Conquer the Black Friday Madness With Consumer Report’s Top 10 Shopping Tips

The day after Thanksgiving (also known as Black Friday), is infamously associated with camping tents, brawling customers, and irrational spending. While plenty of good deals have debuted in recent advertisements and commercials,  the stress of actually making it to the store in time to snag your dream KitchenAid before it flies off the shelf can be all too much. Some discounts aren’t worth the ordeal; but if you plan on heading out the door before sunrise to bargain shop, we advise you to read the following tips released by Consumer Report to guarantee a successful Black Friday shopping experience.

1. Be prepared. This means studying the ads before Black Friday. We haven’t seen a lot of them yet, but you can find some ad scans for major retailers on many of the comprehensive Black-Friday-focused websites such as bfads.net, blackfriday.info, theblackfriday.com, and gottadeal.com. Some sites let you filter your searches by product categories, such as TVs. More ads are expected soon, so keep checking back for the latest circulars.

2. Sign up for e-mail alerts and loyalty programs. Many retailers now use e-mail alerts to encourage store loyalty and frequent shopping. Sign up for alerts that will let you know about coming promotions and to receive coupons or discounts. Shoppers can also learn whether the products they want are stocked and available, or whether an item is eligible for a “buy online, pick up at store” option that can save shipping charges. Loyalty programs often offer sales and promotions to their members first, and let you earn rewards on what you buy.

3. Shop online first. Why leave the family and your comfy couch if you don’t really have to? Before you brave the crowds at the stores, check to see if the retailer is offering the same—or even better—deals on its website. In past years, some of the biggest retailers have offered online sales during Black Friday week that have included many of the same items offered as part of their in-store Black Friday events and often combined with low- or no-cost shipping deals. And some retailers will offer online exclusives you couldn’t get even by walking into one of their retail locations.

4. Use social media. Before you decide to buy, visit the Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of your favorite retailers and see if they’re offering any incentives, such as discounts, when you “like” their page or follow them. Also, if you have friends who’ll be shopping on Black Friday for similar items, text, tweet, or post to a social-media site the best deals you encounter, and hopefully they’ll return the favor.

5. Get appy. Before you head out to the store, make sure your smart phone is charged and loaded with a few key comparison-shopping apps (such as ShopSavvy, ShopKick, and RedLaser) that will let you see special deals and compare prices while you’re in the store. Many include a bar-code scanner that lets you scan and compare prices, plus a QR-code reader that can sometimes get you coupon codes or special deals. Also more Black Friday sites now have their own shopping apps. Check out ones from BlackFriday.com, DealNews.com, and FatWallet.com, among others. Want to take notes on the best deal? Try Evernote or Google Docs. And if you do see that an item is cheaper at a nearby store, try showing that price on your phone to a store manager and see if he or she will match that deal.

6. Create a budget—and stick to it. Many Black Friday sales, especially “doorbuster” specials that are typically available in limited quantities, are designed to get you into the store so retailers can try to sell you something more profitable. Decide ahead of time how much you want to spend, and resist impulse buying in the store, especially if you don’t know how good a deal you’re really getting.

7. See if you can get a price-match guarantee, and check store return policies. Often, stores say they’re suspending price-match guarantees during the Black Friday weekend, but you should ask for one anyway. After all, these are supposed to be “the lowest prices of the year!” To be safe, also check your local chain’s return and exchange policies to make sure that they aren’t different for a Black Friday special. Sometimes, Black Friday sales are final, meaning the item can’t be returned. Other items may have a shortened return or exchange policy, or one where you can get only a store credit and not a refund. Also, make sure the store won’t charge a restocking fee for a returned item.

8. Check the warranty. If you’re loyal to a certain brand, you may feel you’re aware of its standard product warranty. But even major brands offer special “derivative” models during promotional periods such as Black Friday, and they may alter the terms of their standard warranties for these sets. For example, the term may be much shorter, or the repair provisions could be different: If a problem arises, there may be no in-home service for larger products, or you might have to pay shipping if the item needs to be sent to a service center. If so, make sure you’re comfortable with the terms, and find out in advance what will happen if you need your electronics item repaired. You don’t want to discover unexpectedly that it will be your responsibility.

