Are you an avid fan of scouring stores for deep discounts in the pre-dawn darkness on “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving? Or is surfing the Internet for bargains on Monday more your speed?
Regardless of your shopping preferences, one detail is undeniable: If you intend to shop with the masses on either of these crazy shopping days, you probably should devise a game plan — both for your sanity and for your wallet.
Unfortunately, you also need to worry about some tricky scams and phony sales on Cyber Monday, Nov. 30, the day when many shoppers know they can find good bargains online during a quiet day at the office.
“Many consumers are extremely comfortable shopping online and simply don’t consider the threat of identity theft or unscrupulous retailers during the holiday season,” said Steve Cox, a spokesman for the Better Business Bureau.
So whether you’re considering hitting the stores on Friday or trolling the Internet on Monday, the following tips can help.
1. It really is OK to do nothing on Friday. In fact, if you steer clear of stores entirely that day, you’ll have plenty of company. Many people shun most forms of shopping for the entire weekend, either because they can’t stand crowds or they view daylong shopping bouts as obnoxious and distasteful displays of unrestrained consumption. A new survey of 1,001 adults by SleepBetter.org — a site dedicated to helping people sleep better — found that 70 percent of respondents said they had no intention of hitting the stores early Friday morning. See? Like them, you can catch up on some sleep instead!
2. If you must brave the crowds, be prepared. Wow. You’re really going to head out there? Then this isn’t a time for messing around. This is a time to do some strategizing! Get the Thanksgiving Day newspaper in your area and flip through all of those ads. You might be surprised to notice how many of the ads are time-sensitive — as in, deeper discounts may apply if you shop before 10 or 11 a.m. or noon. Other ads will let you know what time certain stores plan to open and close.
3. Research products and distinguish between deals and duds. You can rise above the Friday fray by doing some homework in advance about products that really interest you this year — especially if they’re big-ticket items. Visit sites such as ConsumerReports.org to gather intelligence and read product reviews before the big day. Check out consumers’ reviews on Amazon.com — they also can be quite telling. And to ensure you’ll be getting an actual bargain rather than a ho-hum or too-high price, visit Web sites such as BizRate.com, Price Checker at ConsumerWorld.org, PriceGrabber.com and Shopping.com as you’re doing your research to get a sense of how much items should cost. (All of this research will serve you well on Cyber Monday as well.)
4. Decide how early you’ll arrive, and plan accordingly. Can’t resist the urge to stand in line in the dark before your favorite store opens at 5 a.m.? Then remember to dress comfortably — warmly enough for the time you’ll spend outside, but with layers so you won’t collapse from heat stroke inside stuffy, crowded stores. Comfortable shoes are a must, and so are portable snacks and drinks. They’ll prevent you from having to endure low blood-sugar levels, dehydration or congested food courts.
5. Shop with the right people. Think hard about who would get into the spirit of a shopping day like this. If your significant other or your kids are likely to get grumpy or impatient and make you lose your shopping mojo, don’t bring them.
6. Try to forge alliances throughout the day. For starters, make friends in line. A spirit of camaraderie will not only make the long, dark wait more pleasant — it also could prove to be a godsend if you must give up your place in line so you can run to the bathroom. You could offer to hold a place in line for your newfound friend in return. More food for thought: Would a friend tackle you or body check you as you reach for a certain item of interest at Wal-Mart or Macy’s? Probably not. See why friendships are so valuable?
7. Shop with a list, and bring the ads you found. You’ll feel more in control and focused if you head out with a list of the people you’re shopping for, the gift ideas you have in mind for them and the target price range for each item. Otherwise, a shopping day like this one could be so overwhelming that you might fail to accomplish as much as you had hoped. Also, if you saw an advertised special that really impressed you, bring the ad along to avoid any disputes over how much an item is supposed to cost on Friday. Having the ad also could come in handy at stores promising “lowest-price” guarantees — especially if you find lower prices elsewhere.
8. Consider the benefits of Cyber Monday. Think about it: no crowds; no lines; no need to change out of your pajamas if you’re an early bird or if you’ll be home that day anyway; and absolutely no chance of getting scratched, kicked or trampled. What’s more, online retailers’ Monday sales can be just as impressive as those of their brick-and-mortar counterparts on Friday.
9. Avoid scams and trickeries as you shop online. The Better Business Bureau is warning of an uptick in online scams — particularly when it comes to electronics. The telltale signs that something may be fishy:
- The price is simply too low. Yes, bargains can be found on Cyber Monday, but you should be wary if the price you spot just seems too good to be true. If it is, walk away. If you’re still intrigued, make absolutely sure you’re on the correct Web site of a legitimate, well-known retailer before you plow ahead.
- Spelling and grammatical mistakes abound. Many phony electronics sites have been created overseas, according to the BBB. You may notice that such Web sites, or the spam e-mails directing you to those Web sites, are riddled with errors.
- The company says it only accepts payment via wire transfer. If you agree to this form of payment, it will be almost impossible for you to get your money back. Instead, pay with a credit card when shopping online because it will offer you the greatest protection if something goes wrong.
10. Take other steps to protect yourself on the Internet. Here are some additional tips that can help you avoid headaches and pitfalls:
- When buying something for someone other than yourself, you might venture onto Web sites you wouldn’t normally visit. Take a moment to make sure that the site includes the store’s complete contact information, including a verifiable street address, phone number and e-mail address. (Or just stick with reputable retailers that you know and trust!)
- Before entering your credit card information anywhere, check for an “s.” The address of a secure Web site contains an “s” after the “http” like so: “https”. Internet browsers also display an icon such as a gold padlock or a key to verify the site is secure.
- Pay with a credit card. As mentioned in Tip No. 9, a credit card will give you the most protection if you or your gift recipient runs into problems with the purchase. If something does go awry, you may be on the hook only for the first $50 in charges. And depending on your credit-card agreement, you may not have to pay anything.
- Keep good records. Print out a copy of your purchase order and confirmation number, or at the very least save the confirmation e-mail message you receive.
- Remember to ask for a gift receipt. This could make life much easier for your gift recipients.
- Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org
- Retail expert Donna L. Montaldo on About.com
- Better Business Bureau
- Consumer Reports