Some Thoughts on Black Friday

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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