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Survival guide to Black Friday week

Black Friday shoppers rush into Best Buy 2010

The much anticipated Thanksgiving week has arrived. Get the aspirin ready if you’re travelling or planning to shop. Put the scale away and get the beer ready if you’re planning to be lazy and watch some football and eat. Don’t expect the hype over the shopping season to end next week. There’s a lot at stake this year for retailers, so  there will be sales throughout the season.

While we typically think of Black Friday as the shopping day after Thanksgiving, the unofficial holiday is getting redefined. Call the new shopping deals on Thursday whatever you want — Gray Thursday, Black Friday Creep, or Black Thursday.  No matter what you call all these deals, here’s a shopping survival guide:

1. Black Friday is really a week or month-long tradition
Much of the focus is on the Thanksgiving Day sales, but really they start Monday. Many retailers will tempt you with deals leading up to Black Friday aka Thanksgiving, so be on the lookout.

2. Don’t just line up – log in
Just as many amazing deals will be offered online as in the store. If you’re like me and hate the crowds and lines, just log into your computer. Start on Monday and keep looking. The deals online will last throughout the season, but they’ll be big especially this next week culminating with Cyber Monday a week from today.  Don’t forget to check Thanksgiving morning. That’s when many dealhounds grab their discounts.

If you shop online, log into Ebates first so you can earn cash while shopping. Click here to read more about earning money while you shop

3. Expect surprises at Walmart
Protests are planned at more than 1,000 Walmart stores. While it doesn’t appear any are planned in Cleveland at this time, that could change. There is one planned in Cincinnati.

Even if there’s not an organized protest, there may be chaos in the aisles. That’s another tactic being used by some protesters.

I don’t expect massive disruptions across the board, but the protests seem to be gaining momentum so I think there will be some disruption to service at some stores. I don’t think you need to rearrange your shopping plans because of this, but just expect a surprise or two at Walmart. Who knows what’s going to happen.

4. Skip Gray Thursday shopping and shop early Friday morning
I think the turnout for Gray Thursday shopping will be bigger than ever. It’s much easier for customers to shop at 8 PM rather than 4 AM. With the Thanksgiving night shopping, nobody is fighting the alarm clock. People typically relax and eat on Thanksgiving, so by 8 PM people will want to do something and get away from the relatives. I expect big lines on Turkey night and people will shop til they drop.

By 2 or 3 AM, I think the shopping will taper off as people get tired and go home to sleep having spent thousands of dollars already. I think the best time to shop will be between 3 AM and 10 AM. If you don’t want to get up in the middle of the night, hit the stores at 7 AM. That’s a reasonable hour. You’ll have at least three hours to yourself to put a dent in your shopping.

Of course, if you wait you miss out on the doorbusters. Some stores are not even opening until 5 or 6 AM on Black Friday so you may still cash in on deals depending on what you are looking for this holiday.

5. Avoid Best Buy and Walmart if you don’t like lines
A sleeper in all of this holiday mayhem may be Target. The store opens an hour after Toys “R” Us and Walmart which may keep the lines short. Typically, I don’t see people lining up at this store. I think that will be the same this year because shopping begins an hour earlier at other retailers. People will be waiting in line or grabbing their deals at Walmart and Toys “R” Us when Target opens meaning it could provide a stress free shopping experience for you.

About these ads

Black Friday Creep – what do you think of stores opening at 8 PM Thanksgiving?

Most of the Black Friday ads are out. Some were leaked. This year, some retailers just released them on their own site avoiding the leak mania. Walmart and Target have the full ad on their site. The theme: the stories are opening earlier than ever turning Black Friday into Black Friday Creep or Gray Thursday.

The unofficial start to the holiday season is no longer just a day. Many sales start Monday online with retailers trying to maximize the number of days they can get your attention.

There were online protests last year as stores opened late on Thanksgiving, but obviously those online petitions did little to sway the retailers. This year they are opening four hours before Friday. Many of the big retailers are opening at 8 PM on Thanksgiving. Target at 9 PM and Best Buy at midnight. These early opening times are sparking more heated debate this year, and even a proposed strike by Walmart employees.

The stores say they are opening early to meet demand. 8 PM is a convenient time. It’s a lot easier to shop at that time than getting up at 3 AM to start your shopping. I expect people will shop til they drop which will about 3 AM. The time they were getting up when Black Friday really was Black Friday.

Experts think these trends will continue unless there really is a strike by Walmart. It would take something big to stop the holiday creep.

What do you think of the early start times for holiday shopping? Click comment below.

Christmas creep: how early is too early?

