7 tips to make all your (Black Friday) dreams come true

  • Nov. 25, 2011: A crowd of shoppers wait outside the Target store in Lisbon, Conn., before the store opens for Black Friday shopping at midnight.

    Nov. 25, 2011: A crowd of shoppers wait outside the Target store in Lisbon, Conn., before the store opens for Black Friday shopping at midnight.  (AP/The Day)

Blu-ray players for $38. Forty-six-inch TVs for $299. Laptops for $525.

No, it’s not April Fool’s Day. It’s Black Friday.

These and other Black Friday loss leaders are expected to cost even less this year than they did last year as retailers try to lure shoppers with the hope that they will also buy plenty of regular-priced items.

But before you rush out in the cold and brave long lines to land the deal of the year, you should follow these seven tips, which come from retail managers and customer service reps and can save you a lot of time and money:

1. Decide if you even need to leave the house. Some shoppers love the Black Friday atmosphere, the chaos and excitement that come with the once-a-year shopping experience. But if that’s not your thing, you should know that the vast majority of Black Friday deals offered in stores can also be had online. These deals will almost always be available to online shoppers at the same time that stores are offering their best deals. 

Keep in mind that online shopping is expected to increase by 10 percent to 15 percent again this year, so the most popular items will sell out just as fast – if not faster – online. To get what you want online, make sure you know when the sales begin. (More on this later.) Online shopping will save you time, gas money and sales tax, but you may have to pay for shipping, and that cost may be high. Consider all this before you decide how you will do your Black Friday shopping.

2. Know what things should cost. Just as some shoppers wrongly assume that bulk items at warehouse stores are always a good deal, some bargain hunters also assume that Black Friday sales are always the best of the year. Not true. Everyone knows that $38 for a Blu-Ray player is a great deal, but analysts and others who have previewed this year’s Black Friday ads point out that some toys, electronics and appliances will cost more on Black Friday than they did earlier this year. 

A good place to start to see a range of prices for the things you may want is Amazon, a perennial low-price leader. The information you uncover will help you figure out where you should spend your money.

3. Find out how much merchandise stores have to sell. The smartest shoppers have the answers to these questions before they leave the house – and so should you: How many $300 TVs or $500 laptops does the big-box retailer in your town have for sale? Will the store pass out vouchers or tickets to shoppers in line, or will shoppers need to hustle to get what they want after the doors open? Will stores offer rain-checks after they sell out of what you want? And if they do, how many rain-checks will they pass out?

4. If you venture out on Black Friday, map out a route in advance and stick with it. Find out when Black Friday sales begin at the stores that have what you want and map out a schedule for yourself – Walmart first, Target second, Best Buy third, and so on. 

Timing is everything on Black Friday, so when you decide where you want to go, also consider where these stores are located. You don’t want to drive cross town more than once during the night. If so, you’ll lose time and spend more on gas.      

5. If you shop online, take advantage of online resources. Give yourself the best opportunity to get what you want. Dealnews.com and other websites will send you email alerts on specific items you want to buy. 

Follow the Twitter feeds of the brands and stores you like best for updates and so-called flash deals. Find out when the thing you want is going on sale, and check the store’s website and try to buy it before the sale starts.  

6. Think outside the box. On Black Friday, this translates to don’t follow the crowds. Why wait in a long line for a $300 TV at Walmart or some other big-box retailer when you can find the same TV for $325 at a locally owned store, where there are no – or shorter – lines? Stores that don’t have the reputation for offering “door-busters” or don’t have the budget to spend a lot on advertising also want your business. These locally owned stores often offer good deals – without the drama – on Black Friday.

7. Be nice. If you’ve decided to join the hoards of Black Friday shoppers, you’ll stand out if you show kindness to store employees, who say they go out of their way to help considerate shoppers, finding what they want in a stock room or giving them a coupon in a flier they forgot to bring. 

Even if your kindness doesn’t benefit you on Black Friday, hey, it’s the right thing to do.     

Mark Di Vincenzo worked as an award-winning journalist for nearly 24 years, making a name for himself as a reporter who exposed abuse, and as a writer who made the complicated seem simple. He left daily journalism in the summer of 2007 to start Business Writers Group, a company that writes for corporate clients. In 2009, HarperCollins published his first book, "Buy Ketchup in May and Fly At Noon: A Guide to the Best Time to Buy This, Do That and Go There," a New York Times bestseller. His latest book is "Buy Shoes on Wednesday and Tweet at 4:00" (HarperCollins 2012). For more visit his website: MarkDiVencenzo.com.