My husband and I have a Thanksgiving routine. Before the family arrives or the turkey is carved, we gather in the living room. As Christmas music plays in the background, he turns on his laptop, and I mine.
That’s when the deal hunt begins.
Some people cringe at the thought of shopping on Thanksgiving or Black Friday, but I revel in it.
Maybe it’s because I love a good bargain, or because I write about how to save money. Whatever the reason, I know a lot about Black Friday. And I’d like to share some secrets with you.
Shopping early is a risk
Technically, Black Friday is Nov. 29 this year. But as far as the deals go, it’s already here. Retailers no longer wait for the day after Thanksgiving to start sales.
Black Friday isn’t a day anymore. It’s a season, according to Jennifer Burton, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Tampa.
“The season seems to get longer and longer every year,” Burton says.
Retailers take the liberty to brand all sorts of promotions during the year as Black Friday sales.
“Black Friday has become synonymous with ‘special sale,’” says Jane Boyd Thomas, professor of marketing at Winthrop University.
While there’s no best single day to buy everything on your holiday shopping list, experts agree big savings happen throughout the season from late October through Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving). So Burton says it’s important to track prices on items you want.
You can snag savings throughout November, but despite early deals, retailers like Walmart, Target and Best Buy reserve some of their best bargains for Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday. So shopping sales mid-November can be risky.
But in at least one instance, it’s smart to shop ahead — if a seller announces an early start to a deal from its Black Friday ad. Retailers like Amazon, Best Buy and Kohl’s have done this in the past.
Shopping unprepared can cost you
Don’t you wish you knew what was coming on Black Friday so you could figure out when to shop and what to buy?
It’s actually easy to guess. If a store hasn’t announced its 2019 deals yet, look up last year’s Black Friday ad online. Retailers tend to not get too creative from one year to another.
In 2017, the front of Target’s Black Friday ad included deals on a 55-inch TV, Google Home Mini and Beats earphones. The same three types of products graced the ad again in 2018.
“Retailers pretty much run the same things year after year, so for good insight, go look at what Walmart did last year on Black Friday,” Thomas says. “What did Target do? Did they run televisions? Was it Legos?”
Black Friday is a solid bet for deals on small electronics, apparel and Christmas decorations, Thomas adds.
Another tip? I search my archived emails for the words “Black Friday.” I can usually find prior Black Friday promotions that detail exactly what products the store discounted, and at what price.
Shopping in-store is a mistake
Last year I spent Thanksgiving morning on the couch — coffee in one hand, iPhone in the other and laptop in front of me. I placed online order after order, crossing gifts off my Christmas list. Years prior, I stood in a two-hour line at Best Buy to purchase a single TV.
For many, camping outside a store on Black Friday is a tradition, Burton points out. Thomas agrees. In Black Friday research with co-author Cara Peters, she found that for some consumers, bonding and community are just as important as the deals.
But for the convenience-minded, online shopping is king. And prices are often the same as they are at the store.
If you decide to park yourself on the couch, here are three proven strategies:
- Pre-shop. Thomas recommends making an online account with your retailers of choice beforehand and adding the products you want to your favorites list. This will make the checkout process smoother.
- Divide and conquer. Select the best deals and stick to those items. Burton says free shipping is standard now. You should be able to place small orders at each retailer without needing to meet a shipping minimum.
- Try, try, again. Websites crash on Black Friday. Pages load slowly. Carts magically empty when you’re about to check out. If you encounter technical difficulties, keep trying. Go to a retailer’s website and app simultaneously to see which is faster.
I know what I’ll be doing on Thanksgiving and Black Friday this year. Do you?
This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Courtney Jespersen is a writer at NerdWallet.