10 Black Friday Shopping Secrets From Pros

In a few weeks, millions of Americans will gather around their dining table to enjoy a turkey feast and get a head start on searching for holiday bargains. And though some people scoff at the idea of shopping on Thanksgiving, it’s clear the annual bargain bonanza remains popular with shoppers across the country. In fact, last year U.S. retailers raked in $7.9 billion in sales during Black Friday and Thanksgiving, an increase of nearly 18 percent from 2016, according to Adobe Analytics, which analyzed transactions at the 100 largest U.S. web retailers. And this year is expected to be even bigger.

Whether you’re a seasoned Black Friday deal hunter or you’re new to the bargain madness, don’t attempt to shop without a plan. Scoring the best sales and discounts of the season requires forward planning and a thoughtful strategy. To shop smart, use this list of tips and tricks from pros, and make the most of Black Friday.

[Read: Shopping Holidays: The Best Days to Shop in 2018.]

Plan it out. Wandering around aimlessly is a waste of time and money. To avoid being tempted to overspend, map out a shopping route based on which stores have the best deals on the items you want to buy. Review Black Friday ads to figure out who is offering the biggest savings on those products, suggests Jon Lal, founder of BeFrugal.com. You can get access to such promotions at sites like DealNews.com, or compare current offers on your phone using the Flipp app.

Research original prices. A store’s Black Friday promotions may trick you into believing you’re saving big bucks. However, retailers have been known to inflate the original price to make a holiday deal look like a better value.

“Scope out a few products you want to buy at several different sites a few weeks in advance of Black Friday and take note of what those prices are at each store or if they were already on sale,” says Stacy Caprio, founder and blogger at DealsScoop.com. This will give you a baseline for when Black Friday hits, so you won’t be suckered into a misleading deal.

Meanwhile, Trae Bodge, smart shopping expert at TrueTrae.com, suggests using RankTracer.com to review pricing data for thousands of products sold on Amazon. That way, you can get a better idea of an item’s lowest selling price to compare with what’s being offered on Black Friday.

Purchase discount gift cards. Once you know which stores you want to hit, you can sweeten your Black Friday savings by purchasing discount gift cards ahead of time. Sites such as GiftCardGranny.com sell gift cards for less than face value with savings of up to 25 percent off to popular stores such as Macy’s, Target and Kohl’s, Bodge says. This is an easy way to save more at stores that won’t accept coupons or on doorbuster deals, she adds. “If you buy a discounted gift card for 10 percent off, you automatically save an extra 10 percent on your purchase.”

Keep in mind, physical gift cards can take up to seven days to arrive in the mail, so it’s important to order these at least a week before the shopping event.

Double down with cash back. “A secret most people don’t think of is to check cash-back sites,” says Michelle Madhok, online shopping expert and founder of deals site SheFinds.com. “They frequently increase cash back during holidays for extra rewards and you can get discounts on things that are never on sale like fancy cosmetics.”

Madhok recommends signing up to sites such as Hoopladoopla.com or Ebates.com, which provide up to 20 percent cash back on online purchases. You can then cash out on the points earned by redeeming them for gift cards which can be used later in the season to offset other gift purchases.

[See: 10 Completely Careless Credit Card Mistakes You’re Making.]

Shop early online. Avoid the madness on Black Friday by shopping online. “Target, Walmart and Macy’s almost always offer the same Black Friday deals online as they do in-store and Kohl’s and Target even offer doorbusters online,” says Joanie Demer, co-founder of TheKrazyCouponLady.com.

Demer points out that online sales usually begin earlier than those in-store on Black Friday, so you can shop early to scoop up popular items that may sell out quickly. “Last year, Walmart’s in-store sales didn’t start until 6 p.m. Thanksgiving evening, but the online deals went live at midnight,” she says.

If you have your sights set on an in-store only doorbuster, call the store in advance to find out how many of those products they have in stock. Since most are limited in quantity, you may have a hard time getting your hands on one so it may not be worth your time to go to the store.

Prepare online carts for a speedy checkout. Online shoppers are competing with millions of other deal hunters for the same Black Friday sales, so there’s a risk of missing out on those limited quantities if you don’t pounce quickly. Prep your shopping cart by adding the items you want to buy to your cart ahead of the sales event and save your payment and shipping details, Demer says. When deals go live on Black Friday, you should see updated sale prices in your cart and all you have to do is complete your transaction, she says.

Sign up for additional savings. Retailers often release exclusive deals and coupons to loyal fans across various platforms, so follow favorite stores on social media or subscribe to store newsletters, suggests Sarah Hollenbeck, shopping and retail expert at BlackFriday.com. Also, bookmark deal sites such as CouponCause.com to quickly search for coupons before checking out online.

Consider rebates carefully. Some doorbusters may require a rebate to access the deep discount, but shoppers often forget to take this extra step. In fact, ConsumerAffairs.com found that more than $500 million in rebates go unclaimed every year. When you’re comparing offers between retailers, ask yourself if you’ll mail in the rebate before it expires or if you can even provide all the items needed such as the UPC bar code from the original packaging, says Jeanette Pavini, savings expert at Coupons.com, an online coupon site. “If it’s a gift, that may not be possible,” she says. Ultimately, you may be better off paying a couple dollars more for a comparable product without the hassle of a rebate.

Dodge restocking fees. Kitchen appliances and electronics are popular purchases over Black Friday and through the winter holidays. If you’re tempted to take advantage of a seemingly good doorbuster, don’t forget to read the return policies before you make an impulse decision. Some retailers charge a restocking fee on these purchases that can range from 10 to 15 percent of the total purchase price, so you could pay a hefty price if you decide you don’t need or want the item later. Before you buy, research store policies and make sure you hang on tight to those receipts, cautions Jennifer McDermott, consumer advocate for personal finance comparison site, Finder.com.

[See: 12 Ways to Be a More Mindful Spender.]

Tame shopping FOMO. Fleeting, limited-time deals create a sense of urgency that causes many shoppers to buy on an impulse. This shopping fear of missing out, or FOMO, may cause you to overspend on items you really don’t need, warns Tracie Fobes, owner and founder of PennyPinchinMom.com. “Only buy the things you really need and don’t walk out of the store with extras,” she says. To curb the impulse to buy something, stick to your shopping list and walk away from the item so you have time to think it over. Chances are the urge to buy will pass while you continue your shopping.

Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert at the online coupon and discount shopping site RetailMeNot.com, also emphasizes that shoppers should not worry about missing out on Black Friday promotions, because Cyber Monday will offer comparable savings across similar categories.

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