Updated on 11.13.09

Some Thoughts on Black Friday

Trent Hamm

In a little less than two weeks, Thanksgiving will be upon us, immediately followed by “Black Friday,” the busiest shopping day of the year. Black Friday is quite often the day that pushes retailers over the line into profitability for the year (from the red to the black), hence the name. Naturally, since it’s the day following Thanksgiving, many people in the United States have the day off from work, and since the holidays are approaching, many will also use the day to get started on their holiday shopping.

In order to get customers into the stores on Black Friday, many retailers offer enormous sales on a handful of specific items. These items are often sold at a loss in order to simply get people into the store, because the logic goes that if a customer is in the store, they’re likely to buy other things. Plus, it provides some positive word-of-mouth promotion for that retailers, as people will talk about where they got enormous bargains on that day.

As a result, many retailers heavily advertise their “Black Friday” sales in the week or two leading up to that day. Websites proliferate online, tracking the bargains to be had.

And, through it all, the big goal is to whip consumers into a buying frenzy.

Such a frenzy is bad news. Getting caught up in participating in Black Friday just to get “deals” on stuff you don’t really want or need or items that may or may not be good gifts for others is a sure way to watch your money float away.

That’s not to say that Black Friday can’t be useful to someone with savvy – it certainly can. It just requires a bit of finesse and forethought.

Here’s exactly how I handle “Black Friday.”

I make a very careful list before looking at the fliers. In other words, I already have my Christmas list in hand. I know who I’m buying for, how much I’m spending on each person, and I also ahve a few ideas for each person to help me shop.

Beyond that, there’s often a specific item or two I’m looking for for myself. This year, for example, I’m looking for a replacement laptop. The ol’ frugal laptop has served me well for quite a while, but it’s suffering from a number of hardware issues. So, my eyes are open for a replacement, probably a middle-tier Windows 7 machine capable of photo editing and a bit of gaming.

Thus, before I even take a peek at a “Black Friday” flier or website, I know exactly what I’m going to be looking for.

Next, I use the internet to view lots of flyers at once and compare them. My preferred website for doing this is blackfriday.info, but there are lots of them that provide a similar service.

Why do I do this? First, browsing through lots of ads online – because they’re usually just lists of items – cuts down on the impulse buy possibilities. I’m not sucked in by intriguing pictures of items I’m not interested in buying.

Second, websites provide tons of sales lists to me at once. Instead of having to dig through lots of newspapers on Thanksgiving Day, I can just visit a website and get all of the details I want in one spot.

Once I’ve done that, I come up with a plan of attack. I’ll usually identify an item or two that’s got a strong price and matches something I’m looking to give out as a gift. On Black Friday, I’ll get up early and visit only those stores, and when I go, I’ll take a list for each store and get only those items. Everything else is just a leech on my wallet.

Finally, I’ll check online retailers a few times on Black Friday. Online retailers, particularly Amazon.com, offer all kinds of sales throughout the day on Black Friday (and sometimes even on Thanksgiving Day). I’ll check these a few times, looking for items that are actually on my list.

The big rule for all of this is simple: unplanned buys on Black Friday (or any day) are usually really bad ideas. Step back and think about what you’re buying and you’ll find value on Black Friday. Dive in head first waving your credit card like a mad man and you’ll come out of the day with a bunch of stuff you don’t need – including some fat bills.

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  1. Sarah says:

    Hi Trent,

    I have enjoyed your blog for awhile now.
    Just curious in regards to shopping but slightly off topic….How do you handle buying for your children for Christmas?
    What are your rules around buying for your children and what do you expect them to get out of Christmas?
    Do they expect lots of gifts? Do you have rules around buying for friends and family at Christmas time?
    Just curious what your thoughts were on this topic.

  2. Steven says:

    I stopped going out Friday mornings and camping out for the deals. The deals have been sub-par, on par at best, for the last few years.

    This year, I believe there will be a few unbelievable deals, but couple the state of the economy, the amount of people fighting over the deals are not worth it for me. To go out and start camping out Thanksgiving Day, and spend all those hours to save $50 – $100 is not worth it to me. I’d rather enjoy myself in the comfort of my own home, and maybe hangout with a few friends when they get off (they work retail, lucky them).

    Now that there’s a chance of death, besides the bumps and bruises you might receive from over-zealous shoppers, and increased number of people due to more information and lack of jobs/money going bargain hunting, it’s not worth my time or the gamble on my well being.

  3. craig says:

    Gah. I avoid Black Friday like the plague. I have a good friend who gets up with his wife every year at 4am to stand in line, then tells everyone how much money he “saved” by spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on stuff he doesn’t need.

