The Washington Post

Black Fri­day won’t have the usual door­busters, but you can still snag good deals

Most im­por­tant, do your hol­i­day shop­ping early, ex­perts say, be­cause in­ven­to­ries are go­ing to be light and ship­ping ca­pac­ity will be chal­lenged

- BY ABHA BHATTARAI abha.bhattarai@wash­

Hol­i­day shop­ping is rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent this year. Black Fri­day sales be­gan in Oc­to­ber and “door­buster” deals are all but ob­so­lete as more Amer­i­cans shop on­line dur­ing the pan­demic. Many of the na­tion’s largest re­tail­ers be­gan rolling out dis­counts well be­fore Hal­loween in hopes of se­cur­ing early sales in a year of un­pre­dictable twists and chal­lenges. They have moved most of their dis­counts on­line and are stag­ger­ing in-store of­fers to al­low for so­cial dis­tanc­ing and other safety mea­sures.

“This is a very dif­fer­ent hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son,” said Casey Run­yan, the man­ag­ing editor of the sale-track­ing web­site Brad’s Deals. “Re­tail­ers are tak­ing a week’s worth of sales and break­ing them up and spread­ing them out.”

Here are five things to keep in mind as you shop this week:

Shop early

The top piece of ad­vice from re­tail­ers: Don’t pro­cras­ti­nate.

“The big, big, big mes­sage for ev­ery­body is to shop early,” said Steve Smith, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of L.L. Bean, the Maine-based re­tailer known for its out­door and recre­ation cloth­ing. “In­ven­to­ries are go­ing to be light, and we know ship­ping ca­pac­ity is very chal­lenged his year.”

The U.S. Postal Ser­vice has been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing widespread de­lays, and UPS and Fedex have warned re­tail­ers that they’re near ca­pac­ity for the hol­i­days. As a re­sult, as many as 7 mil­lion pack­ages a day could fall through the cracks be­tween Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas, ac­cord­ing to the soft­ware and con­sult­ing firm Ship­ma­trix.

“We’ve seen five years of e-com­merce growth in the last five or six months, and that’s putting tremen­dous strain on the sys­tem,” said Gor­don Glazer, a se­nior con­sul­tant for Ship­ware, a San Diego-based con­sul­tancy. “Many car­ri­ers are over­whelmed and throt­tling back: They’re di­vorc­ing some of their less-prof­itable cus­tomers just be­fore the hol­i­days, which means we’re likely to keep see­ing de­lays.”

Ad­ding to the slow­down are longer pro­cess­ing times at ware­houses and ful­fill­ment cen­ters, which have re­con­fig­ured pro­to­cols to ac­com­mo­date so­cial dis­tanc­ing, fre­quent hand-wash­ing and other safety mea­sures dur­ing the pan­demic. As a re­sult, an­a­lysts say, it’s im­per­a­tive that shop­pers start early.

“This year, there’s no ques­tion: the sooner, the bet­ter,” said Julie Ramhold, a con­sumer an­a­lyst at Deal­

An­a­lysts at Adobe An­a­lyt­ics rec­om­mend that con­sumers wrap up their on­line shop­ping by Dec. 11, two weeks be­fore Christ­mas, to en­sure that items ar­rive on time with stan­dard ship­ping op­tions. Even then, Ramhold sug­gests hav­ing a Plan B.

“Be pre­pared to send a last-minute gift card on­line or print out a pic­ture of the gift and put it in a greet­ing card,” she said. “You should have a backup plan in case things don’t ar­rive in time.”

Buy on­line — but con­sider pick­ing up in per­son

With many re­tail­ers of­fer­ing the same deals on­line as in stores, an­a­lysts say there’s lit­tle rea­son to put on a mask and shop in per­son.

The bet­ter op­tion, they say, is to pur­chase on­line and pick up in store, par­tic­u­larly for over­size or bulky items such as big-screen TVS or fur­ni­ture that can be dif­fi­cult to ship. Plus, it helps en­sure you’ll get your pur­chases on time.

“There’s a big push to­ward curb­side pickup,” said Sara Skir­boll, the shop­ping and trends editor at Re­tail­menot. “Some re­tail­ers will even of­fer dis­counts and other in­cen­tives if you’re will­ing to buy on­line and pick up in store.”

