To Wait – or Not to Wait – for Black Friday Deals?

Holiday ShoppingChristmas is still about eight weeks away, but retailers and many shoppers don’t seem to care. Holiday shopping is in full swing.

Gone are the days when shoppers waited until Black Friday, once revered as the biggest shopping day of the year, to hit the stores and snatch up great deals on everything from clothing to electronics. Instead, early-bird shoppers are purchasing items off their holiday lists earlier than ever.

According to a new survey from coupon destination site RetailMeNot, just 10 percent of consumers today believe that Black Friday savings are really worth the wait and 85 percent of shoppers expect retailers to start their holiday promotions before Black Friday. “Consumers in record numbers are questioning the value of offers on Black Friday,” said Trae Bodge, senior lifestyle editor at RetailMeNot. “While early bird behavior is beneficial for the strategic buyer, RetailMeNot’s offer data still suggests that deals during the five days of savings from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday are stronger on a percent-off basis than in prior weeks.”

For example, RetailMeNot said the deepest discounts on electronics and computers — ranging from 38 to 40 percent off — can be found between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, and oftentimes into the first week of December.

But if you’re shopping for little ones this holiday season, RetailMeNot suggests that you “act fast and purchase toys early.” Because toy prices remain relatively stable throughout the holiday season, if you wait too long you might not have much to choose from if inventory runs low.

RetailMeNot said it’s easy to score Black Friday-worthy discounts whenever you want if you follow this simple approach:

  • Purchase a discounted gift card, which are typically sold post-Cyber Monday, at your favorite retailer and get an instant savings of 2 to 20 percent.
  • Use the discounted gift card in conjunction with a coupon code or digital rebate. “RetailMeNot users report an average savings of $20 per transaction,” said Kristen Larrea, RetailMeNot shopping expert. If you want to score even bigger savings, pay for your purchase with a cash-back credit card.

The survey also found that the most attractive promotions to shoppers are: money-back purchase options (44 percent), holiday sales (37 percent), flash-sale deals (31 percent) and door-buster offers (27 percent). Consumers said they can also be lured into stores by gift-wrapping services (24 percent) and good holiday music (16 percent).

Why So Many Black Friday Deals Are Here Already

Macy's Black Friday

Black Friday may be on life support.

The day after Thanksgiving, replete with doorbuster deals at jam-packed department stores and long lines at electronics purveyors, has for years marked the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. But Black Friday continues to diminish in importance for shoppers as major retailers start offering deals online right after Halloween in order to get the jump on one another and drive more holiday sales overall, and more people choose to shop on their mobile devices at their own leisure.

Black Friday was named for the start of the period when stores traditionally began to claim a profit for the year, with black ink used to mark profits by accountants, versus red ink for losses. But Black Friday shopping as a relic of years past is once again starting to take shape this November.

On Nov. 1, Walmart (WMT) began offering discounts on thousands of items online, including toys and electronics. For example, Apple’s (AAPL) iPad Mini 2 is being sold for $199, down from $268. A 48-inch RCA smart TV could be had for $299.99 compared to $319.99 previously. At the top of its homepage, Walmart is promoting “hot holiday rollbacks all season long”, likely in an attempt to reawaken sluggish sales in the U.S. before the holiday season kicks into gear.

Walmart’s fiercest rival, Amazon (AMZN) isn’t standing idly by. On Nov. 2, Amazon rolled out its new “deals of the day” holiday season promotion, which will lead up to its more serious discounts for Black Friday on Nov. 27.

Reminiscent of once popular flash sales, Amazon’s deals are timed, in order to create a sense of urgency among gift-seeking consumers. Some of the first deals offered by Amazon include video-game Metal Gear Solid 5 for Sony’s (SNE) PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s (MSFT) Xbox One, which is discounted to $39.99 from $59. A pair of Saucony running sneakers is listed for $39.99, down from $70 previously.While Walmart and Amazon do battle online for holiday dollars in the early going, Target (TGT) isn’t joining the fray. The Minneapolis-based retailer began to stock its stores with holiday merchandise on Nov. 1, but isn’t offering any specific deals in the weeks leading up to Black Friday. Target didn’t return a request for comment.

Meanwhile, department store retailer J.C. Penney (JCP) downplayed the declining relevance of Black Friday, saying via email that “Black Friday remains an important shopping period for the company.”