  4. Candi says:

    There are also those of us that are virtually done shopping by the time Black Friday comes around. I buy things on sale all year long to add to my Christmas stash! If I see a deal on something I actually needed to buy, I will venture out. If it’s already gone then I just go on home. If there is nothing that I want in the ads, I save myself the headache and stay home.

  5. Rosa Rugosa says:

    I try to get my shopping done before Thanksgiving, even non-holiday shopping, insofar as I can plan in advance. I wouldn’t dream of going to the stores on Black Friday. Black Friday now connotes Jdimytai Damour’s death at Walmart in my mind. I just refuse to be a part of it. I also hate xmas music, and they typically start playing it in the stores after Thanksgiving.

  6. Java Monster says:

    It irritates me that already there are Christmas decorations up in the stores, that Christmas oriented movies and adverts are already playing on television–people, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet! Whatever happened to, I don’t know, living in the current season, and not the one that’s coming up?

    I’ve never shopped on Black Friday-I’ve either been working, or recovering from preparing the T-day meal and cleaning for guests. I also wouldn’t want to drag my children through that mess.

  7. Isn’t it truly amazing that it’s so widespread that retailers cannot reach profitably until the end of the eleventh month of the year?

    John DeFlumeri Jr

  8. Steven says:

    @#7 John DeFlumeri Jr

    Why is it amazing?

    Is it amazing as well that restaurants make the bulk of their profits on Friday and Saturday nights?

    Or college bookstores that operate at a loss for most of the year, and make money only at the beginning of a school semester (granted, excessively huge, but they need to last the whole year)?

  9. Becky says:

    I think Black Friday is a bunch of bunk. I started my Christmas shopping this past January and finished the first week in November (I have a big attic so this is possible). Personally, I think I got just as good of a bargain (if not better) by getting stuff during the Labor Day holiday and other sales throughout the year. I’ve never finished this early before – but I’m hoping it will make the holidays a little less stressful so I can concentrate on better things – like baking, decorating and doing traditional Christmas stuff. Added bonus is I won’t have the $500+ credit card debt to look at in January. All my presents are paid off. That, my friend, is my own Christmas present to myself!

  10. Kate says:

    I haven’t ever shopped on the Friday after Thanksgiving and haven’t ever understood the need to do it. But then again, I don’t understand the craziness that surrounds the Christmas season. My grown child says that they should just change the name of the day to Giftmas because that is what it has become for a lot of people.

  11. Tizzle says:

    Being single with no kids means I can avoid Christmas shopping altogether. Even if that weren’t true, I’d still stay home on Black Friday. *Shudder* I dislike malls.

    I’m considering splurging and cooking brunch for some friends. Might as well do something fun with the day off.

  12. Kelly says:

    I love the idea of making a list before even looking at the flyers.
    I rarely find anything to buy on Black Friday, and generally avoid Black Friday shopping.

  13. Amateur says:

    I think the risk of Black Friday shopping outweighs the actual deals. Think about the scuffles through the aisles, the checkout lines, the parking lot, or getting on the public train system with all that stuff. Most of it is junk, anyway. Some stores do indeed have great deals but in very limited quantities. Worth it for some, but not worth it for most.

  14. michael bash says:

    I just hope we can get through that day this year without killing somebody as we did last yeat

  15. michael bash says:

    I just hope we can get through that day this year without killing somebody as we did last year.

  16. Tracy says:

    I agree. My sister and her mil will get up at 4:00 am and go out to shop. Last year my mom was at toys-r-us at an ungodly hour. I on the other hand avoid stores on Black Friday like the plague. I shop for Christmas, especially for my children, all year long. I’ve already got more than half done. I wait to finish my kids in November/December because in the past when I’ve finished them in September, invariably they’d see something else that they wanted towards the end. they don’t ever get everything on their lists, but I really do start in January.

    The only exception I made to the black friday boycott was last year. My hubby had asked for a particular am/fm receiver sound system for the basement. I looked online for it as I usually do and I found that Radio Shack would have it on sale for almost 50% off the normal retail. We have a Radio Shack in the plaza right in front of my housing development. I got up at 5:30 am, and was in the store at 6:00 am. There was only 1 other person in the store. I got what I wanted for the price I wanted and was back home by 6:20. I may repeat the same process this year as I saw in their preview ads that they’ll have a v-tech type kids laptop for 50% off and some robot bugs that I think my kids will like for B1G1.

