An Insider's Guide to Shopping Black Friday

Tips to Find the Deals and Still Stay Sane


Black Friday
Whether it be at Walmart, Target, Toys R' Us , or Best Buy, anyone who dares to call themselves a shopping warrior has stood outside a foreboding storefront on Black Friday waiting for the doors to open and the crowds to surge inward. I know, trust me. I was there. In fact, for four years, I was the guy opening those doors at midnight to greet the shopping madness. I worked at a mall anchor store, one of the big national chains, as a loss prevention manager and it was my job to face the mob on a daily basis. And Black Friday? We started working toward that goal the day before the previous year's insanity had even been cleaned up. As such, my expert advice to ensure sanity and to keep ahead of the competition is simple. Don't leave the house unless you have to.

Online Shopping
Black Friday There is absolutely no good reason, according to Consumer Reports, for me not to do my shopping online. In the past, I've let the wife do her thing, as she and my sister-in-law love the excitement, the crowds, and pure craziness of a mall atmosphere on Black Friday. But for me, once I put the kids to bed, it's go time for me. I saddle up to my desk, open a bottle of white wine, and log in. Not only can I start shopping before the stores actually open, in most cases at 11 am Thanksgiving Day, I don't have to bump elbows with seven hundred people who forgot to shower that morning. I don't have to hold the door open for two hundred strangers taking advantage of my chivalry. And I most definitely don't have to be shoved aside by a grandmother clawing for the last 'hottest toy' on the shelf. Have you ever seen 150 people scramble for 5 available $400 flat screen televisions? I have. Imagine me shivering right now at the memory.

Why Online?

Black Friday
Any store worth their reputation offers the same exact door busters online as a ground store will. The only difference between the two is a no-brainer. I always expect my local store to have only an incredibly small amount of worthy door busters in stock, and everybody and their brother is heading straight for it. I expect this based on my inside experience, and because it is true. On the other hand, the online stores will have a great deal more inventory, and sometimes even offer me delayed shipping at the advertised price if their stock somehow runs out. A ground store most likely won't do that. That door buster was only offered to entice me to venture into the store, and whether they sell it to me or someone else, they don't care. The way they see it, I'm already there - and will end up buying something else at a much larger mark-up. They win, I lose.

Start Preparing Now
I have already begun my preparations, but it's not too late to catch up with me. Even though I shop online, there is still some work to be done. All of these stores noted above offer a notification service, and they will send me a link via email or smart phone straight to their Black Friday ads as soon as they go public. I take a moment when these first arrive to write down what items I need, and then what I want. I use an old-school Staples brand yellow legal pad and at the top, I will write my budget in ink. Not pencil, as I don't want something I can erase and make bigger in a moment of weakness. Then, I write the names of the stores across the top, and make columns underneath. In the columns, I note what items catch my fancy, along with the prices. Having this list made in advance eases my search, lets me mark off what I have bought already, and keeps me in budget. It also helps if I keep in mind that if it's not on the list, I don't buy it. Stores love it when customers impulse buy, because most often than not, they are making a killing on those silly little after-thought items. Then with the list in front of me, I check to see what stores offer the same or similar products, and cross out all but the lowest priced. I will highlight the items I suspect will go fast so I can add these to my virtual shopping cart first. If it's in the cart, it's mine, and there's no chance for someone to reach in and yank it away when I'm not looking.

Black Friday Arrives
Black Friday I save myself the grief on Thanksgiving Day of doing anything with my gift shopping, and wait till dinner is over to log myself online. I cook, so my wife cleans while I set up. I start by navigating to each of the stores you want to shop at, and add their addresses to your favorites list. That way, come shopping time, I need only click once to get where I want to be.

Like I said before, I wish bon voyage to my wife and her sister and put the kids to bed. I set up at my desk or the dining room table where there's room to work comfortably, and I have my legal pad list next to me with the wine glass within easy reach. I have all my websites already open, so when midnight hits, I don't have to slog through the bandwidth traffic that inevitably rushes the store's log-in servers. I will already be shopping, stress-free and still sane while my wife is hopping from foot to foot, not wanting to lose her place in line to seek out a bathroom.

Happy Holidays!