9. Buy the item you really want, and avoid pricey accessories. Items designated as doorbusters draw us in because of their low prices, but they may not be the best products for your needs. In electronics, for example, this is especially true of bigger-ticket items such as TVs, which you’ll be living with for a number of years. Many doorbuster items, particularly derivative models created specially for the event, may have lower specs or fewer features than found on a manufacturer’s standard lines. While this may be fine for a second or third set, you may want better performance or more features for your main TV. Also, a retailer may have more wiggle room on price for a step-up model than a bare-bones set, so you may still get a great deal on a TV you really want to own.

An easy way to blow those savings is to stock up on pricey accessories. This is where retailers make their money, so beware of the hard sell. If you know you’ll need an HDMI cable, buy it ahead of time from an online retailer such as monoprice.com or bluejeanscable.com so you won’t be pressed into overpaying at the store.

10. Avoid the old bait-and-switch trick. If you’re really buying only on price, stick to your guns and don’t get pushed toward a more expensive model. Retailers will sometimes advertise a great deal on a certain TV but then it’s either out of stock or the dealer denigrates it once you’re in the store, hoping they can push you to a more profitable model. Don’t get taken in; there are plenty more deals out there, maybe even better ones if you can wait closer to the holidays.

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Survival Tips for Holiday Travel

We’ve all been through the all too familiar hassle of traveling during the most traveled time of the year. Long distance travel skyrockets from November to January, setting the stage for chaos and nervous breakdowns around the same time when you ought to be experiencing joy and Yuletide fun. To avoid the unpleasant process of holiday travel, we are giving you advice well worth noting before planning your vacation.

Research

If distance is an issue or traffic poses a threat to arriving at your destination on time, break up the long drive and stop at a few places that would excite the family. Take the scenic route. It may take longer but at least you can dodge the bumper to bumper fiasco. If you plan on flying, check with the airline on stipulations regarding checked bags and carry-ons.

Stay plugged in

There are many travel apps designed to save people time and money before leaving home. Flight Status gives you real-time updates on delays, baggage numbers and more, and GateGuru gives you approximate times you’ll spend in security. Heading out on the road? Find the cheapest gas and cleanest bathrooms on the road with GasBuddy and SitOrSquat.

Don’t over pack

If you can avoid checking bags then do it. You won’t have to wait at the conveyer belt and there’s a less chance of losing important presents in the shuffle. Make sure to pack essentials in a carry-on just in case checked luggage gets lost or delayed. Include medications, important documents and a change of clothes.

Tune out background noise

Need to unwind and pretend you’re not sitting next to a crying baby or loud snorer? Break out the earphones. By tuning out the noise surrounding you, you’re likely to feel more at ease. Download a soothing playlist before boarding the plane or simply use noise muffling headphones to relax in silence.

Remember to eat

An empty stomach can make matters worse when traveling. Save yourself from making mistakes or lashing out on innocent bystanders by remembering to fuel your body. Make time to pack snacks and drinks for the long road trip and definitely grab some grub before boarding the plane. Don’t rely on airline food… it’s not always the best.

Ship gifts or wait to buy

TSA suggests to ship wrapped gifts or wait until you reach your destination to wrap them, as they might have to unwrap a present to inspect it. Ship gifts ahead of time or wait to buy gifts once you’ve arrived at your destination. Even easier, bring the gift that can’t go wrong: gift cards to their favorite store.

Don’t travel on peak days

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the biggest travel day of the year and can also cause you the biggest meltdown of the year. A better option is to leave early on Thanksgiving Day and avoid the record traffic the night before. Same goes with flying: if you fly on the actual holiday itself you’ll be avoiding the long lines and hoards of travelers.

Travel early or late in the day

Flight statistics show that planes traveling earlier in the day have a better on-time performance. And if your flight is cancelled, you will have the option of taking a flight later in the day. Also, there will be fewer lines at security. Best time to hit the road? When every one else is asleep — early morning or late at night. You can always take a nap when you arrive at your destination or on the ride there (if you aren’t the driver, of course).

Plan for the unexpected

Have only a half hour before connecting to another flight? Traveling to Rochester, NY, during snow season? Think ahead and plan accordingly. Leave extra time before flights to deal with security, extra time between connections and, for road trips, pack tire chains for snowy conditions, flashlights, and of course, a few band-aids never hurt either.

Breathe

The overly friendly person next to you on the plane, the cancelled flights, the luggage that fell off in the middle of the highway? All of it will make for great stories over dinner when you finally make it to your destination. After all, holiday travel stress is just as much of a tradition as pumpkin pie.