  17. Claudia says:

    I went shopping on Black Friday once years ago, never, ever again. I could not even get down the toy aisle (which was the only reason I was shopping). And years ago, it was not half as busy as it is now. I have never seen anything that is such a great buy that I would hit the stores on that day.
    My family stopped buying Christmas presents for the adults about 3 years ago. We just buy-modestly- for the children. Not one adult misses the presents. One often receives items we don’t want or don’t need. I have enough tschotkes to fill a mansion. I also now enjoy Christmas again without agonizing over what to buy for everyone and stressing over the money!

  18. Tammy says:

    After managing a retail store for three years, you will never, ever see me in a store on Black Friday ever again.

    People are rude and crazy.

    My best story is a customer that loaded up her cart with doorbusters and got in line to pay. There were probably 15 people in front of her. She went up to the manager and said “I need to cut in front of all these people”. The manager said “no, I’m sorry, you need to wait your turn like everyone else”. And she responded “I need to be at work in 10 minutes!”. Manager said, “well, I’m sorry”. She literally FLUNG the shopping cart at him and stormed out the door.

    Rude. Crazy. No thanks.

    Besides, if you wait a little longer, prices will come down. Retailers get desperate the closer you get to Christmas.

  19. DivaJean says:

    My sister and I have participated together in Black Friday shopping for over 2 decades. It is usually the last day of our holiday shopping- save for a few stocking stuffers like candy and fruit.

    Like any other “money saving” plan, you need to work it to make it work. I have been following Black Friday ads (I like the BFAds website- you can make your own shopping list!) online already since Halloween weekend. As Trent points out, you need to make your lists before you shop and know what the best prices are.

    That being said- it really is only the first step to successful Black Friday shopping. You need to scope out your route of what stores to hit when- especially if you are seeking out doorbuster sales. This year, my partner and I really want to upgrade to a heavy duty washer and dryer combo. Our current washer is on its last legs (20 years old for a family of 6). I have been watching a certain washer that Consumer Reports recommended- and it goes on sale as an early bird special w/ only 2 washer/dryer sets guaranteed per store. Obviously, this is my first stop- and I will likely stop by the appliance dept a few days before Black Friday to talk about how the store plans to open their doors on Friday morning at 4 am. It is worth it to me getting up at 3 am to save the amount of money I will save on this deal for a purchase we really need. Am I going to run someone over to get it? No. But I will try to strike up another deal if I am not one of the lucky 2 recipients of the deal.

    You could not pay me enough money to consider going to Toys R Us as a first stop in the morning. Madhouse does not begin to describe this scene, especially since their is only one Toys R Us in my my neck of the woods for a very far distance.

    As for the big box stores like WalMart and Kmart, we always make it to them within the doorbusters time frame, but by the time we’re going thru, some items are gone. I never plan to get the big item on sale at Walmart- we have a family locally that camps out in the parking lot from Wednesday thru Friday to be first in line on Friday. A $300 laptop is not worth missing Thanksgiving with my family! (Suze Orman’s right- people first, then money, then things). Rather, we end up finding a few of the items we were looking for to be at unbeatable prices and take advantage of it.

    We put in a full day of shopping- I am not a shopping person normally, but this is my one day I put it all aside and get through it. My sister and I usually treat ourselves to a goood lunch out (using buy one get one free coupons if we can help it) and it is one of favorite ways to spend time together. We always laugh about the one year I made her run through a parking lot to try to get to a sale on artificial Xmas trees the year I bought my first house; and the time my foot got run over by a flat of bicycles from an overzealous shopper & I broke my foot (but kept on shopping). To us, these are our war stories on saving and shopping.

  20. Lenore says:

    The only fun thing about Black Friday is driving around at 6 a.m. to marvel and giggle at the people camping out in front of stores. I’ve heard you can turn a tidy profit by selling coffee, doughnuts or whatever, but I’ve yet to try it myself. (I wonder how much a $1 hat or pair of gloves would be worth to someone who’s freezing and can’t leave the line.) I plan to observe “BUY NOTHING DAY” once again this year because mass hysteria is scary. RIP to the poor guy crushed by a Walmart crowd last year!

  21. Eden Jaeger says:

    I’ve never thought to shop on a Black Friday and I never would. However, I do enjoy staying home and watching the crazy people on TV line up and trample each other at Wal-Mart. :)

  22. Eden Jaeger says:

    *Didn’t mean to make light of the dude who actually died at a Wal-Mart(didn’t see the comment above mine before I posted), but that’s kind of the problem with this whole Black Friday craziness that I make sure to avoid.

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