Black Friday 2020: 10 smart shopping tips

Black Friday is one of the biggest shopping events of the year, with thousands securing bargains on the high street and online – in some cases, stampeding into shops or even fellow shoppers to do so. 

But as you might have guessed, things are going to be a little bit different for Black Friday 2020. Just like everything else in 2020.

Hunting for Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals will stay largely the same, with a few exceptions. 

For example, a lot of brands are offering deals earlier in the month instead of cramming them all into one weekend. Like Walmart’s “Black Friday Deals for Days” program, which is unrolling three events throughout the month of November.

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1. Create a budget—and stick to it. 

Yes, this sounds simple. But Black Friday sales, especially the doorbuster specials available in limited quantities, are designed in part to get you into a store or shopping online so that the retailer can sell you items you weren’t intending to buy. It’s really easy to get caught up in the excitement and overspend. Decide ahead of time how much you want to spend on your Black Friday shopping spree, and do your best to resist impulse buying, especially if you’re not sure how good a deal is.

With the shift to online buying, more of us will be using credit cards to pay for purchases. One benefit is that many cards will double the manufacturer’s warranty. But be wary of the interest-free promotions offered by store credit cards. They’re fine if you’re disciplined enough to pay off the balance before the promotional period ends, but if you don’t do that, you’ll get stuck paying interest on the full amount of the purchase, even if you’ve paid down a lot of the balance.

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2. Buy Boring Stuff Too

The best Black Friday tips and tricks tell you how to score cool stuff like the latest tech and holiday gifts for your loved ones.

But these tips often leave out a savvy detail: shop for the boring household items that you use throughout the whole year (but don’t spoil).

For example, if you find an amazing deal on your favorite brand of toilet paper or detergent, stock up. When you can buy these staples in bulk at a lower cost, you’re saving extra in the long run.

Black Friday specials are made to save you some cash, so don’t get “shiny object syndrome” and spend all your time looking at big purchases. There are plenty of other other opportunities that you can take advantage of.

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3.Set up online accounts in advance

It’s not unheard of for websites to slow to a crawl on Black Friday and for popular deals to sell out quickly, so you’ll want to get in and out as swiftly as possible. Open online accounts with your favourite retailers, pre-enter your payment and shipping details, and save them to your account so you can complete purchases quickly once deals are live. It’s also worth signing up to your favourite retailers’ newsletters and following them on social media as this may give you early access to deals.

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4. Understand Return Policies and Fees

Next, familiarize yourself with your favorite retailers’ return policies and restocking fees, if any.

Generous return policies allow no-questions-asked returns for full cash refunds or credit card chargebacks within a predefined timeframe – usually at least 14 days. Returns usually need to be unopened and in original packaging. It’s pretty rare for retailers to accept opened items for return, and rarer still for unopened returns to earn cash refunds. Store credit, possibly minus a restocking fee, is a better bet. That said, some retailers loosen their return policies during the holiday shopping season – the eligible window might be longer or the permitted condition laxer.

Within product categories, major retailer return policies tend to be pretty similar. Whether you buy it at Staples or Office Max/Office Depot, you can probably get a full refund for that unopened 3-in-1 printer 10 days after you buy it.

Some types of items, such as undergarments, typically have stricter return policies or all-sales-are-final policies by default. When restrictive policies are industry standard, there’s not much you can do about them. On the other hand, you should think twice about patronizing retailers with unusually restrictive policies. In a competitive retail environment, you’re likely to have more generous choices.

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5. Consider a “derivative” TV model.

Starting this month, you’ll begin to see low-priced TVs made specifically for Black Friday. Some are available only through a single retailer. These sets are called “derivatives,” because they’re similar to the models we’re used to seeing but have different model numbers and often come with fewer features (maybe fewer HDMI inputs or a stripped-down remote control).

We don’t test all the derivative models, but we do bring a number of near-twins into the lab and have found a few derivative TVs from major brands that performed equally well in CR’s tests, despite being priced $100 to $150 lower.

Not every TV introduced at this time of year is a true derivative, though. So it can be hard to judge the quality of these sets. It’s difficult to compare prices, too, because the model numbers don’t line up and the sets are often available at only one retailer.

Consumer Reports will report on heavily promoted sets as they come on the market, and help you pick out the better deals.

