If you're looking for some guidance on how to best approach the shopping frenzy, use this list of Black Friday dos and don'ts.
Don't Get Trampled
"Shop at your own risk" should be the official motto of Black Friday. Ever since a Wal-Mart employee was trampled in 2008, there's an added aura of risk. To counteract this kind of overwhelming rush, many merchants have announced plans to open their doors early. Both Target and Macy's will open at midnight, while Toys 'R Us plans to open at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Target also has a plan to cut down on the chaos by allowing only 30 shoppers to enter the store at a time.
Don't Drown in Numbers
Tags with multiple markdowns, added coupon savings and clearance items with an additional percentage off can confuse even the most brilliant mathematician after hours of deal hunting. Ask a sales associate to clarify any discriminating discounts and don't assume the final price until you crunch the numbers. Download the Sale Saver app which features a price calculator that factors in all discounts, including store-wide or product sales, along with coupon savings and any other promotional offers. The app saves items in the mobile cart and calculates the total savings, while factoring in tax to show just how much each Black Friday deal costs.
Don't Give Up
If you missed the door-busting deals you had your eye on, don't fret; there are still plenty of opportunities (in some cases, better opportunities) to find huge discounts after the shopping extravaganza ends. In 2010, Black Friday only had $648 million in sales, placing it third among shopping holidays. Both Cyber Monday and Free Shipping Day easily surpassed those sales numbers by a few hundred-million dollars. This shows an increasing trend in shoppers avoiding the post-Thanksgiving hysteria.
Don't Forget the Small Stores
If you took one pass by the parking lot and decided Black Friday isn't for you, there are still plenty of local stores with special offers and smaller crowds. Since these merchants can't afford to offer the same blowout prices as major chains, they'll often sponsor Black Friday drawings for gift certificates and other prizes. Shopping at these stores is a great way to support the local economy and find thoughtful presents without an "i" prefix.
Don't Spend Unnecessarily
There are plenty of great deals to be found on Black Friday, but there are also lots of duds. Remember, just because the price has been slashed doesn't mean you're getting a steal. Many stores drop prices on unpopular items to clear out inventory. Reading reviews beforehand will make sure you don't get stuck with an inferior product. Though there are lots of tempting deals, make sure you're not spending just to spend.
Don't Go It Alone
It was the band Three Dog Night who sang, "One is the loneliest number." Though they probably didn't have Black Friday in mind, braving the crowds alone isn't much fun. If you're waiting in long lines, it's nice to have a place holder when you need to hit the bathroom; or a dedicated snack runner when the late night/early morning munchies strike. Plus, once you get into the store, you can each focus on grabbing specific items and double your chances of snagging limited quantity deals.
Do Track the Deals
Remember when you were a kid and you couldn't resist peeking at the presents early? If you were persistent enough in your pursuit, mom and dad might just hand it over before the big day. Many merchants offering deals are beginning to cave in a similar fashion. Both Amazon and Target already have pages on their websites dedicated to Black Friday specials. Studying their offers well in advance will only make your plan more effective and keep you in the loop about last-minute changes.
Do Look for Coupons
Clearly, Black Friday deals are so good there's no possible way you could save more -- right? Wrong. There are a surprising number of merchants who offer coupons for additional discounts. Consult this list of merchants offering coupon codes for free shipping on Black Friday.
A well-thought-out shopping strategy is essential for tackling Black Friday deals. Review store circulars ahead of time and pick destinations based on discounts. Consider shopping at a mall instead of stand-alone stores for easy access to a wider selection of retailers and less driving. Find out how much of a certain item will be sold at each store, as many advertised door-busters are limited in quantity. Dress in layers to avoid overheating amid crowds or freezing while waiting in lines outside. And pack small snacks to keep energized for a long day of bargain hunting.
Do Make a Detailed List
Every Black Friday shopping plan should include a list. That list may be burned into your brain, but it also helps to put it down on paper. Better yet, record it on your smartphone and track spending with the Holiday Gift list app. Having details like an item's model number will help you get in and get out with less hassle.
You'll have a lot of time on your hands while waiting in line, so be sure to periodically check the Facebook and Twitter pages of your favorite stores for instant updates on deals and hourly promotions. Before you head into a new store, research their status and tweets to fully prepare yourself. Knowing what deals are available before you cross the threshhold will give you an advantage over other shoppers.
Do Shop Online
Unless your idea of a good time is waiting in long lines to battle deal-crazed shoppers at 4 a.m., you're probably not shopping on Black Friday for the atmosphere. Luckily, many merchants are now offering their special sales online. As an extra incentive to skip the stores, such services as price matching and free shipping are often provided.
Guest poster Andrea Woroch is a consumer and money-saving expert for Kinoli Inc. Her goal is to teach consumers how to live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. Andrea has appeared on The Today Show, ABC News NOW, NBC Nightly News, FOX, MSNBC, CW and been quoted in SmartMoney.com, Kiplinger Personal Finance and many others.