Black Friday deals are limited to in-store offers. You can shop online and on your smartphone

Craft a Black Friday shopping strategy that beats the crowds, get the best deal and stay under budget.

Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year in the U.S. It hit a record $3.34 billion in sales in 2016. You might think (and experts hypothesized) that Friday sales would be hurt by all the other shopping holidays. Between Thanksgiving night door busters and Cyber Monday, the thought was that Black Friday would become less relevant. However, last year, sales grew a whopping 21.6% over the previous year. So, it seems like America's biggest shopping holiday is here to stay. And, if you’re shopping for the holidays on budget, it can be the best time to score sweet deals. Still, you can’t just go out shopping and assume you’ll get big bargains. You have to shop strategically to really save. The articles in this section can help you do that. You can also find more Black Friday statistics and shopping tips at the bottom of the page.

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5 secrets to Black Friday shopping

#1: Start comparing prices early

Don’t just go out with your entire holiday to-buy list and assume you’ll get a great deal on everything. That’s not how Black Friday works. In fact, on items like decorations, there are better days for discounts than Black Friday (without waiting until December 26). So, you only want to fight the crowds to get the best deals offered.

You also need to make sure that a Black Friday deal really is a value. Back in 2012 when Ugg Boots were the hot item for the year, retailers marked the price up in the weeks before Black Friday. Then, they offered a Black Friday “deal” that was actually higher than the regular price you could get on the boots at any other time of year.

So, if you want to be a truly savvy shopper, look at prices before Black Friday and the prices offered that day to make sure there’s any value.

#2: Get a grasp on what deals are best

As we mentioned, Black Friday doesn’t offer the best deals on many items. However, there are key categories of items that give you especially good discounts that day. On average, you can expect at 37% discount through sales that day. The average discount on the week leading up to Thanksgiving is just 20%. So, the value is there.

According to experts, these items offer the best deals:

  • TVs
  • Appliances
  • Jewelry
  • Tablets

Note that last one. Only tablets offer the best discounts on Friday when it comes to devices. Most other devices and other types of electronics are better purchased in early November. So, if you want to get someone a smartphone, don’t wait for Black Friday.

For the record, here are the best days for other items:

  • Best day for holiday décor is November 22
  • Buy toys the day before Thanksgiving (i.e. the as-of-yet unnamed Wednesday holiday shopping day)
  • Sporting goods, computers, clothing, shoes and video games are all discounted the most on Thanksgiving Day

Fun fact: The best day for online sales is not Black Friday. It’s also not Cyber Monday. It’s Thanksgiving Day.

#3: You might not have to fight the crowds

People assume that since Cyber Monday exists, Black Friday is only about in-store deals. But many retailers now offer the same deals that you get in store either online or through their mobile app. In fact, consumers spent $1.2 billion of the total spent on Black Friday in 2016 through mobile devices.

So, as you look through holiday deals, make sure to note if a deal is an in-store exclusive or if it’s available online. If you can take advantage of an offer online or by ordering online for in-store pick up, opt for that instead. There’s no reason to fight the crowds if you don’t have to. Unless…

#4: Don’t be one of those people who shops for the sake of shopping

This year the National Retail Federation asked shoppers why they head out to shop the day after Thanksgiving. The majority of respondents (66%) said it’s because the deals are too good to pass up. However, the second and third most common answers were notably less frugal.

  • 26% said they do it because “it’s tradition”
  • 23% said it gave them something to do over the long weekend

Neither of those reasons is good for your budget. If you’re heading out to shop because you always do or because you have nothing better to do, it’s probably going to be bad for your budget. Window shopping, impulse shopping, and shopping as a group all lead to overspending.

So, going out with the family or (even worse) with friends simply to shop for the sake of shopping decreases the likelihood that you’ll stay on budget this year. That’s not to say you can’t make Black Friday a tradition to occupy your time. But if you do, make sure that you shop with your list and don’t get pulled in by all those attractive store displays.

#5: Know store policies before you shop

This is key for shopping strategically over all of Thanksgiving weekend. Make sure that the store’s policies fit your needs.

  • If you’re ordering online or through an app, make sure you can get free ground shipping. If you can’t, see if they offer free in-store pick up.
  • Check to see if the stores where you want to shop have price match policies. If so, you may be able to reduce the number of stores you need to visit. However, be aware that some stores suspend price match during Black Friday
  • Know return policies related to sale items. Some stores charge restocking fees if you buy an item on sale and then return it.
  • Also check to see if the store offers any post-holiday price matching on any items you purchased from that store. This is where you take an item in with your receipt after the holiday and get cash or store credits to match the post-holiday mark down.

Make sure to keep receipts and ask for gift receipts to be included with gift items so you can make returns as easy as possible on everyone. The more you research ahead of time, the easier it is to get the best deals and stay on budget.