Jan Hartzfeld has been a Black Friday shopper for 30 years.
In the early days, the East Cobb resident and her husband would head to the local Walmart at 6 a.m. and stroll the aisles looking for deals. But today, anyone using that strategy isn’t likely to find shopping success.
“Shoppers are more aware,” says Hartzfeld, 52. “Now they go with a mission, they know what they are looking for at each store. People have a plan and they start early.”
It’s a good thing shoppers have gotten smarter, because retailers’ approach to Black Friday has evolved as well. Thanksgiving Day openings, doorbusters, online deals and this year’s price-matching are all strategies designed to keep pace with an increasingly savvy consumer.
But in recent years, some consumers have strayed from Black Friday with the understanding the shopping holiday doesn’t necessarily have the best deals after all.
Decide.com tracked online prices a number of national retailers had on a wide range of items over the course of at least two years. The study, done at the request of The Wall Street Journal, showed some items were priced below Black Friday levels at different times throughout the year. Items such as jewelry, flat-screen TVs and the hottest toys had the lowest prices in September or October, while things like small appliances got less expensive as Christmas approached.
What, then, is the point of all this Black Friday hoopla?
“I still think Black Friday is the day retailers look to go into the black,” says Carey Rossi, editor-in-chief of Consumersearch.com. “They are going to be running specials, and some of those specials are really good and some of these specials are not so good.”
Consumers should develop certain Black Friday strategies. The important thing is to decide your priorities, Rossi says.
If you want toys, do some advance research using a catalogue or searching online. If it’s electronics or appliances you’re after, make sure you know what product features you need and study the prices on consumer websites. Then, when you see a true deal, you’ll recognize it.
Rossi also suggests using social media to connect with merchants. Many retailers now reward loyalty — liking a Facebook page, for example — with additional perks.
Black Friday veterans like Hartzfeld have mastered these techniques. She’s waited in line for exclusive deals, purchased items online when she found them at better prices and held off on items she knew were not at their lowest price.
These days, Hartzfeld relies on a spreadsheet of deals she compiles in the weeks leading up to Black Friday. When the big day arrives, she’ll take her place among fellow shoppers — confident she’ll spot the difference between Black Friday bargains and Black Friday bluster.
SAVVY ABOUT BLACK FRIDAY? Help me scout the best deals on the big day.
– Nedra Rhone, for the Atlanta Bargain Hunter blog