BILLSHARK fondly remembers the good ole days of Black Friday. Setting the alarm for 3:30 a.m., heading out to stand in line, then making a beeline for the super-amazing deal you have your heart set on, hoping against hope nobody in the throng beats you to it.
That was then. Thanks to the soaring pandemic numbers, you can forget about the frenzied shopping trips. Now, stores are doing their best to adjust to the realities of the coronavirus. They’re trying to keep their staffs and customers safe while still making a profit.
“The challenge of how to get sales close to typical holiday seasons while still protecting themselves and their customers is a tricky one,” Steve Horwitz, an economics professor at Ball State University, told US News & World Report. “No firm can afford to be the site of a super spreading event, so they have every reason to try to keep everyone safe.”
The new pandemic normal
Yes, that was life before the pandemic. And even before Black Friday deals began to seep over into Thanksgiving Day itself.
Post-pandemic, that seep has become a deluge. Now major retailers are spreading their deals throughout the month of November. Amazon started in October, in fact, moving its prime days to mid-month. Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Kohl’s and others have already started offering severely discounted deals on popular items.
“As we’ve said, Black Friday isn’t just one day this year—it’s months long,” Best Buy said in a statement. And everyone is trying to find ways to adjust to the new normal.
To encourage shoppers to buy online rather than in-store, for example, Walmart has taken the extra step of offering their Black Friday discounts online three days before they’re available to store shoppers.
“We’ve been very thoughtful as we planned this year’s event,” Scott McCall, executive vice president and merchandising officer for Walmart, told US News & World Report. “By spreading deals out across multiple days and making out hottest deals available online, we expect the Black Friday experience in our stores will be safer and more manageable for both our customers and our associates.”
And be warned: As the coronavirus surge worsens, many stores are returning to restrictions they had eased earlier this summer. Walmart, for example, recently announced that they’ve gone back to limiting the number of shoppers in stores. Others are likely to follow suit, so be prepared to wait outside the store.
Are the Black Friday sales worth it?
But putting aside the inherent danger in crowding together in a store with a bunch of strangers—many of whom may not be wearing facemasks—will this year’s Black Friday deals really be worth the hype?
Experts say the rock-bottom prices on some items are for real, but not in all cases. Before you add that item to your cart, you need to do the research to find out whether it’s a real bargain. Be sure to check the store’s original price before deciding whether to buy. Price comparison sites can also help you get the best deal on popular items between stores, although the days of price-matching appear to be gone, at least for now.
Also, beware a jaw-dropping price on a particularly popular item, typically called a “doorbuster” or “early-bird special.” Too often you’ll stand in line for hours only to find it’s sold out when you get inside. That’s because some retailers will have only a handful of the super-cheap items. They’ll sell these at a loss to get people into the store. Then they cover themselves in the tiny print like this: “While supplies last.”
Unless it’s something you absolutely cannot live without, don’t waste your time hoping to get it while you could be scoring real deals somewhere else.
How to be sure you’re saving money
It’s easy to get caught up in the buying frenzy, so never head out to a physical store or go online without a firm budget and a shopping list you’ve created in advance.
So, think twice about buying such items as winter clothing, holiday decorations, fitness equipment, or jewelry and watches. All of these typically go on sale after the holidays. And hold off on some of the hottest items, like the new Xbox and PlayStation, which were released this month.
“You can expect absolutely no deals on these items right now; even if bundled with games and accessories you’ll likely be paying list price for everything in them,” Julie Ramhold at DealNews told NBC News recently.
Also, take a look at the fine print on shipping. Amazon Prime has conditioned us to expect free shipping on everything. But most retail establishments—whether online or brick-and-mortar—can’t compete with that. If a store offers free shipping only on purchases over a certain amount, decide if it’s better to arrange for curbside pickup.
In addition, always check the store’s return policy. Look for both for length of return window and “catches,” like a restocking fee.
Remember, if you need extra cash for holiday spending, let BILLSHARK’s professional bill negotiators find it for you. You pay nothing unless we can save you money.