Black Friday shoppers rush into Best Buy 2010

It seems Christmas creeps into our lives earlier and earlier every year. The decorations have been up at some stores for weeks. This year, Target is already launching holiday ads and we haven’t even hit Halloween. So, what can we expect this shopping season? I predict aggressive marketing and sales.

Stores are fighting for every last dollar. The consumer friendly marketing started early with layaway plans. More stores are offering them.

Many retailers are also offering a version of price matching with Best Buy even offering to match some online deals. This is a big holiday for Best Buy. This year, it’s already shut down stores and it’s dealing with the issue of showrooming. That’s where Best Buy puts electronics on display, and consumers play around with the items in the store. Then, buy the item online at a cheaper retailer. That’s why they are matching some online prices, although there are exceptions to their offer. Read the fine print.

These price matching policies are popping up because Walmart began an aggressive campaign last year before the holiday rush. I put their policy and other stores policies to the test for NewsChannel 5 last year.

I found very few clerks know the policy at Walmart. We also tested a few other stores, and sometimes a price match added ten extra minutes to our shopping trip. It required circulars from other stores and a store manager. At Walmart, it’s supposed to be easier. Most times, the cashier was happy to change the price whether she or he knew the policy or not.

Many of Walmart’s competitors are now getting into the action and making sure you know about their willingness to match prices. The bottom line – stores want you to shop their store rather than shopping around.

Technology is driving this phenomenon to some extent because pricing is more readily available than ever before with a cell phone. Some apps let you scan the UPC on an item, and within seconds you can see the prices online and at other retailers for the same product.

TV ads already airing
This year, Target is getting its message out earlier than years past with TV ads already filling the airwaves. These come on the heels of a big political season when air time is hard to find in some markets especially swing state Ohio.

Ad Age said typically holiday TV ads don’t appear until the beginning of November. The first ad is from a retailer who held off for its major TV campaign until the weekend after Thanksgiving two years ago. Ad Age said back then, Target’s Chief Marketing Officer Michael Francis said the retailer held off on ads based on guest surveys, and point-of-sale data.

Now, there is new leadership at Target and obviously a new philosophy.

In this age of social media, people are sounding off. On Facebook, there are comments like, “A Christmas commercial? ALREADY?? OH come ON. it’s not even Hallowe’en yet! please. PLEASE stop this.”

Target’s response to some of the comments, “We’re sorry to hear about your disappointment. We’ve shared your feedback with our Broadcast Media executives for review.”

 Ads leaked
The circulars or ads for Black Friday usually leak before the TV ads. So, when can we expect those?

A few ads have already leaked, but  nothing major. We should see higher interest stores in the next few weeks.  According to GottaDeal’s calendar of leaks last year, ACE Hardware and Bed Bath & Beyond circulars were out by now last year. On October 24th, BJ’s ad was leaked and Radio Shack on October 26th.

”Tis the season to celebrate ghosts and goblins and the scary weeks that lead up to the December holidays.

How early is too early for you? Click comment below.

Cash for your feedback

We all want a little extra cash, but how much time are you willing to invest for the chance of winning something? At the bottom of most cash register receipts, the store asks you for customer feedback. If you take the survey on the phone or online, you could win a prize. Sometimes, it’s up to $5,000. The constant surveys have consumers asking — “Does anyone ever win?”

For a NewsChannel 5 story, I looked for winners. For some companies, they’re easy to find. Others won’t even reveal who won citing privacy reasons. Other times, the winner is listed with their first initial and last name like J. Smith. Plus, their city.

I’ve been backgrounding people for a long time, and can usually find someone. However, this task proved difficult. I started with the less common names knowing that might yield better results. I’d call every person with that name in a particular city. I’d reach people and say are you the J. Smith that won $500 from such and such a store? It never was that person. Unfortunate for them and myself.

I must have called fifty people and never did find someone whose first initial, last name, and city were listed as the winner. I got lucky, when I found the lists from Red Lobster and Olive Garden. The full names of the winners are listed online.

Now, I’m all about privacy. I understand why stores are reluctant to name the winners online and why some stores use ways to protect them by just listing their first initial. However, there is a lot of skepticism among shoppers about these surveys and whether anyone ever wins.

Cleveland State business professor, Elad Granot, told me consumers have survey fatigue. We’re asked about our opinion far too often. He says the validity of these survey results is flawed. Are people just giving any old answer to the survey just to be done with it and entered into the grand prize? Or, do they sincerely take the time to fill it out?  Granot says an engaged manager would yield better results for the store.

When consumers feel like nobody is winning, you lose trust in the store which is the opposite of what stores are trying to do with these surveys. This story generated more than 60 comments on our NewsChannel 5 Facebook page and my page. Only one person mentioned they ever won.