“Black Friday is not dead, but it’s definitely different — I don’t think it will ever die, but it has to change because customers are changing,” said Kathy Grannis Allen, senior director at the National Retail Federation. Those changes to traditional Black Friday buying, fueled by a combination of more mobile shopping and earlier deals offered by retailers, were front and center during Black Friday 2014.

U.S. shoppers spent $9.1 billion at brick-and-mortar stores on Black Friday last year, according to data from research firm ShopperTrak. That represented a drop of 7 percent compared with Black Friday in 2013. In 2013, sales at physical retailers declined an even steeper 13.2 percent from the previous year.

Customer traffic on Black Friday has also declined by a similar amount, falling 5.6 percent in 2014 and 11 percent in 2013, according to ShopperTrak.

However, online and mobile shopping have surged. Online sales on Thanksgiving Day last year increased 14.3 percent over 2013, with sales on Black Friday up 9.5 percent year over year, according to IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark. Black Friday mobile traffic reached 49.6 percent of all online traffic, an increase of 25 percent from 2013. Black Friday mobile sales accounted for 27.9 percent of total online sales, up 28.2 percent from a year earlier.

“Black Friday is not irrelevant, it’s just that a lot more people are [buying] on mobile devices,” says Hannah Egan, product strategy specialist at IBM Commerce. Egan notes that mobile buying experiences have improved, as retailers have done a better job of targeting consumers with specific promotions on mobile devices.

Adds Egan, “the mobile device has become one’s personal shopper — those retailers that will win are the ones who treat their customers as one customer, offering good deals both online and in-store.”

If traditional Black Friday shopping at physical stores is starting to become a thing of the past, there may be some distinct winners and losers from the retail sector.

Winners could include companies that sell electronics such as Best Buy (BBY) or Amazon, as consumers look for good deals on these products throughout November and December and not just on Black Friday weekend. On the other hand, companies hawking impulse items people would buy for themselves while they’re out shopping on Black Friday, such as winter coats, boots and other apparel, may be hurt.

“Athleisure normally sells well over Black Friday weekend because it’s never discounted,” noted Allen, suggesting the likes of Lululemon (LULU) and Nike (NKE) could be impacted if fewer consumers are in the malls to buy yoga pants and joggers.

And this year, November may also mean another in which the Black Friday buying orgy fades further into the background of importance for retailers.

How to Win Black Friday

Black Friday

Holiday shopping season is upon us, and this year, it’s going to be capital-B Big. The average American plans to spend, on average, $1,128 this season, according to a recent survey by RetailMeNot. Broken down, that’s $141 per person for eight people total.

Translation: Expect your friends and neighbors to be out in full force on November 27, looking to scoop up the best deals. To help you keep your holiday spirit, despite the crowds and frenzied energy of the day, I’ve compiled a few of my favorite tips for Black Friday shopping. Try them out, and you’ll not just survive the day, but you’ll score the best bargains with the least amount of stress.

Be the first to know: By signing up for stores’ email lists in advance, including Target, Macy’s, Best Buy and Toys “R” Us, or by downloading their shopping apps, you can get a sneak peak at their best deals before the circulars hit your doorstep. That may give you just enough of a head start to do your research on the sale items, so you can sort out the good from the not-quite-as-good.

Make a list: Black Friday is not the day to browse or get ideas for the loved ones on your list. It’s the day to just get in and get out. So don’t even think of entering a store without a crystal-clear objective. In other words, knowing you want to get your son a new flat-screen TV isn’t enough. On Black Friday, you should know the brand and model number, too. That may mean going to the store before Thanksgiving to determine which one you’d like to buy. The more focused you are, the more successful you’ll be in achieving your goals.

Map the store: There’s nothing quite so stressful as walking into a large store and having to circle the place several times, through the crowds, to find what you’re looking for, especially when what you’re looking for is only being sold in limited quantities. Rather than wander aimlessly, go the store on any day before Black Friday, so you know at least in general where, say, the toy section is in relation to electronics.

Bring snacks: Think of shopping on Black Friday as an endurance sport. You’ve got to be smart and quick, as you’ll also likely be on your feet for hours and hours. To avoid wasting time in line for sub-par soft pretzels or a slice of barely warmed frozen pizza, take along your own energy snacks. Bring some trail mix, a handful of almonds or a couple of granola bars to nibble on while you’re standing in line.

