Thanksgiving might be America's most wonderful holiday, but Black Friday is its most shameful one. Every year, after a day of food, family and talking about how thankful we are to be alive, Americans stampede big-box retailers in order to score the best deal on everything from the must-have electronic to the most-random home appliance. Bones are often broken, and the local television outlets pick up every ridiculous encounter.
You'd think that online shopping would have tapered this desire to head out to Sears at midnight on Black Friday. But instead retailers have responded by opening earlier on Thanksgiving day, trying everything they can to draw people to the physical stores.
What's more, many people actually seem to enjoy Black Friday. If you are one of those people, even though you are fully aware that it is an insane and stressful thing to do, it's not your fault. Thanks to dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for that thing called the shopper's high, "brains are hormonally coded to be drawn to sales," says Mark Ellwood, author of Bargain Fever: How to Shop in a Discounted World.
If you do plan on shopping this Friday, there are ways to do it without stressing yourself out too much -- or physically and mentally harassing others. Here are Ellwood's tips for shopping that dreaded day without acting like a complete and utter ass:
1. Start even earlier than you think. "Don't think about it as Black Friday, think of it as Black Wednesday and Friday," Ellwood says. Head to the mall on Wednesday and chat up your favorite sales associate for yet-to-be-disclosed sale details. "They're the people who have access." It's also not a bad idea to do a thorough visual survey of what's available in the store on Wednesday, because a lot of the product there on Friday might be brought in especially for the sale. Just like an outlet store, where cheaply made merchandise is often passed off as what was available in the original store, many retailers ship in junky stuff to pad out the inventory on Black Friday. "Make sure what you're getting is discounted, not cheap," Ellwood says.
2. Skip the electronics section. "Electronics are a real attention grabber, but I wouldn't set foot in that section," Ellwood says. Many of the big-box retailers will be offering price match this season, which means you don't have to wake up at 5 a.m. to score that deal. "Save the flyers with the Black Friday prices, and then buy electronics later on in the season."
3. Stock up on kitchen stuff. "Cookware is always marked down on Black Friday," Ellwood says. "It's bulky -- think about those big boxes of China -- so it's priced to move."
4. Buy a coat, too. "Meteorologists are predicting that this winter will be the coldest in America since 1962," Ellwood says. "Coats won't be on sale again until mid-January, so if you need one now's the time to act."
5. Try bargaining at your local boutique. It's likely that your favorite indie retailer won't have a massive sale on Black Friday. "They opt out because they can't compete," Ellwood says. But you can use your loyalty as an advantage. "Tell the shop person, 'I want to spend my money here, but I feel like an idiot paying full price on Black Friday. Can you hook me up with a 10%, 15% discount?'"
6. Be smart about timing. If you don't get off on door-buster stampedes but also can't pass up a deal, enjoy your leftovers in the morning and head to the mall at night. "I would go at the end of the day," Ellwood says. "Whatever is left will be the cheapest it could possibly be. And be sure to ask the sales person if there are any extra coupons."
7. Make a list. "A list is the trick to no impulse purchasing," Ellwood says.
8. Try to view each item out the context of the sale. "You shouldn't buy without taking that item to an unrelated department, putting it down and looking at it. "Walk your $80 designer jeans to the kitchen department. If they still seem like a good deal amongst the pots and pans, then they're really worth it."