The shopper won $500 to Best Buy, and says it definitely paid off for the business. He bought a camera he still has and it got his friends to shop at Best Buy thinking they might win. That’s not the norm, though, as dozens of other people told us they never knew a winner.

They are out there. They’re just rare — just like lotto winners. The good news for shoppers – stores are switching their marketing methods. Many are using social media to give you instant savings. If you like something on Facebook or Tweet a deal, you can earn instant money. It’s a little more gratifying and you’re in control.

Instead of asking for feedback, stores want you to promote their business. For it, you are rewarded. Sears is offering a personal shopper program. Recruit your friends, and you earn a 1% commission on their purchases.

I expect more companies to begin these programs. They are still limited, but I think this is more gratifying for the shopper and rewarding for the business.

Have you ever filled out a store survey? Do you think it’s worth your time?

Black Friday shopping game-changer

Black Friday shoppers rush into Best Buy 2010

As a consumer reporter, Black Friday is a big day. It kicks off the holiday shopping season, and means I have to rise in the middle of the night to bring you money saving tips on the morning show when stores open for Black Friday.

People sleeping in tents for days to cash in on big shopping savings is the story of the day every Thanksgiving. A few years ago, a few stores changed the game by opening on Thanskgiving. Plus, outlet stores and some outdoor shopping centers began opening at midnight. While this was a big shift, the big retailers were still holding to the Black Friday ritual opening around 5 A.M.

Then, a few big retailers opened their doors before 5 A.M. some at 4 and others even earlier. I remember thinking of how odd it was to see shoppers coming and going from Target at 4:30 in the morning on my way to a live shot across the street at Best Buy. There, shoppers were standing outside waiting for their chance to get inside. I asked a lot of the Best Buy shoppers if the early opening of stores like Target impacted their shopping strategy. Most said no, because the majority of stores still weren’t opening earlier.

This year, the game is changing. Big name stores are jumping on the midnight bandwagon. Every week a new one joins, including the quintessential Black Friday store — Best Buy. It changes the game for shoppers and for reporters. By 4:30 A.M. when our news starts, I think parking lots will be empty. People will be home in bed. The stores should open at midnight, and then close around 3 A.M. and reopen around 7 or 8 A.M.

It’s an interesting marketing tactic in a year when the economy is shaky. Stores need to attract more shoppers and this might do it. The thought of getting up in the middle of the night is no longer a concern — you just have to stay out a few hours past your bedtime. That’s a lot easier to do.

Just don’t let the hype influence your buying decisions. The stores are already advertising deals and special promotions like Super Saturday this past weekend. If you have a smartphone, use it to scan bar codes to make sure you’re really getting the best deal. If you can, compare prices before you shop because some stores are offering to price match online deals.

Saving money and creating a shopping strategy will help you save this holiday season. Start planning now. Ads are already being leaked. That doesn’t mean you’ll definitely find that deal, but the ads usually are pretty close to what’s leaked. Also, if you know you’re going to shop a certain store like their Facebook page. Stores like Walmart are offering sneak peaks at Black Friday deals if you follow their Facebook page.

Join the conversation. What do you think about stores kicking off Black Friday at midnight?

Third party companies to sell electronics on Best Buy’s website

Just in time for the holiday shopping frenzy that will arrive before you know it, Best Buy is teaming up with third-party sellers to offer you a third more products online.

Best Buy will launch Marketplace. It will feature items from partners like Buy.com, Cameta Camera, ANT Online, MamBate, Beach Audio, Wayfair, SF Planet, and Electronic Express.

“Increased assortment of products, brands and price points is exactly what people have told us they want,” said John Thompson, senior vice president of Best Buy and general manager of online operations. “We listened, and developed Marketplace to meet these unmet needs.”

Best Buy says it will continue to add businesses based on their tenure in business, overall customer satisfaction, order cancellation history, and back order history. You will earn Best Buy Rewards Points when you buy from the Best Buy Marketplace, but the seller will handle shipment and returns.

Plus, Best Buy will offer a guarantee in case there is a problem with your order that you can’t resolve with the seller. It’s a service guarantee rather than a product guarantee. Best Buy will help mediate the situation if you don’t receive your order, the product was not what you ordered, it was damaged during shipping or not working, or if you didn’t receive satisfactory customer service.

Price matching: Shopping sales from multiple stores at one store

Have you picked out all the sale items from the Sunday ads? If you want something from a few different stores, there’s no need to run around from store to store to take advantage of the sale prices. You can shop at one store and take advantage of all the sales. It’s called price matching or ad matching and several stores offer it.

