A Guide to Shopping Like a Pro on Black Friday

For most, Thanksgiving involves plenty of family time and basking in that tryptophan-induced buzz—plus a side of eager anticipation for Black Friday deals the next day. To make the holiday sales game-planning a little easier this year, we’ve asked shopping experts and retailers for their most deal-savvy tips and strategies. Whether you’re a fan of hitting the brick-and-mortars at the crack of dawn or prefer browsing online in your PJs, here are the best ways to take on the biggest retail day of the year.

What to Look for

According to Kate Dimmock, fashion director at Amazon Fashion, in-season items like sweaters, outerwear, and cold weather accessories tend to have the best deals on Black Friday. “Do a little research on the pieces that you’ll need to get you through the winter months, and you can pretty much get a deal on those need-it-now items,” says Dimmock. “In past years, I’ve scored winter boots, ski gear, and pretty much all giftable cold-weather items.” Additionally, Sara Skirboll of RetailMeNot predicts deep discounts on beauty products, jewelry, shoes (especially boots), and activewear—perfect gifts for athleisure-loving friends. And don’t waste your time on closet staples during this time. “I’d recommend staying away from the items that are always on sale or that you’re likely to buy for yourself regardless of any special occasion,” says Anna De Souza, a shopping expert for eBay.

Game Planning

As much of an adrenaline rush shopping is, it can also be pretty stressful when it comes to giving thoughtful gifts while simultaneously trying to stick to a budget. Do your research and plan ahead to minimize the need for post-retail therapy. Whether you’re shopping for yourself or others, start with an actual list and decide exactly how much you want to spend on each person—especially helpful in quick decision-making during fly-off-the-shelves sales. “By planning this out in advance, you can guarantee you won’t go off course as you might if you’re wandering aimlessly through the mall,” says Skirboll.

Dimmock has a clever way of sticking to a virtual list: She fills up her online shopping cart in the week leading up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. “Then early morning that day, I get on my computer to see which items I selected are now on sale,” she says. “This helps keep me focused and keeps me from making purchases that I didn’t really want in the first place, just because they are discounted.”

Check out some last-minute holiday shopping items:

Sign up for email newsletters and follow your favorite retailers on social media for early access to sales and additional discounts. And use shopping sites like ShopStyle or Price!pinx to get notifications when the price on a flagged item is marked down. “Throughout the year when I stumble onto something I can’t quite bring myself to buy, I save it on a secret board on Pinterest or use eBay’s Watch list feature,” says De Souza. These will also conveniently notify you when prices drop.

Michelle Madhok, online shopping expert and founder of SheFinds suggests an unexpected but easy way to beat virtual crowds. “Hit ‘view all’ and then shop from the bottom up of the sale page,” she says. “Everyone else will be shopping top down so things sell-out more quickly at the top of the page.” And it may seem obvious, but use a fast browser (Madhok likes Google Chrome) and save extra time with autofill tools for your payment info. Madhok recommends using an app like RoboForm to remember passwords to your favorite sites and also fill in shipping addresses to various places.

After all this strategizing, don’t let shipping costs bring down your shopping game. “Sometimes the deal loses its allure if the shipping charges are the same as or more than the product, so make sure you know how much it’s going to be before you complete checkout,” says Madhok. Shipping subscription services like ShopRunner partner with tons of stores to give shoppers free shipping and returns for an annual or monthly membership fee. If you’re not last-minute shopping (which you shouldn’t be if you’re reading this), use ground shipping or ship to a store to avoid paying extra rush fees.

Maximize the Deal

Don’t be content with just one discount when shopping on Black Friday; there’s usually multiple ways to slash the price in one purchase. “With just a few extra minutes of time, you can work to bundle your savings,” says Skirboll. “That means using a promo code, discount gift card and possibly even a cash-back rebate. You can save tons.”

And even after you’ve gotten your confirmation, look out for post-Black Friday markdowns. “Keep your receipts! If the item you bought goes on further sale within the week or the month, many stores will pay you back the difference,” says Madhok. “Some retailers offer a price guarantee over 100 percent. That means if you find the item cheaper anywhere else and prove it to the retailer, they’ll even beat that price.”


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