There are new rules for scoring the best Black Friday deals.
It used to be that to get the best deals on televisions or one of the limited number of video game consoles, you had to camp out Thanksgiving, if not days earlier, in Best Buy, Walmart and Target parking lots.
Think back to the viral images and videos from past Black Friday shopping frenzies with all the pushing, shoving and fights over getting one of the biggest bargains – be it a TV, toy or towel.
Now it's about being the fastest to click "add to cart" and then checking out online days before Black Friday proper.
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The pandemic finished off what the increase of online shopping started to slash years earlier: in-store-only doorbusters. It also has shelved Thanksgiving Day in-store shopping at Walmart, Best Buy, Kohl's and more, as well as cut it permanently at Target.
Last year, retailers chopped the in-store doorbusters to limit crowds and began offering all deals online amid the pandemic. They also started rolling out deals early to spread out demand.
I see this as a good thing in the name of safety and convenience. Shop early and send your gifts out earlier with the possibility of further delays looming.
Yet this year, the goal post has been moved again.
Between inflation being at a 31-year high and supply chain disruptions, fewer deals and fewer items are available. Frankly, with product shortages and high demand, retailers don't have to discount items.
Still, it's possible to be a smart and savvy shopper in another unusual shopping season. Here are my new rules for scoring the gifts on your list and maybe a few bargains along the way.
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Shop early for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, especially for Hanukkah gifts
It has been a broken record. Since October, experts and retailers have recommended shopping early and warned of possible disappointment for not acting.
Stores held early Black Friday sales ahead of Halloween, and November has seen a series of savings events. Now we're in Black Friday season, and prices will be among the best of the year.
This year, Hanukkah starts Sunday night before Cyber Monday. But because the Jewish holiday lasts eight days, it's possible to shop for gifts on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Just be wary of shipping gifts or having them sent by retailers, because they might arrive after the eighth candle is lit.
Retailers haven't shared many details about Cyber Monday yet and often release information while Black Friday sales are underway.
♦Shopping tip: Save your receipts in case prices drop lower or if you can't find the right size or color for a future even exchange.
Stack coupons, rewards, rebates and more
My official Black Friday shopping started at 1 a.m. ET on Sunday at Kohl's, and I checked out twice within eight minutes.
My best deal? An air fryer toaster oven (regular price $89.99) and a small waffle maker (regular price $24.99) that combined were $27.55 after two coupons ($10 off a $50 home purchase and 15% off most items), $15 Kohl's Cash on the purchase and a $12 rebate. Plus, I'm earning 5% back with Kohl's Rewards.
After a few more Kohl's checkouts – I often do smaller orders that are planned in advance where I can get free shipping to avoid products selling out – I headed to Target where I bought a toy for my 9-month-old nephew that I'll save for his birthday in February.
I will mail in my rebates on the waffle maker and a few other small kitchen appliances early next week and set a reminder to use the Kohl's Cash before it expires on Dec. 8.
♦Pro shopper tip: If you are not going to submit the rebate or use the rebate card when it arrives, look for another deal. Rebate offers can save you the most, but if you're not going to follow through, it's not worth it. Also, keep in mind you'll have to cut the UPC off the product, and that can be a giveaway to your gift recipient that you saved money. Redemption deadlines also are important with Kohl's Cash and other retailers' rewards.
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Online holiday sales for in-demand items
Have your heart set on getting a PS5 or Xbox Series X, two video game consoles released last year? Prepare for disappointment and to watch social media to learn when future batches might go on sale.
Walmart started its third and final Black Friday sale Monday and gave paying Walmart+ members a head start. The consoles went on sale at 4 p.m. ET, and I was online and ready to shop after signing up for a month of the membership program at $12.95.
I was able to get on virtual lines for the Sony and Microsoft devices immediately, but my wait time went back and forth and the products sold out before I could add them to my cart. Like others who took to Twitter to voice disappointment, I failed in my mission.
In most cases, you'll have to shop online for the in-demand items, but GameStop is opening some of its stores on Thanksgiving. As of Tuesday, the retailer hasn't posted a Black Friday ad, but last year the game stores were the site of campouts.
♦Shopping tip: Sign up for in-stock alerts from retailers. This helped me find an iPad, and it has helped others get a console. While some people have gotten lucky with limited drops of the consoles, more have walked away disappointed claiming bots and professional shoppers are scooping up supplies. Perseverance combined with in-stock alerts and following social media rumors on drops can make the difference.
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Order online for curbside or in-store pickup
Online orders get canceled all the time. Packages get lost and delays happen.
Curbside pickup, where shoppers can pick up online orders without leaving cars, rolled out as an option at some store locations years ago, but since the pandemic the trend has grown dramatically and is a much larger part of Black Friday sales than ever.
Stores also offer in-store pickup, and the advantage of both is getting your purchases faster. It also helps cut shipping fees and can be a safer option in a world of porch pirates.
♦Shopping tip: Use in-store pickup or curbside whenever available. Some retailers allow you to add pickup people to the order. Be sure to check your order before leaving the parking lot to make sure you got the right products. Learn more about the retailers offering pickup services with this list.
Use price match guarantee programs
In the past, I've found Black Friday sales to bring the best prices of the year on iPads. While I set my sights on the newest iPad in September, I wasn't ready to buy it.
Then in October, Target launched its holiday price-match guarantee program and extended holiday return period, and I decided to order the Apple tablet. Problem was, it was out of stock. But the same day I signed up for in-stock notifications on the iPad, I got my first bite and ordered it.
Target's holiday policy works if the retailer's price drops, not competitors'; but because I used my Target RedCard, I did save 5%.
♦Pro tip: Watch prices and read store price guarantees. Some policies will be suspended through Cyber Monday sales, but this doesn't stop the dedicated shopper from repurchasing if the price drops. Beware of open-box rules if the gifts have already been used.
►Target Black Friday 2021: Epic Target Black Friday deals you can shop right now: iPhones, LEGOs, FitBits and more
Missed out online? Time to shop in-store
You tried and were unsuccessful with the online Black Friday sales. Now it's time to plan to head to stores to see if you can luck out.
Retailers often have holiday items that are not counted in online inventory to give shoppers who visit stores a chance to save. That also means that in-store inventory checkers might not be accurate during the sales.
If you are stuck on gift ideas, seeing what's available can help come up with ideas.
♦Shopping tip: Come up with a game plan based on store hours. Here's when stores open Friday.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Black Friday shopping: Should you wait until Cyber Monday for deals?