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6. Beware of “Doorbusters”

If you’re not familiar, doorbusters are those super awesome Black Friday specials that are usually offered to the first customers who show up at the store on Black Friday.

It’s usually a limited number like 100 (the number can vary drastically depending on the store and the item that’s offered).

While the doorbuster can be the best deal of the weekend, it can also cause trouble in a couple of ways.

For starters, the quality of the item may not be worth the value. Say it’s an eye-popping price for a 50-inch smart TV. But when you look a little closer, it’s a no-name brand. Look even closer, and you might find that the TV gets a lot of bad reviews and complaints from customers who said it broke after six months.

Of course, this isn’t always the case, but make sure you do your research to make sure the value is as good as it looks.

Another way the doorbuster gets you is my previous point: it can totally suck you in. You might get drawn into the store to snag the doorbuster, then find yourself buying waaaay more than you came for.

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7. Use websites and apps.

You don’t have to go retailer by retailer to compare prices. The Consumer Reports website lists the current prices at various outlets for the products in our ratings. You can also try Google Shopping, PriceGrabber, and Shopzilla. When you’re in a store, smartphone apps such as BuyVia, Shopkick, ShopSavvy, and Shopular let you scan bar codes or QR codes to compare prices, get discounts, and score coupons.

There are now dozens of websites that post leaked Black Friday ads. We regularly check BestBlackFriday.com, DealNews, TheBlackFriday.com, Deals Plus/BlackFriday.fm, and GottaDeal. Sign up for deal alerts, which you can usually filter by product category.

Retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and Walmart, have their own shopping apps, as well. Amazon’s mobile app, for example, lets you use a smartphone camera to scan products and price-shop online. (When you’re done shopping, delete the apps you don’t use to protect your privacy and security.)

But direct comparison shopping can be really tough in the run-up to Black Friday. The best deals often feature models unavailable at other stores or nowhere to be found earlier in the year. Here are two quick tips:

    • Use browser extensions. These are small bits of software you can add to web browsers, such as Chrome and Firefox, that can customized your browsing experience. For example, tools such as CamelCamelCamel and Honey let you use your web browser to see price histories and get price alerts or coupons for any product you shop for online.

    • Add items to your shopping cart. If you see an offer you like, add the product to your shopping cart, which can speed up the ordering process. Then, go check the websites of other retailers to see whether the price is really special. If it is, then check out. Just remember that with some retailers, including Amazon, you need to be logged in for shopping cart items to be saved, and putting an item in your cart doesn’t reserve it; you need to place your order and get a confirmation that it has been received.

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8. Sign Up for Newsletters and Updates

Instead of scouring the internet for the best Black Friday deals online, why not have the deals come to you?

Sign up for email updates from your favorite brands to stay on top of deals as they’re announced. You might also get special “early bird” perks that Black Friday stores only offer to VIP customers and newsletter members.

A lot of companies are promoting their email list for this reason. For example, Ulta has a special Black Friday 2020 signup page. The company even gives you the option to get text message updates as new deals pop up.

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9. Beware the cheapest set.

Super low-price doorbuster specials draw people in with visions of savings, but the sets—often from lesser-known brands—are not always worth the price.

Keep in mind that you’ll be watching your new TV for a number of years. If you’re not happy with the features or picture quality, you may regret not spending the extra $50 to $100 to get something better.

Those loss-leader TVs are usually at their rock-bottom price, too. A retailer may have more wiggle room on a step-up or flagship model, and you shouldn’t hesitate to ask for a better price—regardless of the time of year.

“It is always worth reminding people that Black Friday products are often older technology or specifically engineered to sell at a special Black Friday price and may not be exactly what a consumer would choose,” the NPD’s Baker says.

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10. Use Mobile Apps to Compare Deals

You can start racking up the Black Friday deals now if you’re heading to the store to grab your groceries or do some light shopping.

There are lots of handy smartphone apps that can help you find the best deals on items that you see. All you need to do is scan the UPC barcode on the item, and the app will show you available discounts and store coupons.

Some apps even help you earn rewards points that you can redeem later.

These apps are available all year, but they’re especially helpful now when you’re figuring out what to buy on Black Friday and where to buy them.

If there’s any big takeaway for Black Friday 2020 in comparison to previous Black Friday tips, it’s to get started now.

Black Friday stores are taking advantage of the fact that many people are spending a lot of extra time on the internet right now, and many are more interested in getting awesome deals.

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