Black Friday may be the biggest shopping day of the year, but scoring the best deals takes considerable effort. So if you're planning on picking up the bulk of your holiday gifts the day after Thanksgiving, you'll want to think strategically before you enter the proverbial bullpen. With that in mind, we tapped Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert at digital savings site RetailMeNot, for her pro tips. Here, she drops nine nuggets of retail wisdom (besides arriving early).
1. Sign up for retailers' newsletters and follow them on social media.
Some retailers will have flash sales for a select number of hours. Sign up for their newsletters and follow them on Twitter and Instagram so you'll be the first to know about any special sales and exclusive promo codes. (You can always unsubscribe after the holidays.)
2. Set a budget.
Make a list of the people you're shopping for, what they want, and how much you're planning to spend on each so you don't go off the rails in the midst of your spree. The earlier you can get started, the more likely your favorite retailers will have the item in stock and you won't have to pay for expedited shipping if you're shopping online.
3. Employ a two-step shopping approach.
According to Skirboll, a little-known trick to score even more savings is twofold: Purchase a discount gift card for the retailer you plan to shop with and get savings of 10 percent or more, then combine the card with a promo code or digital rebate at checkout and—voilà—you've maximized your savings. Hint: Macy's, Best Buy, and JCPenney have some of the best deals.
4. Do your research.
Before you hit the ground running, comb the interwebs for what's on your shopping list in case they exist at a lower price somewhere else.
5. Shop from the back of the store first.
That way, you avoid the hordes of people and work your way toward the checkout line and exit. Plus, by going the opposite way of the crowd, you move quicker and have first dibs on some items.
6. Prioritize electronics; avoid toys and golf gear.
"Electronics will sell out the fastest on Black Friday," says Skirboll. "So if you see a good deal on TVs, computers, or phones, pick it up immediately." Conversely, hold off on purchasing toys and golf clubs because you'll see the most drastic discounts in the days leading up to Christmas.
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7. Make sure your cell phone is charged.
As mobile shopping becomes increasingly common, more customers are using their smartphones in-store to complete their purchases and redeem extra savings. Make sure you're not in the red. Or keep a battery pack on you.
8. Double down on freebies.
If stores offer a free gift with purchase, get them while supplies last. You can always use that item as a gift for someone lower down on your list.
9. Read before you buy.
Be keenly aware of store policies on returns, especially during the holidays. Make sure you read the fine print on larger items and gifts for others. Always ask for a gift receipt to ease the process in the event your gift needs to be returned or exchanged.