5 Steps to Make Your Black Friday Battle Plan

black friday shopperThe shopping malls and department stores are ready for you! Are you ready for them?

Those happy hectic holidays are almost here. Of course, if you watch any television or go shopping at any major retailers you’d think the shopping season is already well underway.

We’ve got just three weeks until Black Friday is upon us. It’s a time that is beloved by both bargain hunters and big-box stores. But if you are going to fight the crowds and find the perfect gifts…you better have a plan of attack!

Use these five steps to develop your own shopping strategy.

You need to go into Black Friday shopping with the right mindset. The holiday season makes up a huge part of retailers’ yearly revenue – anywhere from 20% to as much as 40%! So just remember that getting you to spend is their goal, not giving you great deals.

The National Retail Federation estimates holiday shopping sales will grow by 2.8% despite the sluggish economy. That means Americans will spend a whopping $465.6 billion before we ring in 2012.

1. Create a Wish-List

If you simply show up at the mall when it opens and rush around looking for great deals, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Most likely you’ll either end up spending way more than you wanted on the wrong stuff, or you’ll miss out on the gifts you should have bought. Those “doorbuster” items draw us in and make us drool, but if it’s not the best product for you or the person receiving the gift, then it’s the wrong decision.

That’s why you need to get those lists for Santa before Black Friday. Ask the kids what they’re hoping to find under the Christmas tree. Add the items you’d like to get for relatives and friends. Think about what major purchases you’d like to make for the whole family. Electronics usually have some of the best deals during this time – so it might be the perfect chance to get that new TV or update the family computer.

When you have a comprehensive wish-list, you can focus in on what you need to accomplish instead of running around like a chicken with your head cut off.

2. Research Ads

Once you’ve got your list of gifts, it’s time to start looking for where you can find the best bargains. Most major retailers promote their Black Friday sales ahead of time, others will “leak” them out to create a buzz.

Keep an eye on fliers and catalogs that come in your mail and the inserts in your local newspaper. Take note of who is offering the best prices on items you’re looking to buy.

Here are just a handful of the many websites that will let you look over deals announced at popular stores:

3. Sign Up for Alerts and Use QR Codes

Many of your favorite stores allow you to subscribe to email and text alerts that will let you know about upcoming promotions. These can sometimes lead to exclusive coupons that are only made available to loyal shoppers. Following certain stores on Twitter and Facebook could also lead to deal discoveries.

QR codes in department store

QR codes are those funky images that are usually black and white.

Maybe you’ve seen the Macy’s commercial featuring red, star-shaped QR codes. In case you’re not familiar, it stands for Quick Response codes – a new technology involving smartphones that has been a bit slow in catching on.

You’ll find them on print ads, packaging and in store displays. What they do is let you learn more about a product, and sometimes they may contain coupon codes or other special offers.

If you have a smartphone, now is a good time to start experimenting with this technology – just download a free QR reader app. Many stores will be trying new things with this new trend.

4. Shop Online Instead

Black Friday and it’s cousin Cyber Monday are quickly becoming one huge shopping event.

Black Friday deals extend through the weekend, and many of the same deals can be found both online and in the store. But sometimes there are better deals you can only find online. They’ll often come with free-shipping promotions, so it’s a great way to avoid those Black Friday mobs at the shopping mall.

Nobody wants to end up fighting with some other angry shopper over the last Tickle-Me Elmo when you could have ordered it from the comfort of your home and got the same sale price.

5. Double-Check Return Policies and Warranties

You should also think about your strategy for after Black Friday and the holidays are over.

Some stores have an “all sales are final” policy on certain Black Friday sale items. If that’s the case, make sure you aren’t going to end up with an unwanted gift you can’t return. Certain items could also have a shortened window for returns, and it’s usually before December 25th.

Standard warranties on some Black Friday products may also be different than normal. The terms of the warranty could be shorter or there could be restrictive stipulations for repairs. This is specifically important when you’re purchasing pricier electronic items like televisions,  BluRay players, surround sound systems and laptops. So if the warranty is something you’re concerned about, make sure you ask about the details.

On the other hand – some stores may push extended warranties in order to make a little extra money off of the great deal they just gave you. Most of the time, these types of warranties aren’t really necessary.

Don’t Buy In to All the Hype

You may be able to find some great deals on the weekend after Thanksgiving, but Black Friday bargains are not necessarily the lowest of the year. Stores may drop prices on some items the closer they get to Christmas. In fact, the busiest shopping day of the year is historically the Saturday before December 25th (according to the International Council of Shopping Centers).

Don’t assume a Black Friday deal is the best you can get. Many stores will introduce price-matching during the holiday shopping season to take on competitors.

Be careful about signing up for store credit cards just to get an extra discount. Realize that opening a new line of credit can negatively affect your credit score in some cases. Plus, signing up for a store card leaves you open to more marketing and more temptations to spend.

Let’s Hear From You!

Got any holiday shopping tips you’d like to share? How about some Black Friday horror stories? Leave a comment and tell us more!

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Image: Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

+Kasey Steinbrinck is writes about personal finance and the economy for Check Advantage. When you order checks from Check Advantage, you’ll find hundreds of unique designs. That includes many Christmas and holiday styles in our Seasonal Checks category as well as Christian Checks and much more!

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