Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Black Friday shopping strategies - latimes.com

It takes a lot of stamina and a real hankering for a good deal to brave the local mall or electronics store on Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving. On what is traditionally the most crowded, frantic shopping day of the year, retail spots open at ungodly early hours and offer "doorbuster" bargains that last just a few hours or until supplies run out. Lines often stretch around the block.

Last year at a Fountain Valley Fry's Electronics, one group of shoppers landed the front position in line by showing up a full day early and holding their spot by switching off for food and bathroom breaks. Group members had done reconnaissance the week before -- they were all clutching index cards with product codes, aisle numbers and maps of the store. Considering joining the hordes? Here are some tips:

  • If you're planning to hit some of the midnight or early-morning openings, bring Thanksgiving leftovers to nibble on or scope out nearby coffee and snack shops beforehand and find out when they open.
  • Plan ahead, says Becky Whritenour, 50, a saleswoman from Long Beach and longtime Black Friday shopper. She spends Thanksgiving highlighting "attack points" -- products she's eyeing -- and clipping coupons for stores she intends to visit.
  • Don't bother trying to sweet-talk your way into the store early -- in Whritenour's 30 years of shopping Black Friday sales, she has never encountered a lenient store guard.
  • Dress in layers -- waiting outside can be cold at first, but you'll warm up soon from the sheer number of people. Whritenour keeps her wallet in a fanny pack and takes along a large backpack and collapsible dolly to stash her purchases.
  • Get there early for a decent parking space -- crucial for when you're unloading your haul -- and to score a prime space in line. Last year, Whritenour was waiting with nearly 100 people when JCPenney opened at 4 a.m. but was told that people at the front had arrived at 1 a.m.

Read on to find out how one veteran shopper avoids lines entirely ...

Adam Bell, 41, a freelance Web designer from Santa Clarita, likes his Black Fridays a little more leisurely. "I've done the line thing, but it's not worth it to sit there for hours to save $100, and then only if you're the first two people," he said. "It's not like you're camping out for a Grateful Dead concert." In 25 years of hitting stores during the shopping blitz, he's picked up a few pointers:

  • Websites like bfads.net and blackfriday.info post ads in advance, so Hall checks them out to figure out what's worth looking for in stores. He tries to get some shopping out of the way while he's online, or waits until the next week, when many stores offer discounts on Cyber Monday (Dec. 1 this year).
  • If a store is in a highly trafficked area, he tends to skip it. For example, the Staples in Valencia tends to draw huge crowds, he said, but the branch close to his house usually has a small line.
  • He scopes out areas where multiple stores on his list are only a short drive apart. He then creates a schedule, as he did last year, when he decided to go to Mervyns first because he knew the $99 vacuum he wanted at Kohl's was probably going to survive the initial rush. "You've got to pick and choose," Hall said. "Go to places where you know the stuff you want won't go away in 10 seconds."
Finally, the frenzy of the day may leave you a grumpy, sleep-deprived wreck, but don't forget to give and get some holiday spirit. Whritenour experienced it firsthand one Black Friday when she was navigating narrow aisles on crutches after a recent foot surgery, narrowly avoiding unruly children. While she was waiting at the end of a long checkout line in a Robinsons-May store, trying to maintain her balance while holding on to her purchases, a clerk opened a new register and let Whritenour go to the front of the line. And no one complained.

-- Tiffany Hsu

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