Choose the best line: There’s no bigger retail buzz kill than finding the perfect gift and then waiting in line for an hour just to pay for it. (Anyone who’s ever been to Ikea surely knows this.) Two things to keep in mind, here, though: First, if you see a single monster line snaking to the back of the store but leading to multiple registers, rest easy. Those types of lines, known to queuing theorists as serpentine lines, where the first person is distributed to the first available cash register, look the longest but are the fastest. Second, f it’s up to you to choose the best line, you may be better off heading to the left, according to “The Math Geek” by Raphael Rosen. “Approximately 90 percent of the population is right-handed, and so they tend to naturally head to the right,” he writes. “So heading left is worth a try.”

Score a plum parking spot: It’s easy to waste your precious time and your equally precious patience looking for a good parking spot. Here’s the key: Don’t try following a shopper with bags to her car. If she cuts across the lot, even to just one row over, you’ll have wasted your time. Also, don’t keep circling in hopes that a spot right next to store’s entrance will miraculously open at the exact moment you’re passing by. Your best bet, according to the International Parking Institute: Commit to a row, any row, and then pull into the first available spot you see in it. Even if it’s farther away than you’d hoped, you’ll spend less time walking to the store than you would trolling for a closer spot. You’ll also be able to start your shop in a good, rather than rageful, mood.

Boost your buying confidence: To help you get the best deals and save the most money, download RetailMeNot’s app before you shop. It gives you instant access to any available coupon at thousands of stores. No clipping (or printing) required. Just flash the code on your phone to the cashier to instantly save bucks.

Just buy gift cards: Okay, so it’s the not the cutest or most glamorous gift you could give, but it may in fact be the most thoughtful. According to the National Retail Federation, six in 10 people say they’d love to receive a gift card, making it the most frequently requested present for the past nine years running. The best part: Since you can order them online anytime, or pick them up when you’re shopping for your Thanksgiving feast, you can spend Black Friday at home, relaxing with your loved ones.

Procrastinate: If you just don’t want to brave the crowds, that doesn’t mean you’ll miss every last great deal. There’s always Cyber Monday, after all, and if you have a computer, iPad or smartphone, you can shop that sale at home in your pajamas. No lines, no crowds, no stress. Have fun!

Busted! The 14 Biggest Myths About Black Friday

Holiday Shopping Black FridayEvery year, savvy shoppers find deep discounts online and in stores on Black Friday. Whether they’re looking for the newest, most advanced tech device or the perfect outfit for New Year’s Eve, buyers know retailers will offer some of their best deals during this time.

But are all the deals great? Do you have to shop online to find them? And doBlack Friday sales even have to begin on Black Friday? We’ve addressed these questions, and quite a few more, in our list of the biggest myths about Black Friday. Brush up on some shopping knowledge now, so you’re well prepared for the upcoming deal season.

1. Black Friday Sales Begin on Black Friday

Much like Christmas itself, Black Friday is now a full season. Sure, Black Friday proper is the main attraction, but stores have increasingly started to release deals in waves. Bargains can be found early in the week of Thanksgiving and run all the way through the weekend. (In fact, some of Amazon’s deals have beenavailable all week.) The bottom line is, if you’re doing all your deal-hunting exclusively on Black Friday, then you’re missing out.

2. You’re Missing Out if You Only Shop Online

Companies advertise doorbusters in order to attract customers to their brick-and-mortar stores. But in recent years, as competition has escalated among rival retailers, those eye-catching deals have steadily moved online as well. In fact this year, we saw our first mobile app-only deals and perks.

The reason is simple. Traditional retailers like Walmart, Target and Best Buyknow that online retailers such as Amazon will match their best prices on in-store deals. Thus it only makes sense to offer the same deals online, to remain competitive. The goal is to beat Amazon, but the real winners are deal-hunters.

3. Black Friday Shopping is Dangerous

We’ve all seen the footage. Hordes of crazed holiday shoppers stampede into a store at four in the morning, trampling anyone and everyone in the way. It makes for a morbidly fascinating spectacle, a case study for shoppers as social Darwinists, played out on live TV.

