They don’t call the day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday” for nothing. It’s all about launching the megastores “into the black” – into profitability. They profit not by offering goods at a loss, but by using ultra-low prices to lure you into their stores, where they can employ dirty tricks to make money.
Because of the economic downturn, retailers will be working harder than ever to win the Black Friday game. That means both the potential deals — and the potential rip-offs — will be bigger than ever. But with my secrets, and some smart planning, you can make “Black Friday” profitable for yourself, not the store.
Here are the 10 things they don’t want you to know:
1.) Most Black Friday deals are leaked early online. Check sites that post leaked Black Friday ads, and give yourself an advantage over the masses. Some will optionally send you an e-mail whenever they post a new ad or new information. Some have cell phone versions of the site for in-store reference. Here are the best sites:
2.) The best new Black Friday tool you can use is Twitter. Make sure you “follow” BlackFriday, and also check in on this pre-fab Twitter search for “Black Friday”. (If you’re not on Twitter, what are you waiting for? And once there, Follow me at: twitter.com/mike_elgan ) Also: Check in on the Twitter search for “Black Friday.” If you use RSS, use the search-result RSS feature to plug that into your reader. By using Twitter on Black Friday itself (turn on SMS alerts for the Big Day) while you’re in the store, you’ll get real-time information flowing in about new deals and who’s running out of which products.
3.) Many Black Friday deals are bait-and-switch scams — especially this year. They may sell you a very cheap product with a very expensive warranty, or use a given price, but add software, accessories or other over-priced add-ons as a required but unadvertised part of the purchase. You’ll find out about this only at the register. If the price at the register is significantly higher than advertised for any reason, ask to speak to a supervisor and insist on the advertised price. If they still refuse, threaten to write a letter to the attorney general.
4.) Get the best price without hassles by knowing price-match and return policies. Many stores offer price-match guarantees (if a competitor offers a lower price, they’ll match it). Increasingly, Black Friday sales are exempt from all this. Others have a return policy that, in effect, is a price-match guarantee for the store itself (if they drop the price, the difference is later refunded to you if you ask for it). If you know which product you want to buy, and can find a store with a price-match guarantee that honors Black Friday prices, buy it! When Black Friday rolls around, you can go looking for the best price, and not have to worry about whether the store is out of stock. If a store is willing to refund the difference between its own normal price and its Black Friday price, buy it early for the same reason.
5.) Beat the system by shopping in teams. Stores rely on a long list of tricks, from limited sale hours to low inventories in order to lure you into the stores without giving you the time to comparison shop for the product you want at the best possible price. Have one team member in each store when it opens, each with a list of what everyone wants to buy. Use Joopz.com to set up broadcast SMS. Each team member finds every product on the list, then broadcasts pricing. The person at the store with the lowest price for each item buys it.
6.) Use your cell phone browser to check competing deals, and also product quality. You can also use standard sites like BizRate.com, Shopping.com and PriceGrabber.com to check just how good prices are. Sometimes Black Friday prices can be beat online anytime.
7.) Some Black Friday promos are designed to unload loser products. Products that are obsolete, unpopular, damaged or returned are prime candidates for Black Friday sales. Make sure you narrow your list of products, so you don’t end up buying something you don’t really want.
8.) Shop early. Very early. Many stores will open at midnight this year. Many open as early as 5 am. Find out in advance what time each store opens, so you can plan accordingly.
9.) Some of the best deals are advertised only on Thanksgiving — or even on Black Friday itself. Make sure you get all the local newspaper on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday.
10.) Some Black Friday deals are actually buyable online. Others are buyable only online, or have prices that actually beat in-store prices. Start checking prices on Thanksgiving. Check Web sites again very early Black Friday morning, and shop there first — then go to the stores only if you have to. Still other stores let you order items online the day before, and pick them up on Black Friday. Here are two sites — BlackFridayOnline.com and Amazon.com’s Black Friday page — that give you the lowdown on online deals.
11.) Plan ahead to think clearly. Bring food, wear comfortable shoes, and leave the kids at home (kids can influence impulse buying or convince you to leave early). Stay focused, and don’t let yourself be caught up in the frenzy.
12.) Buy a netbook. Or two, or three… The deals for tiny laptops will be insane this year. The category barely existed last year, and the deals next year won’t be as good. This is the year to buy a netbook. It’s such a huge opportunity, that I devoted an entire column to buying netbooks this year on Black Friday.
Black Friday is a zero-sum game. Either the store wins, or you do. Use these tips to beat the stores at their own game.