DealNews recommends these strategies to help you have a smoother experience:
Make a budget now
The first step is deciding how much you can afford to spend this holiday season. Determine the items you absolutely must have, including gifts and other purchases you've been saving for. And be sure to leave room for incidentals, such as pop-up holiday parties or friendly gatherings. After you’ve made a list, calculate the maximum amount you can afford – and be prepared to stick to it.
Then, make a list of the people you’re shopping for. That’ll help you determine the right amounts for each gift. Next, get an idea of what you'd like to buy for your recipients. Keep it as nonspecific as you can and be flexible with your shopping – this will help you not miss deals, or avoid offers that aren't good.
Check prices before Black Friday
By checking prices now, you’ll have more confidence in the offers you see during Black Friday. Knowing that a Google Nest Mini costs $49 now means you’ll recognize that a $25 price tag on Thanksgiving is a good deal.
Study the ads
Familiarize yourself with the Black Friday ads. Check the newspaper ads and mailers for your favorite stores first, but don’t ignore the ones from places you might not normally shop. While it's easy to buy a new Echo device from Amazon, stores such as Staples or Best Buy could have better savings locally. Be sure to note any restrictions, including deals that only run until a certain time or on a certain day.
Weigh online vs. in-store shopping
If you don’t like crowds in stores, shopping online may sound like right alternative. But online shopping can come with drawbacks. Watch out for short-lived deals that sell out fast, a lack of inventory transparency, and website crashes or outright failures to load. In addition, price comparisons are a must.
Look at in-store and online prices. A retailer’s website might start Black Friday sales earlier than the store itself, helping you get a better price. Or it might just match store prices. Even if the latter is the case, you'll still avoid fighting over parking spaces if you shop online.
Is fighting the crowds to get an exclusive deal worth it? Black Friday shopping in-store can be a test of patience. And, while crowds might not be huge, you can still expect longer wait times. However, only stores in highly populated areas will probably have huge crowds. Your local retailers may only have a rush when stores open.
Bookmark pages ahead of time
Use bookmarks if you’re planning on shopping online. In many cases, bookmarking a product page ahead of time can save you precious seconds when sales go live. However, be aware that sometimes stores will have products at different URLs. In these cases, you could find yourself staring at a 404 error message. If you'd rather not risk that, at least bookmark the homepage of the store's website – you’ll still save a little time.
Make an in-store game plan
Check the ads for your most wanted items and find the retailers that have the best deals. Then find out the store opening hours and how long the discounts run – doorbuster deals are usually available for a limited time.
Then, prioritize. Look over items based on whether they'll be on sale for a short amount of time, or if they’re in high demand and likely to sell out quickly.
If your game plan involves creating a team of friends and family to help, try to coordinate your lists. Assign team members to different stores to maximize doorbuster coverage. You can meet later to swap items and pay each other back.
Forget the cart
If a huge item isn’t on your list, consider hitting the stores with reusable shopping bags instead of pushing a cart around. These bags make it easier to navigate through crowds, and are a good tool to guard against impulse shopping. If you can only buy what you can carry, you'll be more careful about what you head to the register with.
Don't expect stores to price match
Many stores have generous price match policies, where they'll meet a competitor’s price within a certain time after purchase. However, when Black Friday rolls around, don’t expect those same retailers to be so good about matching prices. Many retailers suspend their price matching from at least Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday. Some even refuse to price match during the entire weeks of both Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday.
If there’s a chance that your store of choice will honor a competitor’s prices, be prepared. Take a physical ad with you, or have the digital ad pulled up on your phone. Don’t try to use a copy of the ad – retailers will be less likely to believe it.
This is in addition to dressing for the cold or for overheated stores. Headed to Best Buy or Target? Unless you have lots of patience and don't mind helping people, don’t wear a blue or red shirt at these stores, respectively. You might be mistaken for staff, and pestered with requests to help find items or check prices.
Start shopping on Thanksgiving...or even sooner
Savvy Black Friday shoppers know the best deals can pop up before the big day. Some of the best savings can actually be found on Thanksgiving, and many retailers prefer to roll out deals even sooner to try to beat the competition.
Be ready to stand in line
No matter what time you shop on Black Friday, you’ll probably encounter at least one long wait. Make sure you have entertainment on hand, so your boredom doesn’t leads to impulse purchases. Think about adding a new playlist or audiobook to your phone.
Download apps and save extra
While standing in long lines, double-check that you're getting the best deal. If you do find a better price elsewhere, the store might match it. Or, you can order online and head to the next store on your list.
Avoid impulse purchases
When you’re saving a lot of money on the shopping holiday, it’s easy to feel like a couple of extra items won’t matter. This kind of thinking will destroy your Black Friday budget. Avoid the knickknacks near the registers or by the door.
Beware of final sale items
Lots of Black Friday promotions claim to offer the lowest prices of the season. However, before you rush to buy anything – especially a big-ticket item – check to see if it's a “final sale.” Products with that designation usually can’t be returned, and if they can be, they could incur a restocking fee of at least 15 percent. Familiarize yourself with the store’s policy before you add that new TV set to your cart.
Mail-in rebates and store credits are popular forms of Black Friday discounts. Retailers tend to prefer these kinds of savings, as they're able to advertise deep discounts, but still rake in the full prices for these items.
Redeeming those offers can be tricky for those who aren’t well-organized. We suggest tucking your receipts and rebate forms into a special envelope or section of your wallet. When you’re home, create a spreadsheet with all the pertinent details for each offer, including the product, store, dates the offer is valid, and anything else you might need to get those savings.
Be a social media butterfly
Whatever your favorite social platform is – Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or something else – start following your favorite stores now. Keep a close eye on these accounts, as coupons, sale previews, or even Black Friday ads can appear there. These can net you some serious savings, or help you find a bargain you wouldn't have seen otherwise.
In addition, be sure to check these accounts for coupons before you go to stores. Look for promo codes from manufacturers’ websites, store websites, or on DealNews. And if you’re headed in-store, check your local newspaper and online circulars for printable coupons to take along.
Be kind to everyone
Be nice to sales associates. True, some retail employees jump at the chance to earn holiday overtime pay by working on Thanksgiving or Black Friday. But they still have to face long lines, temperamental customers, and probably co-workers who don’t want to be there. You won't be able to control the people around you, but you can be a bright spot in someone else's stressful day.
In addition, be kind to everyone. It's not worth arguing with someone over the last item in a pile. There’s always another deal.