Walmart, Best Buy, Staples, Office Max, and Office Depot are some of the stores that allow you to bring in a competitor’s ad and get that price at their store. At Walmart, you don’t even need the ad. It sounds easy, but how easy is it?

For NewsChannel 5, I had my photographer price match. He’s never used coupons before, so he is truly a novice. I told him the basic rules, and let him go to work. I wanted to use someone who wasn’t skilled in saving money to show you that anyone can price match.

While some people report problems, it all comes down to knowing the policy where you are shopping. Don’t let a cashier frustrate you, and don’t be surprised if you have to educate them on the policy.

To successfully price match, you need to be organized. The hardest part is matching the items. With food and health and beauty products I would not expect as much variation as we saw with back to school items. Some stores had two package Sharpie’s on sale, but at the store we were using to ad match we might have only found packages with three markers. So, it’s hard with some items to ad match because you need to buy the same product.

I created an Excel spreadsheet to stay organized. This might be helpful if you are buying many products. It helps you keep the sales, prices, and model numbers organized.

Have you tried ad matching? Share your experience.

Best & worst credit cards

Too Much Credit

Image by Andres Rueda via Flickr

It’s Golden Globe weekend, so let’s take a look at some golden credit cards.  CardRatings.com released the best and worst credit cards of 2010 after asking readers to rate their favorite.

Best Cash Back Credit Card: Blue Cash from American Express
Runner Up: Chase Freedom

Best Airline Credit Card: Blue Sky from American Express
Runner Up (tie): USAA World MasterCard and Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards

Best Reward Points Credit Card: Chase Sapphire Card
Runner Up: Blue from American Express

Best Value Credit Card: USAA World MasterCard
Runner Up: Clear from American Express

Best Customer Service: American Express
Runner Up: Discover

American Express was the overall winner. None of its cards has an annual fee.

When choosing a card, see how many points it takes to redeem rewards. Check the type of rewards you can buy with your points. Some programs offer better and cheaper rewards than others. Finally, make sure you check for fees.

“Despite the fact that most credit cards have become much more attractive in the past several months, there have been a few credit card offers that have not followed suit and are in fact what some consumer advocates would label as downright rip-offs. Avoid these cards like the plague and, if you do, you will be glad you did in 2011.” said Curtis Arnold, founder of CardRatings.com.

CardRatings.com worst cards of 2010:

Highest Interest Rate: First Premier MasterCard

Most Hated: Kardashian Kard

Least Disclosure: Best Buy Reward Zone MasterCard

Most Expensive Way to Rebuild Credit: Applied Bank Unsecured Visa Gold Card

If you’re looking for a new card, Bankrate has a good comparison tool. You can search by card type whether you’re looking to transfer funds or earn rewards, by your credit score, or the issuer.

Best Buy offers program to Buy Back your electronics

 

Black Friday shoppers rush into Best Buy

Best Buy will begin catering to consumers who are afraid to buy  electronics because they fear it may become obsolete soon after buying it. The Best Buy Buy Back program will allow you to upgrade your electronics or technology by getting money back for your old purchase.

You’ll have the option to purchase the Buy Back protection when you buy a laptop, netbook, tablet, post-paid mobile phone, or television.  Then you’ll have two years to return all the products but the television. You’ll get four years for that. When you return it, you’ll get up to 50% of the original purchase price based on when it’s returned. You can then use the money that you’ll receive back from Best Buy in the form of a gift card for another purchase.

The amount Best Buy pays when it buys back your item depends on when you return it. You’ll get the most money (50%) if you make the return within 6 months of your purchase date.  You’ll get 40% if the redemption is made within 6 to 12 months, 30% within 18 to 24 months, and for televisions you’ll get 10% back within 48 months of the purchase.

“We recognize that technology is changing faster than ever, and our customers tell us they want to enjoy these devices without worrying about when the next or newest version will launch,” said Brian Dunn, chief executive officer of Best Buy. “We call this ‘future-proofing’ because our customers can now have more confidence that they’re protecting the value of the products they’re purchasing today. With the Buy Back Program, consumers benefit from assurance, convenience and transparency so they can stay current and stay connected.”

It’s a good program to spur people into buying technology rather than waiting on the sidelines afraid it will be obsolete weeks after they buy it. However, you’ll have to do the math to make sure you’ll get enough money out of the buy back option to justify the cost you paid to join the program.  It may be a better idea to try to sell the electronics yourself on a site like Ebay or Craigslist.  You’re not guaranteed a percentage of the price you paid for the product, but the risk is much lower because it’s free to post on Craigslist and a minimal investment to sell on Ebay. Just consider your options before you say “yes” at checkout.