Black Fri­day deals are in­creas­ingly dig­i­tal. Most of Wal­mart’s Black Fri­day pro­mo­tions this month de­buted on­line hours be­fore stores opened. The hand­ful of dis­counts avail­able only in-store — such as $5 Bar­bies and pack­ages of Ki­netic Sand — tend to be on lower-cost items that are not likely to run out, so shop­pers can shop at their con­ve­nience with­out hav­ing to rush in.

Adobe An­a­lyt­ics es­ti­mates in-store pick­ups will in­crease 40 per­cent from last year, with even larger gains in the week lead­ing up to Christ­mas. As a re­sult, an­a­lysts say, there could be long lines for curb­side pick­ups as the sea­son wears on, “so take an au­dio book, or lis­ten to a pod­cast and be pre­pared to wait a lit­tle while,” says Ramhold of Deal­

Be pre­pared to shop mul­ti­ple times

For decades, Black Fri­day prices were re­li­ably the low­est of the sea­son on just about every­thing.

Not any­more.

Ma­jor chains are in­creas­ingly stag­ger­ing deals over weeks and even months, which means you may have to cross off items on your shop­ping list in­ter­mit­tently to land the best prices.

“Re­tail­ers are very de­lib­er­ately spread­ing out the best deals, so if peo­ple are com­ing in to stores, they’re not com­ing all at once,” Run­yan said.

Wal­mart, for ex­am­ple, an­nounced three rounds of Black Fri­day sales start­ing Nov. 4. Tar­get has been rolling out deals each week this month, start­ing with dis­counted head­phones and vac­uum clean­ers, then mov­ing on to mark­downs on kitchen items, cloth­ing and toys.

Con­sider what you’re buy­ing and when

The gen­eral rule this year, an­a­lysts say, is to snag a good deal when you see one. That said, re­tail­ers tend to fol­low cer­tain pat­terns when dis­count­ing items. Here are some guide­lines to con­sider:

Thanks­giv­ing Day: Although most ma­jor stores will re­main closed this Thanks­giv­ing, Ramhold of Deal­ says it’s worth brows­ing on­line — es­pe­cially if you’re look­ing for head­phones, smart­phones, tablets or video games, all of which tend to get their steep­est dis­counts on this day. Also pop­u­lar: shoes. “If you’re search­ing for that $15 pair of boots, you’re likely to get it on Thanks­giv­ing,” she said.

Black Fri­day: The best Black Fri­day deals tend to be on ap­pli­ances (which are dis­counted an av­er­age 11 per­cent) and TVS (marked down 19 per­cent), ac­cord­ing to Adobe An­a­lyt­ics, which tracks tril­lions of vis­its to on­line re­tail­ers.

Satur­day: Small Busi­ness Satur­day, as it has be­come known, also is a good time to buy com­put­ers, ac­cord­ing to Adobe, which says you can ex­pect an av­er­age mark­down of 18 per­cent.

Sun­day: Time to buy the toys on your list (which are typ­i­cally dis­counted about 20 per­cent on this day, ac­cord­ing to Adobe), as well as any fur­ni­ture you may need (with av­er­age mark­downs of 10 per­cent).

Cy­ber Mon­day, Nov. 30: Cloth­ing dis­counts tend to be best on this day, ac­cord­ing to Skir­boll of Re­tail­menot. It’s also a good time to buy other items that might not typ­i­cally go on sale be­cause re­tail­ers are more likely to of­fer blan­ket dis­counts on just about every­thing. “It’s like there’s sale fa­tigue by the time Cy­ber Mon­day rolls around, so re­tail­ers are like, ‘Just dis­count every­thing,’ ” Skir­boll said. “That’s when you’re more likely to see 15 per­cent-off deals sitewide.”

Be cau­tious of door­busters

The door­buster deals on lim­ited-stock items that have be­come a sta­ple of Black Fri­day shop­ping? They’re less rel­e­vant now. An­a­lysts say it’s ex­tra im­por­tant you do your re­search be­fore you buy this year.

“Hav­ing door­busters on­line is a bit of a mis­nomer, be­cause re­tail­ers can’t just sell three of each item on­line,” said Casey Run­yan, the man­ag­ing editor of Brad’s Deals.

As a re­sult, she said, re­tail­ers are pro­mot­ing larger quan­ti­ties of lower-qual­ity items that won’t sell out as quickly on­line.

“Door­busters are of­ten po­si­tioned in such a way to make you think you’re los­ing out if you don’t buy them,” she said, “but it’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand what you’re pur­chas­ing.”


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