Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Black Friday: A Tried and True Strategy

After shopping on Black Friday for several years now, my family and I have come up with what we consider the best way to get the most out of our time and money that day. Here are a few tips for first time shoppers and seasoned veterans alike.

Make a Budget
Decide ahead of time how much you’re willing to spend on Black Friday. You should already have a budget for Christmas gifts, so if you purchase things for other people you can take the money from that fund, but anything you purchase for yourself should be in cash. The rebates often don’t come till March or April, so don’t pay interest on your purchases by putting everything on a credit card and waiting for the rebates to come. Know how much you’re willing and able to spend upfront before rebates, and stick to that amount.

Get Organized
It’s a good idea to look at sites like to find out what deals are available ahead of time, but since the site doesn’t include all stores and deals are sometimes different in various regions of the country, the best thing to do is grab a newspaper on Thanksgiving day. Look through the ads, make a list of what you plan to buy (within your budget!), then note the store each item is at and what time that store opens. I find it helpful to use a spreadsheet or even just draw a grid on a piece of paper to keep everything straight.

Decide Where to Go
Pick the store that carries one or two of the most important items on your list and plan to be at that store well before the crack of dawn. If it’s a major electronics chain like Buy More—eh, I mean Best Buy—you’ll want to be there at least three or four hours before it opens, especially if you’re after a big ticket item. If it’s an office supply or department store, you can usually get away with being there only two or three hours before opening.

Recruit a Teammate
We’ve found that the best method for shopping on Black Friday is to have one two-person team per store. This makes it easy to leave your spot in line if you need to, and you can cover more ground when you get inside the store. If you have more than one major store you want to hit, send a second team there.

Waiting in Line Is Not Idle Time
Yes, much of your waiting time will be spent idly, but there are things you can do to make this time productive. It’s great to bring a project to work on or a book to read, but it’s even better to use the time to scope out the competition and get the lay of the land. Store employees will often come by prior to opening and hand out vouchers for certain big ticket items. When they come by, ask them about the store layout and find out where the items you want are located. It can also be helpful walk up and down the line and listen to the chatter to find out if you’re likely to get what you want.

Man Your Positions
Each person will pick one thing to head straight for when you enter the store. As soon as you’ve acquired that item, one person will head to the register line (maybe grabbing another item or two on their way to the front of the store) while the other person collects the remaining item on the list and brings them to the person in line. The line at the register will get very long very quickly, so sending someone there almost immediately will reduce the amount of time you have to wait.

Stay the Course
Don’t give in to impulse buys. Stores know they’ll have more people come through their store on Black Friday than any other day, so they’ll entice you to buy more by putting rebate items in hard to reach places while placing regular price items on prominent display. You’ve done enough research beforehand to know exactly what you’re after, so if it’s not on your list, don’t pick it up.

Accept Failure
Even with all the planning in the world, it’s entirely possible that ten college guys will camp out in front of the store for two days to grab the entire store’s stock of the item you want. That’s just the way things go on Black Friday; sometimes you have to admit defeat.

Skip the Cart
A cart will only slow you down as you try to maneuver through the massive amounts of people and stuff in the store. If you can’t carry everything you’re buying, the second person can make several trips to the front of the store, grabbing list items and bringing them to the person in line, who pushes the stack along as the line moves forward. After you check out and you need to get everything out to your car, you can grab a cart then, or just leave one person watching everything at the front of the store while the other person makes a couple trips to the car.

Rounds Two, Three, Four, and More
After you’re done at the first store, head to the second one on your list. It’s best if this is an office supply store or a department store because those tend to have a smaller crowd. The electronics stores will be out of anything you want, I guarantee it. Repeat the process here, then head to the third store, and so on.

Triple Check
Check first that the product you’re picking up is the one the rebate or sale price is for. Check again that the product rings up correctly at the register. Check a third time that your receipt shows the right amount for each item. There are no substitutions on Black Friday, and returning things is a pain, so make sure you’ve got what you want and you paid the right amount for it. If at any point you realize there was a mistake, however, go to customer service (another loooooooong line) and have it corrected as soon as possible.

Do the Paperwork
When you get home, fill out your rebate paperwork immediately. Fill out the forms, cut off the UPC symbols, and make sure to follow the rebate instructions to the letter. These companies are infamous for denying refunds for the simplest things, but if you read carefully you’ll be fine. It’s also a good idea to make a copy of everything for your own records, and check off the rebates as you get the checks in the mail to make sure you get everything you’re entitled to.

Have Fun!

Even if you don’t normally enjoy shopping, Black Friday can be a fun adventure. We like to think of the whole thing as a game; you play hard, but sometimes you lose, and that’s okay.

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