. Read the fine print of the ads. If a store says it only guarantees that each store will have 10 of a particular item, that’s a tip-off there’s a good chance that item will be sold out by the time you get there.
“The idea is to draw customers in with a few loss leaders,” said Arun Jain, a University at Buffalo marketing professor.
Walmart said it will guarantee that three items that are part of its 10 p.m. door-buster sale on Thanksgiving will be available to people who are in line at its stores between 10 and 11 p.m. Those items include a 16GB Apple iPad 2 priced at $399 that comes with a $75 Walmart gift card, a 32-inch Emerson LCD TV for $148 and a $38 LG Blu-ray player.
• Timing is everything. The Black Friday shopping frenzy is steadily spilling over into Thanksgiving, with stores like Walmart, Sears and Target all opening on the holiday. Other stores, from Best Buy to Bon-Ton and Macy’s, are opening at midnight Thursday.
Walmart, for instance, is starting its first round of holiday door busters at 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving, followed by another round at 10 p.m. and a final sale at 5 a.m. on Black Friday.
The hoopla associated with the door busters helps draw in customers, and the staggered sales are designed to keep shoppers in the store longer, waiting for the next sale to hit, Jain said.
This is where the planning comes in. Know what items are going on sale at what time and plan your stops accordingly. Go with a group of family or friends and divide the shopping responsibilities so the group can cover the most ground, Clark said.
“It’s become much more sophisticated,” she said. “I’ve even seen where people have radios and they’re communicating back and forth.”
• There’s an app for that. Macy’s is adding a Black Friday feature to its iPhone app that will help shoppers create shopping lists and browse Black Friday specials in advance. Walmart said it will offer early access to special deals through its app, allowing them to purchase certain store items online hours before they’re available in stores.
Beyond that, smartphones and tablets are a great way for consumers to compare prices and even check the availability of items at other stores.
• Keep watching for a better deal. There’s no guarantee that the price you pay on Black Friday will be the lowest price.
Hang on to your receipts and keep scouring the ads and online retailers for a better price. Target, Best Buy and Toys R Us all have limited price-matching policies that include online retailers, but there are plenty of exceptions.
Best Buy’s price-matching policy, for instance, doesn’t apply between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Nov. 26.