But the truth is that those sorts of incidents are actually extremely rare. We just happen to see the worst on the news because it translates into great TV. While you should be aware of the potential for chaos during your in-store shopping, know that it’s unlikely to reach aggressive proportions.

4. All Black Friday Deals Are Amazing

This is shopping 101. Remember, retailers are in business to make a buck, and they can’t do that if they lose money — or even make too small a profit — on every deal.

Some deals are great, but others are filler. The great ones are there to lure you into buying more stuff, ideally at a healthy markup. So do your research and uncover the truth about those “rock bottom” prices before you buy.

5. All Black Friday Deals Appear in Ads

Nope. For one thing, websites like Amazon don’t even run traditional ads. So you won’t be able to scope out their deals beforehand on TV or in the newspaper. Plus, because most of the big stores want to out-do each other, there’s a certain amount of responsive pricing that comes after the ads debut.

If Walmart, for example, is offering a crazy discount on a TV, and it’s getting a lot of attention for that price, then there’s a good chance that its competitors will consider doing the same at the last minute.

6. Apple’s Black Friday Sale is a Must-Shop Event for Apple Fans

Apple Stores across the country will be packed on Black Friday, but they won’t be offering great deals. Last year, the tech giant offered gift cards with its full-price devices, which was pretty disappointing for shoppers hoping for a discount. If you want a real deal, you’d be better off checking out what third-party retailers such as Walmart, Best Buy and MacMall can do.

Apple doesn’t want to be known as a brand for discounts, but in the past few years, these resellers have been a lot more liberal with their Apple promos. In fact, last Black Friday, Target offered huge gift cards with every iPad model, while the MacBook Air fell to all-time low prices. Check out our roundup of the best advertised Apple device prices for more details on where to shop this year.

7. You Have to Stay Glued to Your Computer All Day to Get Deals

Sure, Black Friday can be stressful. With deals popping up throughout the day, you might feel like you have to keep your eyes on the computer monitor.

But that’s simply not the case. DealNews has you covered. Before you spend 24 hours staring at a pixelated screen, set up an alert with us to receive notifications when your favorite deals are posted. (Keep in mind though that once your deal of choice goes live, you will have to buy quickly.)

8. Once You Hit “Purchase,” It’s Yours

Every year, plenty of shoppers have online orders canceled for various reasons. The price listed on the website might be incorrect (it happened infamously with Best Buy in 2011), or the item might have sold out so fast that the company couldn’t process all the orders before you pressed “purchase.”

On the other hand, check the fine print. If you want to back out of a buy, you might be able to cancel the order. But you might also be stuck if the merchandise is listed as “final sale.”

Just remember, with all the money changing hands, businesses tend to tighten their return policies during the holiday season. Buy wisely, and make sure to ask for gift receipts when necessary.

9. Online Shopping is Always Easier

As anyone who’s lived through Black Friday knows, the online experience isn’t always stress-free. Technology isn’t perfect. Websites can crash or even fail. And when everything works properly, some deals will simply sell out before you can place your order. The latter is a common complaint for flash sales from Amazon, for example. But at least you’re still shopping from home!

10. Luxury Goods Don’t Go on Sale for Black Friday

It’s true that Black Friday emphasizes lower-end electronics, however, in recent years, several luxury retailers have begun offering sales and promotions through their outlets. Stores like Last Call by Neiman Marcus, Barney’s Warehouse and Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th are a few outlets you can expect to participate in Black Friday sales. Plus, even Apple products go on sale now! (Check out our Black Friday clothing guide for more info on luxury items.)

11. Cyber Monday Sales Are Full of Leftovers From Black Friday

Black Friday may get all the attention, but last year Cyber Monday managed to trump Black Friday in terms of overall Editors’ Choice deals (our designation for the best sales of the year, with prices we’ve rarely seen before). So Cyber Monday isn’t a slouch, and it certainly doesn’t just recirculate Black Friday castoffs. Cyber Monday is no longer a holiday you can afford to skip!

12. Doorbusters Are Always Crappy Quality

Bargain bin devices have a reputation for being bottom-of-the-barrel items that nobody wants, and you have to be careful for retailers trying to pass off questionable devices as “special edition.” But over the past few years, the doobuster selections have been showing more flair than usual to entice customers. For example, we’ve seen rock-bottom prices on laptops with better-than-average specs, as well as eye-popping TV deals from brands you’ve actually heard of before.

