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.
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 info, and give yourself an advantage over the masses. The four best sites are: bfads.net, blackfriday.gottadeal.com, blackfridayads.com, and blackfriday.info. Some of these sites will optionally send you an e-mail whenever they post a new ad or new information. (So will Wal-mart’s “Secret Section.”) Some have cell phone versions of the site for referring while in-store.
2: Many Black Friday deals are bait-and-switch scams. 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.
3: 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.
4: 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.
5: 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.
6: 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.
7: 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.
8: 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.
9: 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.
10: 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.
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.
In addition to writing for Datamation, where this column first appeared, Mike Elgan is a technology writer and former editor of Windows Magazine. He can be reached at [email protected] or his blog: http://therawfeed.com.