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5 Tips for a Successful Black Friday

Nov 15, 2010 12:15 PM, By Jason Bovberg


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It's that time of year for bargain consumers of all kinds—but particularly for consumers of electronics. We're less than two weeks away from the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, which historically has begun in earnest the day after Thanksgiving—Black Friday. It's the time of year, frankly (and selfishly), when I'm shopping as much for my home theater as much as for others. I save up all year for November sales, and yes, increasingly, Black Friday seems to be encompassing all of November in recent years, or at least a huge chunk of it.

Already this year, I've seen my Black Friday savings account pillaged by "early" Black Friday sales at stores such as Ultimate Electronics (my new favorite store) and even Best Buy (which sent out a voluminous selection of better-than-usual coupons last week). Not to mention Barnes & Noble's fabled (and apparently annual) 50-percent-off sale for Criterion DVDs and Blu-ray Discs. Many other stores have begun advertising pre-Black Friday deals in the hopes of getting on the minds of consumers who can't wait for Thanksgiving to be over and all the consumer rioting to begin. Not too much longer, and we'll be calling this month Black November.

I guess this is great news for the economy, anyway.

As Black Friday evolves—in more ways than one—it's important to know the landscape and to be armed with common sense. You've prepared for this season of shopping, and there are many, many bargains out there to be found, without requiring you to join in life-threatening stampedes with the rest of humanity. If you're smart, you can make out like a bandit without even battling any crowds, or even without leaving the comfort of your home. Here are five Black Friday tips to live by.

5. Know Your Stores

My worst Black Friday experiences are with stores whose day-after-Thanksgiving methods I was unfamiliar with. I remember one of my first Black Friday experiences at the now defunct Circuit City: I was shopping for a new PC for my wife, and Friday morning I was looking through the circulars and found a nice system at a great price in that store's ad. So I gamely left the house early and arrived there around 7 a.m.—just when Circuit City was opening. Naturally, I encountered a line wrapping around the store, and when I got in: chaos. Not only did I find that the system was sold out, but I also felt lost in the midst of all the crazed, wide-eyed buyers, and stymied by the store's layout, with which I was mostly unfamiliar.

Now, I'm much more calm and prepared. I already have favorite stores in mind and am familiar with their floor plans and even their employees. These stores are my consumer electronics haunts, so whether I go there every week or once a month, I know how they function. I peruse their ads, and I know how their sales work throughout the year. In some cases, I can even find their Black Friday ads online before they're published—and prepare accordingly. This kind of familiarity will help you to no end on that fateful Friday morning, and if you've become tight with an employee, you might even talk with him or her beforehand about the best way to navigate Black Friday. Insider tips are always welcome.

4. Know the Ads Before You Actually Get Them

Sure, your local newspaper is going to start spitting advertisements at you like crazy, begging you to burst through their doors at some ungodly hour (our local Target opened at 3am last year), but it's not enough to wait for the ads the day of the sale. Those email blasts you're probably already getting—"Please shop here for Black Friday deals NOW!"—also aren't sufficient. Although you can find some surprising deals in the paper the day after Thanksgiving, when you wake up Friday morning, you should ideally already have your plan of attack in hand—in great detail.

As I mentioned before, nowadays the Black Friday ads of most stores are leaked online far before the actual Black Friday event. Many of this year's ads are already online—they're just a Google search away. Or go to your favorite, well-trafficked media forum and find its thread about Black Friday deals. (For example, here's my favorite forum for Blu-ray bargains.) Many times, such forums will do the work for you, posting ads and highlighting the best deals to be had next week. In many cases, you'll find that some of these deals just aren't worth the effort of getting out of bed at 4 a.m. Friday morning after a long night of eating, drinking, and merriment. (Perhaps nothing is.) But after going through this easy preparation, you'll be less likely to be upset with yourself for venturing out into early-morning Black Friday pandemonium. You'll have earned your peace of mind by knowing exactly what you want.

3. Research Beyond the Price

Whether you're on the prowl for big-ticket items such as home theater equipment or laptops, or smaller stocking stuffers such as Blu-ray Discs or games, start doing your research now. You don't want to fall for the old trick of consumer electronics stores offering bad products at great prices. Often, they'll merely determine their worst-selling merchandise and slap a low price on it just to get rid of it, betting on the gullibility of us uninformed, greedy Americans, who just want a sale price, regardless of quality. But rather than surge into stores blindly Friday morning, seeking eye-opening price tags, it's far better to know exactly the brands/models/versions of a product you really want, and only then determine whether the price is a fabulous deal. Remember that a bad product is a bad product, regardless of price.

Oh, and never find yourself comparison shopping on Black Friday, wandering from store to store for the best price or the best item. Your comparison shopping should be long done, and you should be armed with detailed notes.

Heck, after all that research, you've probably found that Black Friday isn't the day you want to shop for that big-ticket item at all. Not even close. Remember, Black Friday is not the day you should expect to get good, careful service and attention from the consumer electronics superstore.

2. Know Your Shopping Strategy

If you're a seasoned Black Friday shopper, you don't just have a vague plan to hit certain stores throughout the morning. You have a detailed plan that shows when the stores open, when certain deals are active, and even which departments within certain stores to hit first. This is part of what all that research is for: establishing your ground attack. You also have not only a travel-route plan but an alternate travel plan in case you happen upon a gargantuan, time-consuming line snaking around one of your first choices. I've been known to skip a Black Friday deal altogether if the parking lot is jammed and the store looks absolutely packed.

Some things are worth skipping, just to retain some self-worth. I've seen the faces of over-ambitious Black Friday consumers, and they're a nightmare to behold.

1. Shop Online

And now throw out most of that advice, forget about venturing into the predawn cold, and just get a cup of coffee and plant yourself at your computer. More and more, the online Black Friday experience is becoming user-friendly and lucrative. Last year, Amazon.com bent over backwards with its extended Black Friday sale that lasted what seemed weeks, offering new deals every couple hours, into the wee hours. The site also price-matched—or beat—whatever deals it could find in its many competitors' advertisements. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see increasing numbers of online outlets offering the same kinds of shopping experiences.

We're in the 21st century, after all, and we're among the most connected of all the people in the world. We should never have a need to actually leave our homes! So as you work and play at home, keep an extra browser window open, displaying the online deals that entice you, and simply click buy when the opportunity arises. Avoid the masses!

Unless you're in it for the thrill.

Jason Bovberg is a senior editor for Windows IT Pro and SQL Server magazine and a regular contributor to Residential AV Presents Connected Home. He specializes in networking, mobile and wireless, hardware, and home computing. He has more than 15 years of experience as a writer and editor in magazine, book, and special-interest publishing. He can be reached at jbovberg@windowsitpro.com.



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