How To Brave The Black Friday Crowds

Every year around this time we are inundated with amazing deals to get us into stores to buy anything from toys to TVs in the American holiday of Black Friday, which by the way is now Black Thursday.  Every year Mrs. C. braves the crowds in order to secure some great deals on Christmas presents and on household items that are at extreme discounts during the Black Friday festivities. Black Friday shopping can be a great way to score some amazing deals, but it can also be a stressful and disappointing experience. Over the years I have come up with a few strategies that might be beneficial in having a successful Black Friday.

Have A Black Friday Plan:

So you thought you could walk into Wal-Mart and grab some great deals as you see them?  Not gonna work.  For starters, one does not simply walk into Wal-Mart on Black Friday.  Wal-Mart and Best Buy are by far the two stores most difficult to shop on Black Friday.  If you must attend either of these events be prepared.

1. Know in advance what time the doors open or what time the sales start.  Know exactly where the items you want are located. I always recommend walking down the Black Friday sales the day before.  Typically the big box stores will have pallets out in place that are labelled showing you where the items are at.  Make a map and a plan. As an added resource, our friends at The Penny Hoarder have set up a special Black Friday site which will include live blogging the Black Friday Festivities Wednesday through Friday to assist shoppers in finding the best deals and knowing where to be and when.

2. Know that you most likely will not have a kart because not only will they all be taken but also because a kart will become a liability to you.  In a sea of traffic jammed karts, the mobile shopper has an advantage.

3. Do not overhydrate or drnk a ton of coffee/soda.  Yes, it’s late/early during the Black Friday festivities, but if you are going to be waiting in line for anything the worst case scenario is you need to use the bathroom.  Not only will you lose your spot in line, but any items you have secured thus far are apt to be lifted by other shoppers.

4.  If  possible divide and conquer.  Two is better than one, especially when looking for the big ticket items at Wal-mart or Best Buy.

5.  Look for stuff on Amazon before Black Friday: Yes, Cyber Monday is the real online shopping Holiday, but Amazon has special deals for the two weeks leading up to Black Friday as well. In the past I have been able to secure some great deals during this time period.  Just yesterday I grabbed one of the main Christmas presents for one of my kids for about 40% off its normal price.

6. Try to go to stores that are already open 24/7.  One of my favorite places for Black Friday shopping is Meijer.  I have been able to be at the store and have some of the items already in my kart before the sale actually starts.  24/7 stores also avoid the hassle of waiting in line outside for hours to get in.

7. Don’t Take It Too Seriously:  It is NOT the end of the world if you don’t get an item on the Black Friday sale.  Mrs. C. always has backup plans for what she is looking for so if it becomes too difficult to get an item, she can always go after it at another store or try to snag it online.  No TV or toy or gadget is worth being in a brawl for.

When Black Friday Goes Wrong:

Black Friday doesn’t always go as planned, especially if you fail to plan.  I have had a few instances where I would have been much better off staying at the house than going to the Black Friday sales. Here are my Black Friday Horror stories and what I have learned from them.

Horror Story #1

My worst Black Friday experience happened about 5 years ago at Toys R Us.  We arrived an hour before they opened and the line stretched from the main entrance, around the entire perimeter of the store, and then along the backside of the store.  We got in line, but were not appropriately dressed to be outside for a long period of time, We were in northern Indiana and it was around 20 degrees with a light snow. We watched the clock tick down until they were supposed to open, then finally the line moved….about 200 feet then it stopped completely for about 20 minutes then slowly crept up.  We couldn’t figure out what was going on.  Apparently they were keeping the total number of customers in the store to a limited amount, someone had to leave for the next customer to go in.  Mrs. C. had to duck out and wait in the car due to the weather.  I stood in line for over 3 hours to get in to Toys R Us.  Once I finally got in there was no “shopping around”.  You were forced into a corral to go through every aisle.  If you didn’t pick something up while you were there you missed out.  The corral ending at the cash register.  Although I was able to pick up everything I wanted, I still drove a half hour and spent a stressful 4 hours at Toys R Us to save around 80 bucks.

Lessons Learned: Talk to someone who has done the Black Friday sale at the location you are planning to go to beforehand if possible, or even call the store and ask how they handle their sale.  Had we known that Toys R Us conducted their sale in this fashion we would have either not gone or been decked out in cold weather gear.

Horror Story #2

Last year Mrs. C.’s dad decided he wanted to get one of the kids a tablet for Christmas, and Wal-Mart had one on sale for $30.  Mrs. C. was already at Wal-Mart and picked it up.  On Christmas morning the tablet wouldn’t work. It would charge up and only run the opening screen of the brand name and that was it.  When Mrs. C. took this back to Wal-Mart (and waited in the world’s longest return line), they could not exchange it because it is not an item they carry normally. All they were willing/able to do was credit the $30 purchase price towards another tablet, which cost over twice as much.

Lessons Learned: Many Black Friday items are special SKUs just for the Black Friday sale.  Yes you can return them, but an exchange in the event of a non working item is highly unlikely. Remember this when it comes to low priced off brand electronics.

Horror Story #3

A few years ago Best Buy had a special sale on the PS3 and Mrs. C and her mom were going in together to buy her brother a PS3.  The line to get in the door to Best Buy was insane, but luckily the sale price was listed on the website with in store pickup as an option.  Mrs. C. ordered the PS3 off the website, but when she went to pick up the PS3, they would not give her one.  They told her that a store 45 minutes away had one that had been returned, but they would not hold it for her (even though they already had her money.) We had to cancel the “order” and get one elsewhere.

Lessons Learned: Especially when it comes to the hottest items of the season, do not trust that you will get the item if ordered off of a website. It is always better to have it in your hand, even if it is a bit more work.

My 2015 Black Friday Plans:

Black Friday now being held on Thursday throws off Thanksgiving for our family, as a few of us work in retail.  Because of this on Thursday I will be staying home with the kids while Mrs. C. goes after deals at Wal-Mart and possibly a few other places.  When she comes home from the Thanksgiving rush, I will go out early on Friday morning to a select few stores. Typically Meijer, Home Depot, Tractor Supply, and Big Lots are the easiest to access without huge crowds. Black Friday tends to be a great day for me to re-supply clothing and go after other practical items.

 Have you had any entertaining Black Friday experiences?   What are your plans for this years festivities?

John C. started Action Economics in 2013 as a way to gain more knowledge on personal financial planning and to share that knowledge with others. Action Economics focuses on paying off the house, reducing taxes, and building wealth. John uses the free tool Personal Capital to track his net worth and posts quarterly updates on his finances. Check out the Action Economics archives section for all past posts.

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