Tips to Survive and Conquer Black Friday

Black Friday also known as the friday after Thanksgiving has earned the reputation of being the busiest and most hectic shopping day of the year. The name was adopted from an accounting term – red ink denotes a negative profit margin, where as “in the black” denotes a positive profit margin. Many retailers make or break their sales goals between Thanksgiving and Christmas, with the season kicking off on the Friday after Thanksgiving, hence the name “Black Friday.”

If you’re determined to brave the crowds on Friday, we’re with you, and have a few simple tips to make the day a little less stressful:

Look for Early Bird Shopper Discounts. The Early Bird Shopper will be the real winner on Black Friday. Stores offering early-day shopper specials usually run the deals from 5 a.m. until 11 a.m. and with no “rain checks,” which means once they run out of the products, you are out of luck. Scanning the ads and routing your trip based on your buying priorities will be important with the time-sensitive deals that will be offered.

Distinguish between deals and duds. To ensure you’ll be getting an actual bargain rather than a ho-hum or too-high price, visit Web sites such as BizRate.com, Shopping.com, DealTime. Amazon.com, FatWallet.com, BlackFridayAds.com, GottaDeal.com, DealTaker.com, Shopping.com and PriceGrabber.com as you’re doing your research to get a sense of how much items should cost

Make friends with people in line. A spirit of camaraderie will not only make the long, dark wait more pleasant — it also could prove to be a godsend if you must give up your place in line so you can run to the bathroom. You could offer to hold a place in line for your newfound friend in return.

Know the Store Policies: Knowing the store policies on returns can help you determine where to buy. A previous trend of extending “return days” during the holidays is being seen less this year. Many retailers are including restocking fees and shorter return deadlines. Almost all of the major retail chains have clamped down on requiring receipts for returns and exchanges, and many keep a database of individuals who tend to abuse return policies. If you get onto an “abuse” list, prepare yourself to be turned down.

Be mindful of restocking fees. Some sites charge as much as 25 percent for returns of opened GPS navigation systems, television sets, camcorders, digital cameras, and other major buys. Items such as computer software, movies, music and video games usually can be exchanged for the identical item but cannot be returned for a refund.

Ask for Gift Receipts. Gift receipts generally include a description of the item purchased but do not disclose the price paid. Including gift receipts inside the gift box will make returns or exchanges easier for the gift recipient. Without proof-of-purchase, the recipient may be turned down for returning or exchanging the item or risk receiving an exchange for the current selling price of the item. Since many retailers begin permanently slashing prices as soon as Black Friday is over, the difference between what you pay for a gift during December and what it sells for in January can be significant. Including a gift-receipt should help insure a hassle-free return experience for gift recipients.

Shop with a list and gift list. You’ll feel more in control and focused if you head out with a list of the people you’re shopping for, the gift ideas you have in mind for them and the target price range for each item. Otherwise, a shopping day like this one could be so overwhelming that you might fail to accomplish as much as you had hoped.

In addition, you’ve gotten used to social networking on facebook and Myspace, so apply that approach to your gift list. The point: be like Santa and make a list of who you want to buy for and who you don’t. Black Friday is perfect for impulse buys, but you don’t want to load up your cart with a lot of gifts that have no intended recipient. You can’t just see some shiny bauble and think it will make a great gift for someone, and two years later still have it. A good list includes all the major family members, plus all the extra people: your co-workers, babysitters, mailmen, etc. Think about everyone you know who might be expecting a treat and make sure they are covered.

Beat the crowds through virtual shopping! Stop and think of the myriad benefits: no crowds, no lines, no need to change out of your pajamas. What’s more, many online retailers offer sales and special discounts on the Friday after Thanksgiving — and sometimes those sales kick in at midnight on the night before Black Friday. It might be a weird way to spend the wee hours of the morning, but you’re guaranteed not to get scratched, kicked or trampled. Fly Solo. That may sound like no fun, and most advice on Black Friday says to pal up for the day. But unless your shopping partner is more of a personal assistant to follow you around and do your bidding, shopping with another person (or worse, a group) will only slow you down. You’ll spend time chatting and browsing on another person’s agenda instead of your own. If you get separated, as will surely happen, you’ll spend too much time trying to track down the other person. Carpooling, on the other hand, is a great idea. But just go with the expectation that you’ll split up and meet back at the car at an appointed time. Unless you want to bicker and feel frustrated all day, think hard about who would get into the spirit of a shopping day like this. “Taking your lover is like taking a walking argument – just don’t.” It also might be wise to leave your kids at home.

It’s OK to do nothing. In fact, if you steer clear of stores entirely that day, you’ll have plenty of company. Many people shun most forms of shopping for the entire weekend, either because they can’t stand crowds or they’re turned off by the notion of people shopping from pre-dawn ‘til after dark. Each year on the day after Thanksgiving, the funny and incisive Adbusters Magazine sponsors “Buy Nothing Day” in countries all over the globe. The 24-hour event is billed as a “festival of restraint.”

Lastly, be safe, make sure to dress in layers, drink plenty of water, and happy hunting!

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