Tips for Shopping Black Friday and Beating Pandemic Setbacks

Review ads early and be ready to buy when items are in stock, but don't let your budget get lost in the excitement.
Amanda Barroso
By Amanda Barroso 
Edited by Kathy Hinson

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After a day of feasting on turkey and pumpkin pie, consumers have typically flocked to their local stores on Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — to find the best deals on gifts for the holiday season.

Last year, the pandemic changed the way many people shopped. Adobe Analytics, which analyzes data from top retailers, said Black Friday online sales in 2020 soared 21.6% over the year before. And while quarantine restrictions have relaxed this year, shoppers will likely have to contend with supply chain shortages and shipping slowdowns.

“There’s this lack of availability that I think a lot of consumers are afraid of — if they wait, they run the risk of not getting the presents or the gift that they want to give,” says Dora Bock, associate professor of marketing at Auburn University in Alabama. “Generally, retailers are trying to get customers to shop earlier and earlier and earlier.”

Whether you’re shopping online or in store, these Black Friday shopping tips will help keep your gift budget in check while also navigating this year’s uncertainties.

Buy early, especially toys and electronics

If your child has a particular toy in mind, it might be wise to go ahead and buy it when you see it on shelves. “Toys and electronics might be in short supply since the inventory is still stuck somewhere along the supply chain, whether it’s in a warehouse in Asia or on a container ship waiting to anchor at a U.S. port,” Simone Peinkofer, assistant professor of supply chain management at Michigan State University, said in an email.

Anticipating these supply issues, some stores — like Amazon, Target and Best Buy — are offering “pre-holiday” sales to give consumers a head start on Black Friday.

Make a budget and control costs

The holiday season can be an expensive time of year, especially if you haven’t planned for it. Setting a budget to save money throughout the year is one way to help offset end-of-the-year holiday spending.

If you have lots of people to shop for, consider some tactics to control costs:

  • Set personal spending limits (for example, no gifts over $20).

  • Coordinate a Secret Santa exchange (which means you have to buy only one gift instead of many).

  • Come up with low-cost but thoughtful DIY gifts for the people in your life (think: homemade cookies).

If your budget still feels tight, there are more strategies you can use to free up some extra cash.

Review ads early and compare prices

Many stores release sale preview ads, which you can find in your local newspaper or online. Check out these circulars for sales on the items on your list. Compare prices at a few stores on popular items to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

Bock recommends that consumers look at weekly store ads right away and start shopping: “I wouldn’t run the risk of waiting because this year I think it’s going to be more about availability than it will be about getting a good deal.”

Sign up for sale alerts through store newsletters

Some stores will send out sale alerts or updates through newsletters or emails. If there’s a store you plan to shop or a must-have item on your list, it might be wise to get your name on the list. Of course, you can always hit “unsubscribe” after the holidays if the notifications clog up your inbox. You might also consider joining free membership programs offered by some stores that might give you early access or notice of upcoming deals.

Use coupon apps to help with online shopping

Whether you’re shopping in store or online, downloading a few trusted coupon apps can help you make the most of your Black Friday savings. Some stores even offer special coupons you can “clip” virtually by using their app.

If you’re shopping online, don’t be afraid of browser add-ons, like Honey, that aggregate and automatically apply relevant coupon codes to your purchase without much work on your part.

Save (don’t spend) your Black Friday savings

Putting aside your savings difference — the money you saved on an item by scoring a Black Friday deal — is a great way to maximize your savings or make financial gains. For example, you might put that savings right back into your account to jumpstart next year’s holiday budget or use it to make an extra loan payment. Either way, you’re reaping the benefits of shopping smart.