Black Friday 2011 is Nov. 25, and with retailers predicting record numbers of shoppers swarming stores the day after Thanksgiving, it's good to have some pointers for nabbing the best sales and deals of the year. Follow these top ten tips for shopping, from where to look for the best bargains to how to pace yourself on the big day, and we predict Black Friday 2011 will be your most successful Black Friday to date.
1. Shop Online Before Black Friday.
In the next week, many major retailers will leak their Black Friday specials for 2011, and many of those same sites will have additional deals on their company Web sites.
Check out Black Friday 2011 Web sites like bfads.net, blackfriday.info, theblackfriday.com and Black Friday@gottadeal.com. For major Black Friday deals and special sales, check out the ongoing pre-Black Friday steals going on at walmart.com and amazon.com.
2. Sign Up For E-mail Alerts.
Almost all the big retailers use e-mail alerts to reward customers who've signed up as members, even if said membership costs nothing at all. Sign up for any and all alert systems that you can, so you know about upcoming promotional deals and coupons for big sales. Alerts also often let shoppers know when products are running low or are only available on a limited-time basis, as well as some product deals that involve ordering online and having the product delivered, always a Black Friday godsend.
3. Check Out Store Return Policies Ahead of Time.
This applies even at your favorite store or retail chain, which may have different rules for Black Friday 2011. With the thousands of shoppers predicted to swarm America's stores come late November, a lot of Black Friday deals are final sales, meaning it can't be returned, or only qualify for store exchanges or credit rather than a refund on Nov. 25.
4. Check the Warranty.
Black Friday 2011 retailers are predicting record numbers of shoppers this year, and that means stores may stock some products that are more for filling shelf space than for fulfilling customer needs. Some Black Friday sale items may be derivative models, meaning they have a shorter warranty period or have warranties that only cover certain problems or repairs.
Make sure to take a moment in your shopping frenzy to check that the products on sale are deals in every sense, not just price, and if the warranty seems suspect, put it back on the shelf.
5. Look Into Price-Match Guarantees and Specially Priced Bundle Items.
To make up for cutting out price matching, however, many retailers, and sometimes even the manufacturers themselves, will combine two or more items into special bundles on Black Friday's date this year.
A lot of the same stores that offer to match competitor's prices will suspend the policy for Black Friday, since the sales are so big already. It never hurts to ask, however, especially since these 2011 deals are supposed to be the lowest prices of the year. Some of these deals amount to some great savings, but others only look like they're a steal, combining pricey items with something that's pretty cheap anyway in order to sell more of the expensive product.
6. Avoid an Accessory-Binge.
We've all been there, even when it's not in the middle of a Black Friday sale. You've found an amazing deal on a fantastic TV set and stereo system ... and then blow most of the money you've just saved on the cool accessories, at full price, that can come with it. If you don't see the accessories you need at a reasonable price, ask a salesperson for help, or shop for the accessories later online where there's less pressure to rush to the checkout line.
7. Have Patience.
Black Friday 2011 seems like the last time and place to take your time. More than likely, you'll be treated to dirty looks and some passive aggressive elbowing by your fellow shoppers. But in stores packed with people all fighting for the same deals, keeping a level head and sticking to a plan laid out beforehand will end up getting you in a better mindset for grabbing sales, and it will make the shopping experience far less stressful on this year's date.
8. Have a Plan.
There's a difference, of course, between being steady and being slow, and that's where having a plan comes in. The day before Black Friday 2011, write down the stores you're going to, including addresses and directions, what times they all open, what you need to get, and how much you're willing to spend. Be sure to check that the stores are in the same locations as last year, and that opening times for Nov. 25 are the same as years in the past.
9. Expect Not to Sleep.
Black Friday predictions for 2011 have caused many retailers to push back their opening times even past the 5 a.m. norm. Even if you get there before the store opens, you'll still have to wait in a monster line for those great deals, and some stores like Macy's New York may have up to 7,000 people waiting outside for hours before deals are even available. Make an educated guess about how many people will be driving out for these sales, and set your alarm clock accordingly.
10. Dress (and Carry) Appropriately.
Most people know to avoid nice clothing or, god forbid, high heels for Black Friday 2011. But those who plan on placing comfort above all else, beware; big, bulky sweatshirts and winter jackets may start out feeling great, but will be nothing but excess space (and way too much heat) once the sales-crush starts. Opt for thick layers you can stuff in a bag if necessary, and wear sneakers that won't feel suffocating after several hours bargaining hunting.
What you carry can be just as important as what you wear. Bring a small water bottle if you can, but ease up on any extra beverages, and avoid coffee or energy drinks high in caffeine unless you want to spend your Black Friday in a crowded bathroom.
One final note: please, please carry credit cards, not cash, on the date in question. It's understandable to be wary of plastic payment when you're being swamped with so many sales and deals, but those bargains won't overwhelm you if you've planned ahead. You'll make far fewer enemies at the sales checkout line if you're touting a MasterCard or Visa than a stockpile of ones, fives and tens.