Crash course for first-time Black Friday shoppers

There are plenty of reasons to skip Black Friday shopping. Maybe news footage made you decide not to brave the crowds. Or maybe you opted to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner instead. Whatever the reason, you’ve been absent from past installments of the shopping event.

If you’re finally ready to experience the event for yourself, here’s what you need to know to compete with the most seasoned shoppers — while keeping your spending in check.

There’s no such thing as Black Friday

Black Friday is technically Nov. 24, but your planning and shopping should begin well before that.

“Initially, we had Black Friday, which was the day after Thanksgiving when everybody did their shopping,” says Christopher Newman, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Mississippi.

Now, he says, there’s really no such thing anymore. Most Black Friday sales begin on Thanksgiving Day, and most pre-Black Friday sales happen throughout November. Toys R Us kicked off its early sale with “hot deals” on Oct. 26, and Amazon opened its Black Friday deals store on Nov. 1.

“Really it’s become a race among retailers to try to get the best deals out the earliest to customers,” Newman says. “Customers win because of that.”

If you see a good deal, snag it. But weigh your options. In addition to early sales, many retailers also leak ads containing glimpses of their upcoming deals. Newman recommends going online to find these Black Friday ads so you can “cherry-pick” the lowest prices at each store. This year, ads have already surfaced from retailers like Kohl’s and J.C. Penney.

It’s easy to overspend

Ads are useful for price comparison information but dangerous for the unprepared in-store shopper. Retailers will entice you to spend on Black Friday. And if they can draw you in for one item, they’re hoping you’ll throw two or three more into your cart.

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