Black Friday. A day of major deals and major chaos. The question is, how do you get the deals without losing your mind in the chaos?
I have been on both sides of that chaos. I worked Black Friday at Best Buy in 2003. I have also spent a cold, early morning or two waiting in line.
You need a plan to survive and thrive in the chaos. Here is how I approach it.
- 2 weeks out – Decide. There are a lot of choices on Black Friday. However, unless you have a coordinated strategy involving several people, you are only going to be able to take advantage of the door buster deals at one store. So it is best to decide on the one big thing you want beforehand.
This will also help narrow down your search. If you are looking for a new laptop, you know you do not have to worry about the sales at Home Depot. If you want a grill, however, Best Buy is probably not where you want to look.
- 2 weeks out – Research. Once you know what you want, you will need to do some research to find the best deal. The internet has made this much easier. There are several sites that get the flyers from most major stores early. Here are a couple I have used:
blackfriday.com makes it easy to find the deals for a specific store, although it looks like it may be going a little ad crazy this year. bfads.net has a feature that allows you to quickly view the early bird specials. These tend to be the best deals but also get snatched up quickly.
The major benefit of starting your research early is being able to take your time. If you are looking for a laptop, you will want to make sure you get the best machine, not just the cheapest. Doing this research early will keep you from spending all day Thanksgiving Day on the computer.
- 5-2 days out – Scout. Once you have found your deal, you will want to scout the store. You will want to familiarize yourself with the layout. Where are the products you want? Where are cash registers and customer service desks? What other items might they have that you might be interested in?
You also want to ask questions. It’s best to find either a manager or someone who works in the department you are interested in who worked Black Friday last year. They will most likely know the answers to the questions you want to ask. Those questions are:
- What time do you open this year? Stores open earlier every year. When I worked at Best Buy, we opened at 4am. It looks like they are opening at midnight this year. You will want to make sure beforehand.
- What time do people start lining up? The first year I stood in line at Best Buy (2004), the store opened at 4am. They were running a deal on a complete computer package for $150. I got there around 2 but the line was already pretty long. The tickets for that computer did not come close to making it to me. I was not bothered because I was there for something else but some people around me were frustrated. I found out later that the lady at the front of the line got there at 9pm the night before.
- Are you handing out tickets for [whatever you are looking for]? Most stores will hand out tickets for their door busters before they actually open. They start at the front of the line asking who is there for the specific item. Those people are then given tickets to reserve the item. This is done to keep there from being a rush on the major items.
If they are giving out tickets for the item you want, you better get there early. They do that on things they know people will want immediately. If they have 30 and you are number 31 in line, your luck could be out.
The benefit to the tickets for you is that you do not have to worry about rushing in. The tickets we gave out at Best Buy were good until noon. If you got one, you could shop around the rest of the store at your own pace.
- How many of [whatever you are looking for] do you have? This is a question they might not be willing to answer. However, if they are, it will help you gage how early you need to be there. It will also help you know if it is worth staying once you get there. If you know there are 30 and there are only 20 people in line, you know you are good. If there are 45 people in line, you might be out of luck. If there are 200 already, you should probably change your plans.
- How is the department going to be setup? The Best Buy close to me tends to block off the entire computer department. If you want something in there, no matter what it is, you have to get in line and wait.
However, the Best Buy I worked at set things up differently. They had a specific line through the department strictly for those with tickets. Then they used all the customer service registers to checkout people buying computers.
Either way, you will want to know what your store is doing so you know what to expect.
- Where are the smaller door busters going to be set up? Most stores will have a section specifically set aside for the smaller door buster items. Best Buy tends to have a section towards the front of the store where they set things like DVDs, video games, and memory cards.
If you know where this section is going to be, you can head straight to it. You won’t want to wander around looking for it with everyone else.
Once you have the answers to these questions, take a minute to plan out your route. It will be chaos when the doors are open. Knowing where you are going will make things a lot easier.
- 1 day out (Thanksgiving) – Confirm. This step may not be necessary if you have done enough work beforehand. However, I like to take time on Thanksgiving to go through the ads in the paper. There are a couple things I am doing.
- Confirming my research is correct. It might just be me but I like to see the sale in the actual ad. It makes me feel better about the sleep I am about to lose.
- Check for smaller deals. I do not spend a lot of time looking at the smaller things until I have an ad in my hands. At Best Buy, I will look at what movies, video games, and other small things are on sale to see if there is anything I want to grab.
At this point you will have everything you need to be successful on Black Friday. You will know what you are shopping for, where you are going to get it, when you need to get there, and how things are going to work.
There are a few pieces of advice I want to leave you with for the actual day.
- Take the day off if you do not have it already. I know it is possible to get all your shopping done and still make it to work on time. However, you are going to be exhausted. Plus, if you got something for yourself, you are going to want to play with your new toy. I suggest being honest about it and taking the day.
- Take a friend. Having someone with you can make things go a lot easier. They can hold your place in line if you have to go to the bathroom or make a coffee run. Plus these experiences are even better when shared.
- Dress appropriately. Make sure to check the weather before you head out. Also, realize that, while it may be cold while you are standing in line, it is going to be hot when you get into the building. Wearing layers, especially on your legs, will allow you to take things off so you do not burn up.
- Be patient. Things are going to be crazy. There will be a lot of people. The lines will be long. It will be easy to get frustrated.
But you will get out of there. There is little that’s worth getting upset about. Take a deep breath. Stick with the plan. But most of all…
- Have fun. This may seem like strange advice but I am serious. You are out in the middle of the night getting a great deal with thousands of others. How cool is that!