13. Black Friday is Overrated

Sure, it’s bloated. Yes, there’s plenty of nonsense. And in all the chaos, some shoppers can forget that they’re members of the human race. We get it. Black Friday can be crazy. But if you do your research and stick with DealNews, you can find some amazing prices out there, many of which will be the best of the year. When you know what to look for and expect, then you’re less likely to get burned by Black Friday.

14. You Should Feel Bad if You Miss Black Friday

But, despite all the good deals we’ll see during Black Friday, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t partake in the savings this year. The Black Friday season is special because it contains such a high level of amazing discounts in a short period of time, but we’ll frequently see these promos again. They might require more patience and hawk-eyed attention throughout the year, but you can find many Black Friday prices again later if you miss out. It’s just a matter of when.

5 Things to Do on Black Friday Instead of Shopping

Woman Adjusting Bow on GiftBlack Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — has become associated with a huge rush of shopping for many Americans. Stores offer a variety of sales, and people run to get discounted items to check off their holiday gift list or to get something new for themselves.

For some, however, Black Friday has become an experience to avoid. The crowded stores, the sales on items they don’t really need, the spending of money on unthoughtful gifts — it adds up to an event that many people want to skip.

Still, if you have Friday off from work, why not use it to prepare for the holidays in other ways? Here are five great ways to spend Black Friday without rushing to the stores and opening your wallets wide.

Make homemade gifts. One great gift-giving strategy for the holidays is to make your own gifts. It’s not too difficult to make batches of homemade soap, jams, custom stationery or even homemade beer.

The real trick with homemade gifts is that they take time more than anything else, and that’s exactly what Black Friday gives to many of us — particularly when we’re not shopping. Pick up your supplies just before Thanksgiving, then settle in with a good movie or some holiday music and spend the Friday after Thanksgiving making gifts for your friends and family.

Write thoughtful holiday cards. One of the best ways to show your friends, professional contacts and family members that you truly care is a handwritten card during the holiday season. A simple, tasteful card with a thoughtful note on the inside that says something about the connection that you share is a spectacular way to maintain a relationship and show someone that he or she really matters to you.

Settle in a nice workspace including a few pens, a stack of cards and envelopes, some stamps and your address book, and write a few dozen thoughtful cards for people on this Black Friday. Drop them in the mail, and they’ll find their way to the important people in your life, giving them something to smile about when they check their mail.

Make a truly thoughtful gift list. Many shoppers simply make a list of people who they need to buy gifts for and brainstorm ideas as quickly as possible, often grabbing thoughtless items at the last minute or giving generic gifts that don’t match the recipient’s interests at all. Nothing tells people that they were a footnote like giving them a thoughtless gift they wouldn’t want or use.

Spend Black Friday doing some thinking and research into the people you care about. Visit their Facebook pages, and see if you can figure out things that interest and excite them. What do they post about? What do they have listed as interests? Those will often lead you right to a great gift idea that matches the person well.

Decorate your home tastefully and frugally. A festive home adds a special flavor and joy to the holiday season, but it often feels like an incredible chore to get out all those decorations and fill the house with them. It can also be a big expense.

Take a different approach this Friday. Spend some time in a park gathering pinecones or other materials for handmade natural decorations. String popcorn or dried berries together. Teach your children how to make handmade paper snowflakes, and use them for decor. These inexpensive decorations can give your home a festive and natural look for the holiday season.

Make a plan so you’re not panicked before the big holiday. What are your plans for the holiday season? Are you going to have guests over? Are people going to stay at your house? Are you traveling? What kinds of meals are you going to be expected to prepare?

Get a jump on these things now, and spend Friday figuring out exactly what you need to do. Then, come up with a plan for the month of December that allows you to get all these things done one step at a time. Give yourself some tasks for the first week, some for the second week, and then a few daily tasks after that, so that if you follow the plan, the holidays go off without any unexpected hitches or big expenses.

You don’t have to go out shopping on Black Friday to fill yourself with the holiday spirit. A day spent doing other things, like making homemade gifts or writing holiday cards for friends and family, can put you in the holiday mood without spending a lot of money on stuff you don’t need and your family likely doesn’t want.