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Black Friday: Grab you plastic, hit the pavement and bring home the prize

Originally published in the November 5, 2010 issue

Once a year, it seems Americans separate themselves into two categories: those that obsessively pour over Black Friday ads in search of some sort of absolution from the day to day and the generally more mentally stable individuals who prefer to stay in their cozy beds saving their energy.

In a scene resembling a mad Kentucky Derby dash for the cheapest laptop, television or Hello Kitty item, human beings are turned into marketer’s pawns, flocking to retail establishments nationwide in an attempt to stick it to the man who has been overcharging, overtaxing and overhyping everything for the past year.

While the majority of these crazed deal-seekers are ridiculed for a lack of a life, it is true there are many good deals. In general, those deals are reserved for shoppers who scout ahead for the items and stores they want to hit rather than running like a frenzied madwoman into the Super Walmart.

The Stores
This year the gloves are coming off and retailers are starting the Black Friday buzz even earlier by introducing many Black Friday deals each weekend in November.  Retailers want to build Black Friday hype, but many consumers are not buying into it.

Most consumers have spent the past 2 years navigating the recession-laden retail landscape and have become pros at deciphering a good deal from a scam.

If retailers want to be successful this season, they are going to have to pull some cheap tricks out of their sleeves.

Sears is one of the retailers attempting to start an early Black Friday blitz by releasing “Black Friday Now” ads. However, according to a New York Times article, many consumers don’t believe these are Black Friday worthy deals and feel they are just regular sales.

Toys R Us has followed suit and placed all merchandise in its 80-page toy catalog on sale this past Sunday. Target is planning on running a sale beginning the week before Thanksgiving featuring discounts as high as 50 percent, and Staples will also be offering discounts on cameras and laptops the week before Thanksgiving.

The Items
For most, the big-ticket items during the holiday season are the electronics. This season is no different, with items including portable speaker systems and GPS systems, which were a popular item last year, dropping significantly.

A new player in the game this year will be the 3D televisions. LCD and Plasma are so last year when consumers can have the ultimate theater experience in the comfort of their own homes.

Some popular carryovers from last season will be the Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360 and iPod touch that will most likely be heavily discounted.

The Strategy

In the spirit of Christmas, or at least the spirit of being cheapskates, many Black Friday aficionados do more than  just scour the ads for the best deals – they hike up their “Line-Jumpers Beware” shirts and get down to business. But you really don’t have to make the 5 o’clock news to score a good deal – there are other ways.

  • Be prepared. This is your first line of defense. The more you know, the easier it is to formulate a grand strategy.
  • Know your acronyms. AR means after rebate and B&M refers to brick and mortar, as in the deals are only available in store.
  • Map out your route. Going on a dry run may sound a little obsessive (and let’s be honest, it is), but it will set you apart from the screaming mother who is clinging to the sales associate asking where her toaster oven is. Know where your merchandise is in the store before you go in that morning. One wrong turn could cost you time in the lines and that last hand mixer for Grandma’s brownies.
  • Leave the stragglers at home. Bringing others who are not into the experience or who are sick or vulnerable will just slow you down. This is not for the faint of heart and most deal seekers will go to any extent to get what they want, even if this involves your first-born.
  • Hire a driver, or even beg your groggy roommate. Just don’t make an amateur’s mistake and spend hours searching for a parking spot.
  • Make friends in line, preferably strong ones. That way if a short changed soccer mom in need of your wireless mouse tries to take you on, you have other angry shoppers to back you up. (Make sure they are familiar with the term “double tap.”)
  • Stay hydrated. Your only thirst should be for the deals inside. Don’t let a craving for those Cinnabons in the food court slow you down.
  • No bathroom breaks. Okay, so this kind of contradicts the previous statement, but only those who have cracked under the pressure find themselves in the bathroom amongst their tears and dashed hopes of limited-edition Barbie.
  • Get a kick-ass partner. Teamwork with those you trust is key. Split up the work and stores now, and reap the benefits later.
  • And most importantly, don’t be a hero. Not even on Christmas.