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How to Keep Your Cool on Black Friday

This is the first day-after-Thanksgiving sale I'll actually have available, as I'm currently unemployed, like over 10 percent of the nation.

But I, for one, won't be up at 4am, standing in line at Kohl's. And I certainly won't be at Wal-Mart at midnight.

I used to be in the retail industry, and – perversely – I really enjoyed it. It was exciting. I loved setting up the store, previewing the merchandise and promotions, and getting that first flood of traffic. The day seemed to fly by and before you knew it, you had your biggest day of the year in sales (until December, that is).

But now I don't like it so much. I really hate waiting in line.

So I wait online 🙂

Yes, I do most of my shopping online. At Amazon. I really don't mess around anywhere else. I do have a soft spot for Staples; they seem to offer really incredible deals on stuff I like.

If you ARE going to brave going out into the cold, rain, sleet, and/or snow, I have a few suggestions for you.

 

PRIORITIZE

What is the ONE thing you most want to buy? That's where you must focus. Everything else is just gravy for the proverbial turkey you want.

Enlist your friends. Yes, many of them will be out and about, doing the same thing as you. Exchange favors. I buy for you here, if you buy for me there. But remember to keep your eye on the prize. If you want that something special, get in line first.


PROTECT YOURSELF

Inevitably, somebody gets crushed in the mosh pit that used to be Wal-Mart. Don't be that guy. If things start getting out of hand, escape. I'll tell you a little story of a mob scene I was a part of about 10 years ago. It was New Year's Eve. I was in San Francisco with my friend. We decided to check out the scene, despite our best judgement. We were young.

We happened upon a scene where a major intersection was completely crowded. People were climbing scaffolding, up the face of buildings. Tipping over cars. Then, it happened…

We looked up and saw the mounted police coming. The crowd froze. Then they panicked and ran. So did we. I became Reggie Jackson in the 1977 Word Series, game 6 (the final game), knocking people over at a full sprint. I was NOT going to be a victim.

I was most definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time. I chose unwisely. But I was damned if I was going to get crushed by a crazy crowd.

So, be careful and shop defensively.

Some stores now do a tiered sale, where supposdely the best deals are early in the morning, but some other cool deals take effect after the first rush. Retailers do this for obvious reasons – to smooth out the sales during the day by getting shoppers to come in later. Some smaller retailers benefit greatly from this practice because they are often the 5th, 10th, or 20th choice among their customers. You can get some really cool stuff by being among the first at the scene when the new intra-day promotions begin.


LAYAWAY

Here's where you can benefit from my retail experience. This week, before Friday, check with your favorite stores on whether they have a layaway program. Layaways are back in vogue because of the poor economy and the fact that a lot of folks are unemployed.

This is what you do: Scout the "pre-sales" ads and find those things you really want. Put them on layaway NOW, no matter the price. On "game day," go in, return the merchandise, and buy it at the sales price.


Better Strategy

Keep your item on layaway until mid-December. Depending on how sales have gone, retailers may offer the same goods for sale at lower prices. They know they have a very short window in which to sell this promotional merchandise, and they're hellbent on getting rid of it. So, again, keep your merchandise on layaway until you get to a price with which you're comfortable. Then take it off layaway and buy it at your price.


SHOP FOR NEXT YEAR

The day after Christmas is a retailers busiest day. It's not his biggest sales day, but if you took out all the returns, it just might be right up there. Retailers are often in a big hurry to get rid of extra inventory after Christmas, and you'll often find firesales. If you still have your item on layaway, there's a good chance, if it didn't sell well, that you'll get the best price after Christmas.

Or, just do what a lot of enterprising people do: Shop for Christmas 2010. As long as you have the room to store the stuff, this is a great strategy for getting "staple" type items at great prices. You certainly have to be a good planner and remember where you put the stuff, but it's a great money- and time-saving strategy. Plus, your anxiety levels and blood pressure will thank you for it.


JANUARY

If you're buying for yourself, or for someone in 2010, shopping in January is often the best time of year to get outstanding deals. Remember all that merchandise the retailers wanted to get rid of before Christmas? Now they''re absolutely desperate to rid their shelves of merchandise.

Another thing people do is return stuff in January. The day after Christmas might be the biggest single return day of the year, but January brings in a lot more returns than those last few days of December. Take advantage of that.

This is especially true of Costco and electronics and computer stores. You can often find incredible "open box" deals in January. Dad just couldn't get the new Mac to work (where's the right click button?) so he returned it.

Guess what? Open Box Bonanza! Apple will sell that thing for sometimes HUNDREDS less than retail. And all that's "wrong" with it? The box has been opened and Jimmy peeled off a sticker. I'll take that deal any day.


I hope this gives you food for thought on how best to brave the crowds on Balck Friday and get the best deals possible. Of course, you can bet I'll be here, banging away at my computer, picking up great deals, free shipping, and sipping on a hot chocolate.

To this day, however, I still miss the excitement of a great Black Friday. But I suppose that was because I was on the other side of the cash register.