Where will you be the morning after Thanksgiving? Will you hit the stores before dawn for Black Friday sales, like so many other Americans, or do you plan to shop the night before, when stores open on Thanksgiving evening?
Here's a tip: You might be better off skipping the sales events and staying home instead. That's because Black Friday is nothing more than a much-hyped sales event that has outlived its original meaning as the best day to snag discounts. The consultancy Accenture has noted that holiday sales started earlier than ever this year, well before Black Friday, and that more people skip in-store visits in favor of online shopping. Both trends have lessened the importance of Black Friday itself.
As Black Friday's power shrivels, the neighboring days have stolen some of its spark. Indeed, marketers have now come up with a slew of new labels: "Gray Thursday" refers to the fact that many retailers will open on Thanksgiving Day itself. Walmart, Sears, and Toys 'R Us will open at 8 p.m. and Target will open at 9 p.m. The app Catalog Spree coined the term "Sofa Sunday" to refer to online shopping during the weekend after Thanksgiving, but before Cyber Monday.
Then there's Cyber Monday itself, which has long shared the spotlight with Black Friday. It refers to folks who'd rather shop from their desks at work when they return from the Thanksgiving holiday than brave the crowded stores. RetailMeNot.com also coined the term "OctoNovemCember" to describe the fact that holiday shopping now begins even before Halloween, and in many cases, shoppers finish up their lists by Cyber Monday.
Shopping on such a crowded day can also lead to poor decision-making. When consumers feel pressured to make decisions quickly or find themselves overwhelmed with the choices, smells, and sounds of the season, they often come home with items that weren't on their original shopping lists.
If you do venture out, at least consider giving yourself a time limit so you don't get stuck in a shopping vortex that only ends with more bags than you can carry, and a bigger credit card bill than you'd like. Shop for just a couple of hours before breaking for lunch, or ice skating, or another activity totally unrelated to consumerism.
Also, shop armed with a mobile device that lets you quickly make sure the deals you're snagging are as good as they seem. Apps such as the ones from RetailMeNot.com, PriceGrabber.com, and BradsDeals.com make it easy to compare prices and products while you're in stores. That way, you can make sure that an online retailer isn't offering an even steeper discount that the one in front of you.
If you stay home and discover you missed out on a big deal, you might even be able to recoup your losses. That's because this year, several retailers have launched new price-matching policies. Target, for example, offers to match competitors' prices on certain items through Christmas Eve. Best Buy similarly matches the prices of local retailers.
The bottom line is that with the exception of a few doorbusters, which are hard to snag anyway since their quantities are often limited, you can get almost all of the same discounts before and after Black Friday than on that day itself. So why join the crowds if you don't have to?