Things haven't changed much since Black Friday got its start in the 1960s. People show up at stores on the day after Thanksgiving in a holiday sale frenzy. They shop. They go home. They give gifts.
But if you follow this newfangled step-by-step plan that involves your home computer and your phone, you'll have a much more efficient shopping experience over Black Friday 2010, and, as a bonus, you might not even have to leave your house if you don't want to!
Browse what's on sale
You don't need to wait to get the local newspaper on the Sunday before Thanksgiving to get all the ads in your hand and page through them. Just click through online, either by paging through a PDF, or sorting through lists that sites like dealnews have already digested and categorized for you. You can get search engines to find any kind of gift you are looking for, and items that you don't even know yet that you want.
Make an electronic shopping list
Many people end up skipping this step and just toss things in their cart while they're shopping. They end up with two sweaters for Aunt Sue and no toy for the kid next door. Oops. The Web makes this so easy. You can easily create electronic wish lists, whether through an engine at a retail site or (usually better) writing them down in a Google document. You can transfer the list to your phone (either by sending yourself an email, or downloading the document) so you can take it with you.
Price-match your options
The most essential step in the process is to take that list and check it twice. You want to find out which stores have been naughty and which have been nice. The great thing about doing this electronically is that you can set up price alerts for key items to know when they go on sale. And you can use a site like PriceGrabber to see all your options at once. Note the prices now, check them again before you buy, and you'll always get the best deal. Also make sure to consult our list of stores that match prices of competitors.
"Like" your stores on Facebook
For additional discounts, "like" all the stores you plan on perusing on Facebook. You'll get some additional discounts and alerts about price drops. You'll see sales ahead of time too.
Join Foursquare and Facebook Places to get more discounts
We're not sure just how good — or lame — the discounts will be on Black Friday via location-based alert services. Even if you're not a fan, Black Friday is the day to join up and let the stores know when you stop by. There could be discounts in it for you. The Foursquare app and Facebook Places are easily uninstalled or disabled.
Shop on Thanksgiving Day online and look for unannounced sales
Don't wait for Friday to get started on your shopping. You can get doorbusters online on Thursday and get a jump on all those people waiting in line at 3 am at Best Buy. But act fast! Last year, we saw the best deals selling out six or seven minutes after they were posted in the wee hours of the morning.
Shop online on Black Friday to look for unannounced sales and deals
One thing that keeps people going to stores on days like Black Friday are deals that you don't see in the ads — the manager's specials and the "secret" deals. But you can get most of these online — especially at major retailers like Best Buy and Walmart, which post virtually everything online — and you might even have better luck on hot items that could sell out in stores. Most of all, this is the time to order all your gifts for out-of-town recipients online and have them shipped directly for free. This will help you avoid long lines at the post office down the road.
GPS your stores
If you are heading out on Black Friday, load up your favorite mapping program and plan your route so you maximize your time. Make sure not to overlook dollar stores, grocery stores and others that won't have big national ads that day. They might have easier parking and less chaos than the big national chains.
Set up your phone as a calculator
Even if you don't have a smart phone, make sure you know how to use the calculator function on whatever you do have. And if you're so old school that you don't have a cell phone at all, make sure to grab the old fashioned kind. The most important thing you can do to stay on budget while shopping is to add up your cart as you go. You'll also need it to navigate all the sales and discounts that the stores make purposefully confusing.
Pay with a credit card and get receipts and gift receipts for all purchases
Record-keeping is your friend! If you pay with a credit card, you'll have a record of your purchase. You might get some additional benefits in terms of extended warranties or purchase protection. You want a receipt for you, in case you want to return anything, and one for your recipient, in case they need to as well. You can use a debit card too, but if your card is used for fraud over the holidays, your cash will be locked up while the bank investigates. It's better to have your credit locked up than your cash locked up.
For more strategies and tips, consult our encyclopedic Black Friday Strategy Guide from 2009.
Beth Pinsker is dealnews' Editorial Director. She was most recently the Editor of WalletPop.com, and has been a life-long bargain hunter. Follow her on Twitter — @bethpinsker. You can also sign up for an email alert for all dealnews features.
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