The Bulletin 11/26/08 The Bulletin
Black Friday: It’s a retail jungle out there by Anna Sowa

Black Friday can bring out the best and worst in people.

This retailer-created “shopping holiday” falls on the day after Thanksgiving and is called “black” because the increased sales are supposed to make retailers turn a profit, or go “into the black.” Some consumers are giddy at the thought of sales, while others feel ill just thinking of the traffic, long lines and frenzy of it all.

In Central Oregon, big-box stores usually have the most buzz, where mega-retailers entice shoppers with door-buster sales. But the independent stores participate in the deep discounts, too, hoping to see more traffic during a difficult financial year.

Whether you are a Black Friday lover or hater, chances are you’ll need to buy a present for someone this season, which officially starts Friday.

To help you navigate this shopping holiday, retail industry experts offer their survival tips.

Matt Wallaert is a native Oregonian who now heads a Web startup in New York City called Thrive .com, which offers free financial advice targeted at young people.

Wallaert, a behavioral psychologist, researches how consumers make their buying decisions.

“Black Friday is an interesting event,” he said last week. “To some extent, it’s predatory, because businesses are clearly trying to get you to buy goods.”

But it is also a day of savings, he continued, for consumers who know how to work the system.

How they do it

Black Friday is a day when stores hope to over-stimulate the consumer, Wallaert says. Retailers, and their marketers, have created a day in which consumers are encouraged to be out shopping. By the end of it, retailers hope that shoppers are so tired that they stop looking for that perfect gift and buy something more expensive, Wallaert said.

“One of the things (stores) prey on is people lining up ahead of time, feeling that rush,” he said. “That is a great way to get you to make a buying decision you will regret.”

Once you’re in the store, what’s stopping you from buying other, regular-priced items? Perhaps your shopping list — which you’ve created ahead of time with your cash budget in mind — will be your best defense.

Black Friday truly does have sales you won’t get every other week, as long as you are first in the door. Stores might be deeply discounting all winter to try to boost sales, but Black Friday historically has those door-busters in which items sell for significantly lower than their retail price. Think of those specials as the cheese in a retail mouse trap.

“(Retailers) are relying on the fact that once they have you in the store, they will get you to buy more things,” Wallaert said. This is how retailers win and you lose your budget.

They way to combat these retail mind games, however, is simple, but easier said than done: Don’t even think about buying anything other than the items on your list.

“Leave your wallet at home,” Wallaert said. “Just take money for the item you want to get so you’re not tempted to get other items.”

That same tip applies to online shopping, Wallaert added: Online stores will bombast shoppers with promotions and ads for other items, hoping shoppers will think, “Yes, I do need that (not the gift you are shopping for) to go with my new (true reason you are shopping).”

Be prepared

To survive Black Friday is to avoid racking up credit card bills that you will still be paying off come next Christmas, financial counselors say.

That’s why your Black Friday preparation starts at home.

First, go online and check the various Web sites that gather and display the Black Friday ads (see accompanying list).

Wallaert’s personal holiday shopping list is an electronic file listing everyone he is shopping for. Next to their names, he types what he wants to get the person and how much it will cost. At the top of the list, he types his total holiday spending budget, so he can adjust his friends’ and family members’ gifts accordingly.

Finance expert Clarky Davis of in Raleigh, N.C., has a similar shopping list method. After writing her list of gifts, she assigns a dollar amount for each person and then tries to come under that amount by $5.

As a general rule, Davis advises against gift cards, saying that people tend to think they must put more money on the card to make it a better present. In other words, giving someone a $15 gift card looks bad, but a soft wool scarf from a discount retailer that cost $12.99 looks better, because the recipient doesn’t know how much you spent on them.

“Unless you absolutely have to, don’t give gift cards, or limit them to two people,” Davis said.

Instead, buy a gift that is cheaper but looks expensive. Davis loves retailers like TJ Maxx and Ross, which sell name-brand items at a lower price because they get leftovers from other department stores.

Divide and conquer

When you head out, use a buddy system, says shopping expert Karen Hoxmeier, owner of My

“One person can wait in line (at the cashier) while the other grabs your items,” she said. “Or, you could have a couple of buddies with you and can split up; one person hits electronics while another hits toys.”

One handy tip for families: Decide on a whistle or bell to ring when trying to find each other in the stores. This eliminates confusion and yelling across aisles. You could also use cell phones or walkie-talkies.

All online

Doing all your Black Friday research online gives you a leg up on retailers who depend on the fact that shoppers don’t want to drive all over town for the best deal, Wallaert says.

“There are Web sites, like Google’s Frugal, which allow you to compare prices,” he said. “It slows things down and lets you shop on your terms.”

Next, check the advertisements and prioritize your day, says Hoxmeier. This cuts down on your fuel consumption.

“See which store has the most stuff that you want the most,” Hoxmeier said. “A lot of door-busters sell out fast, so prioritizing makes sure you get what’s most important to you.”

She also recommends checking to see if the stores do price-matching, which means they will honor a lower price for the same item sold elsewhere. Most stores do accept price-matching, she said, so bring all the ads with you to the stores.

Finally, Hoxmeier recommends that everyone eat plenty of nutritious food before, and during, their holiday shopping. That means packing plenty of snacks for the kids.

“You need all your energy to fight those crowds,” she said.