The prospect of grabbing a lawn chair and camping out with a mug of hot coffee in long lines on Black Friday may have lost its appeal in the digital age when a doorbuster is only a click away.
But veteran and die-hard shoppers still make the annual pilgrimage, convinced that the only way to guarantee they'll score the best deals – and the freebies – is by showing up.
What do they have that you may not? A plan, a strategy.
Their goals may vary from snagging a once-a-shopping-season opportunity like a 58-inch Smart TV with free Amazon Echo Dot for $199.99 at Best Buy to a $49 Instant Pot at Walmart, which are expected to sell out almost immediately online.
And they're right that stores will run out of heavily discounted items quickly, says Kimberly Palmer, a personal finance expert at NerdWallet.
“Stores offer only limited quantities of their doorbusters, so if you want one of those items, you’ll need to buy it as soon as the deal becomes available,” Palmer said.
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“Retailers want to entice shoppers into stores in the hopes they will purchase more – so that is why for some of the best deals you do have to go in person,” Palmer said.
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Mapping out a plan
Black Friday isn't just on the Friday after Thanksgiving anymore. For nearly a decade, that official kickoff has been creeping ever closer to Thanksgiving, eating into time people used to spend around the holiday table.
Retailers are pushing promotions earlier and earlier, especially this year when the number of shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas is so few.
“One common misconception is that the big deals don’t start until Thanksgiving night or Black Friday,” Sara Skirboll, RetailMeNot shopping and trends expert, told USA TODAY. “But many retailers are starting their Black Friday sales earlier and earlier with some offering steep discounts as soon as Wednesday.”
The shift has been accompanied by controversy. Despite public outcry and shoppers' threats to boycott, stores are still turning on the lights and flashing deals.
No matter when you’re planning to shop – after an early turkey dinner or the wee hours of Black Friday morning – being prepared can help save you time, money and your sanity.
While some of the big-ticket doorbusters will be at the lowest prices of the year, not everything is worth picking up in that first sweep.
Try online first: What is on your shopping list? If it's an iPad, PlayStation, television, try online first. Plus, a big holiday season perk is free shipping. Major retailers offering free shipping on all orders include Amazon, Best Buy and Target. Other stores will lower free shipping thresholds as we get closer to Christmas, but to save money, you should consider choosing in-store pickup when it's available.
Shop early: Pre-sales kick off with many of Black Friday doorbusters Wednesday and, in cases, some before. Kohl's rolls out some of its deals Monday, and Target starts select deals early for RedCard holders and Target Circle members Wednesday. Not all stores give exact start times, but midnight Eastern Time and 3 a.m. ET are popular times.
Do your homework: Read reviews, know whether the item you want is a good deal by checking with reliable experts. Check out Reviewed.com, part of the USA TODAY Network, or other trusted sites for reviews on top gifts and more.
Keep checking prices: Do this throughout the week, especially Wednesday and Thursday.
"Track prices of the big-ticket items you want to buy using tools like (free Amazon price tracker) CamelCamelCamel or the Honey browser extension so you know when to buy," Palmer said. "With so many sales, Black Friday itself isn’t the best day to purchase everything."
Skirboll advises holding off on toy purchases as many items are expected to be at their lowest price in the two weeks leading up to Christmas. She also recommends waiting to purchase furniture until January.
"Stores don't want to be left with a surplus of (toy) inventory post-holiday, so the closer to Christmas, the deeper the savings,” she said.
However, if you're afraid the toy or any item will sell out, buy it and make sure to hold on to the receipt.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Black Friday savings guide: Score doorbusters, freebies and make money