Surviving Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Thanksgiving has become an incredibly commercial season. Between Black Friday deals, which start sooner and sooner each year, and Cyber Monday, which is the stay-at-home shopper’s favorite, people spend tons of money. In 2015, more than 151 million people shopped over Thanksgiving weekend, and that’s excluding the Cyber Monday shoppers. The same year, Black Friday’s online sales amounted to $2.74 billion and Cyber Monday sales totaled $3.07 billion. This is an insane amount of money and it doesn’t even include what was purchased by people who spent Thanksgiving night camped outside of retail stores. The National Retail Federation is predicting a 3.6-4.0% increase in holiday (November and December) spending this year; total retail sales could amount to as much as $682 billion.

Last year, we wrote about how to survive Black Friday as an employee, but what if you’re a shopper and you’re hoping to score the best deals? Is it worth it to scarf down the turkey and head to stores on Thanksgiving day to beat the rush? Would it be better to stay at home and hunt down the deals online? To be completely unhelpful, it’s pretty much up to you. Retail stores may have different sales in store and online, and prices may change throughout the day, so when and where you go (if you go) could result in different prices and sales. If you head to the shops, the earliest doorbuster deals can end before it even hits lunchtime. Online shopping, on the other hand, typically doesn’t involve waking up at 2:00 a.m. and, even if you’re up early, there’s the added bonus of not having to leave your house. Here are some of our Black Friday and Cyber Monday tips:

Black Friday tips

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If you want to do in-person shopping:

Check what sales will be occurring ahead of time. Some stores will be open on Thanksgiving afternoon, while others will hold off until the wee hours of the morning on Friday. Regardless of when the stores where you want to shop are opening, check their websites or actually go to the shops to find out what sales will be happening when. Stores will generally post their holiday hours or deals on their doors a few days ahead of time. It’s also important to note that some doorbusters are staggered (e.g., electronics go on sale at 5:00 a.m., while toys and games go on sale at 8:00 a.m.). For each store, check if and when the item(s) you’re interested in will be going on sale. Then, plan your shopping experience around hitting those sales.

Bring snacks, water, chairs, and make a trip of it. If you’re trying to hit the earliest doorbusters on Friday morning, you may as well embrace the absurdity. Some of the lowest-priced items on Black Friday may be in limited supply, so if you want the new flat-screen TV or the new iPhone, you need to be one of the first people in line...meaning that you need to get there exceptionally early, like 2:00 a.m. for a 5:00 a.m. opening. Pack some snacks, grab a water bottle, bust out chairs and blankets, and enjoy the super early morning with a couple of friends.

  • Note: Some stores will pass out numbers to the first people in line before the store even opens. This is a good thing! If you get a number, you may get first pick of an item, even if someone else actually physically beats you to it. Other stores may give price guarantees to numbered customers, e.g., if an item sells out, the store may still allow customers with numbers to buy the item on sale and have it shipped from a distributor.

Check for coupons ahead of time. While not all stores will combine their Black Friday deals with their typical coupons, you may get lucky. Check online and in the local paper for coupons ahead of time and when it comes time to check out on Black Friday, ask the cashier if they’ll accept your coupon. The worst that can happen is the cashier says “No,” and you pay the discounted Black Friday price for your items. If the cashier says “Yes,” though, you’ll be getting a bigger discount than you’d hoped!

Have some sympathy for the workers. Trust me on this one, the people who are working Black Friday have been up all night and are exhausted, and they have to deal with angry customers yelling at them all day. Be nice to them. It’s not their fault if the store only had three flat-screen TVs or if they sold out of Harry Potter legos.

If you want to do online shopping:

Cyber Monday tips

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Know that Cyber Monday might not start on Monday. Depending on where you’re planning to shop online, you may find that deals actually start on Thanksgiving or on Black Friday and go through the weekend. Check the websites ahead of time to learn when they’ll be starting their Thanksgiving sales, and check on the items you’re interested in too. If the website where you shop has a retail counterpart, you may find that some items are only discounted online, while others are only discounted at the actual shop. Plan wisely.

Build your cart ahead of time then check out when the sales start. This is a little sneaky and it won’t work on every website, but if you know exactly what you want to buy from a particular site, then you could go ahead and build your shopping cart. Add all your items to your cart a day or two ahead of time. When the sale starts, you can skip the actual shopping because you’re already ready to check out. The coupons and deals should be automatically added to your items, and if anything you want is in high demand, you’ll ensure that you’re one of the first to grab it.

  • Note: If you leave items in your cart for a few days, and start, but don’t complete, the checkout process, you may find that a coupon is sent to your inbox to remind you that you haven’t yet checked out. Hey, an extra 10% off isn’t too shabby!

Keep an eye on Amazon’s lightning deals. These are flash deals that last a certain amount of time or until an item is sold out. You can find some great items, but the downside is that you won’t know what’s going to be on sale until 24 hours in advance. Amazon also has “Today’s Deals” which are available every day, though the discounts aren’t generally as good as they will be around the holidays. Regardless, it’s worth scanning through the sale items to see if anything jumps out at you. Just don’t get caught in the trap of buying things you don’t need because they’re on sale.

Watch out for shipping charges. If you spend enough money, you probably won’t have to pay for shipping, but if you’re under the minimum, you could get stuck. If you’re going to be shopping on Amazon and making multiple purchases, it’s probably worth it to get a Prime membership ($99/year). Check for coupons codes and promotions that may get you free shipping on other sites.

Whatever you do, you’re going to be happiest if you’ve done all your research ahead of time. Check what’s going to be on sale, where it’s going to be on sale (online or in person), and when it’s going to be on sale (doorbuster or all day). The most important piece of advice I can give is this: Shop from a list. You don’t want to get distracted by the $200 TV that you don’t need and won’t use. And sure, those headphones look great, but you already have a pair. Stick to the list you planned, try to use coupons if you have them (or can find them), and good luck!

About Megan Clendenon

Megan C. is obsessed with Cincinnati-style chili, Louisville basketball, and Scandinavian crime fiction. She has lived in six different states and held 12 different jobs since beginning her undergraduate degree at Carleton College in 2008. The wanderlust abated somewhat in recent years, as Megan settled in Texas from 2013 to 2016 to finish a master’s degree in geosciences, write a thesis on the future horrors that stem from climate change, and get married. During her free time, you will find Megan sitting on the couch, cheering for her Louisville Cardinals, planning future adventures abroad, and snuggling with her dog, Tiger. She currently lives outside of Washington D.C.

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