To say everything has been different in 2020 is an understatement. Ever since COVID-19 hit, life has been turned around, from work to school to play. That goes for the upcoming holiday season, too. You might have to carve the turkey over Zoom this Thanksgiving.
And the typical shopping sprees that follow on Black Friday and Cyber Monday will be different too.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even posted a guide on how to safely celebrate Thanksgiving during the pandemic, including the holiday shopping season. They advise staying close to home and skipping the in-store doorbuster deals in favor of bargain hunting online.
But just because things have changed doesn’t mean you still can’t get into the holiday shopping spirit to nab the best deals of the year. The good news is you can still score major bargains while staying safe. We consulted the experts to help you do just that!
Create a Budget
“Given the economic impact of COVID-19, some Americans’ budgets will be tighter this holiday season,” says Sara Skirboll, Shopping & Trends Expert at RetailMeNot. “Nearly a third of Americans impacted by COVID-19 (30%) say they will have less money to spend on holiday gifts this year.”
There’s a good chance COVID-19 may have impacted your budget, so the first step should be assessing exactly how much you have to spend, which may be a very different number than last year. Even if wallets are a little slimmer this season, many families are forging ahead, as usual, to create a bright spot for the holidays after a tough 2020.
“Consumers are searching for normalcy this year,” Skirboll says. “In fact, 66% of Americans will spend the same amount or more on holiday shopping this year to create normalcy for their family.” Decide what’s reasonable and responsible for your own family.
The Crowds Will Be Online
Unsurprisingly, data shows that most people will be shopping online instead of in-store this Black Friday.
“While we expect the same amount of people to be shopping during Black Friday, online traffic will be significantly higher than in-store traffic,” says Jon Vincent, founder of EarlyBlackFriday.com. “This is due to the fact that retailers will be pushing their customers to shop online and avoid a potential COVID-19 liability in their stores. The last thing retailers want to hear is that a super spreader event happened during their in-store Black Friday sale!”
EarlyBlackFriday.com predicts a 25% increase in online shopping during Black Friday compared to Black Friday 2019. Traditionally, retailers offer their best Black Friday deals exclusively in stores, but now retailers will be putting their best doorbuster deals online.
“This will limit the reasons for people to shop in stores,” Vincent says. “In fact, we highly recommend you do not go to the stores at all this Black Friday because every deal can be grabbed online safely from your home.”
Know There Are Still Deals
It’s no secret that many retailers are hurting after a tough year. While you might assume that means they’re less likely to slash prices, surprisingly, the opposite is true.
“Retailers will be very aggressive this year,” says Jeff Rosenblum, co-founder of digital agency Questus. “They are facing pressure to generate revenue to offset the decrease in traditional retail sales and maximize the performance of their digital storefronts. Shoppers can capitalize on this pressure by taking advantage of attractive discounts and promotions.”
This could be one of the best years ever for Black Friday bargains.
Make a List
Retailers have always offered doorbuster deals that were too good to turn down to get people in stores with the plan that people make impulse buys while there.
“By shopping online, it helps cut down on those last-minute impulse purchases,” Vincent says. “We suggest you do your research ahead of time by viewing the Black Friday ads in advance and creating a shopping list. By having a well-researched shopping list, you’ll feel better about sticking to it instead of being tempted by a different deal that you might see online.”
Determine if the Price Is Right
Just because something says “Black Friday deal” or “Cyber Monday sale” doesn’t mean its price has been significantly slashed. It’s up to you to do some detective work to determine if you’re actually getting a good deal.
“There is a two-step process that consumers should follow to ensure they are getting the best deals,” Vincent says. “First, on EarlyBlackFriday.com, each retailer’s Black Friday ad is leaked weeks in advance. Take your shopping list and visit the retailer’s website that day to see what the current price of the item is. This will give you an indication of how hot a Black Friday deal is. For example, if the current price is only $10 more than the Black Friday price, the deal might not be that great. Finally, compare prices with other retailers, starting with Amazon.com. If Amazon’s price is significantly higher than the price being offered during Black Friday, you know it’s a great deal.”
Learn Where to Shop — and When
“Take advantage of key retail holidays like Cash Back Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Prime Day, and Free Shipping Day,” Skirboll says. “You can score deep discounts on everything from apparel and electronics to beauty, toys, home goods, and more. Shopping on these occasions will help stretch your dollars further. Scour the internet for what’s on your shopping list as some retailers might offer it at a better price or have better offers. Don’t assume you’re getting the best deals until you have searched for coupons and cash-back offers. Do your research and price compare.”
Take a two-step approach by searching for a sale or coupon code and combine that with a cash-back offer to stack your savings.
Often, the bigger the retailer, the better the deal. “Traditionally Target, Walmart, and Best Buy have been the best places to find deals during Black Friday, and we expect that trend to continue this year,” Vincent says.
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Search Online to Your Advantage
Getting a pop-up ad online for something you just searched for can be annoying, not to mention a little creepy. But that can actually be connected to you landing the best price.
“There is great value to be garnered by letting brands know you are in the market for a specific product,” Rosenblum says. “When shoppers go on search and social media for specific products, their data is shared with retailers who will then target shoppers with advertisements and promotions. While most of the press and conversation we hear is about data privacy, it’s important to note that data can be a valuable tool. When shoppers search for products, the data signals are analogous to walking into a retail store and asking a salesperson for assistance finding specific products.”
Practice Online Safety
Technology can work for and against you. “Beware of email phishing,” cautions Skirboll. “It’s best not to click on links from senders you don’t recognize. Be sure to hover your mouse over links without clicking to see if the address is really taking you to where it says it will. Before sending any personal information over the internet, make sure the website has ‘https://’ at the beginning of its web address. The ‘S’ at the end of HTTPS indicates that the website is secure and your information is encrypted, which makes it safe to enter a credit card number or other personal information.”
While it’s fine to look up reviews or compare prices using public Wi-Fi, avoid logging on to any sites with sensitive personal information, warns Skirboll. Public Wi-Fi is often vulnerable to people who are looking to steal your info. To ensure your computer and personal information are safe, use anti-virus software on your computer or mobile device, and keep it up to date.
One last tip: Always buy with a credit card when you can.
“A credit card provides additional protections over a debit card in case of fraudulent transactions,” Skirboll says. “If your card number is compromised, it’s easier to dispute any charges that you didn’t approve. Using a card also decreases the transference of germs compared to shopping with cash.”
Be Social Media Savvy
If you don’t already follow your favorite brands on social media, now is the time to do so, and sign up for their email newsletters as well. They sometimes will post special sales and offers exclusively for their followers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
“Shoppers should monitor Twitter and Facebook feeds from major retailers to look for announcements on when the Black Friday deals are live,” Vincent says. “However, their announcements are sometimes hours after the sales have gone live and the most popular items have sold out. We suggest that you also follow earlyblackfriday.com on Twitter (@EarlyBF) and Facebook. We monitor each retailer’s website in real-time to look for when the deals are live and we will be announcing these sales on our social media feeds.”
And don’t forget to use apps to your advantage. “Be resourceful—check apps like RetailMeNot to find the latest sales, deals, and cash back offers from thousands of retailers,” Skirboll says.
Put Your Health First
Black Friday was built on doorbusters and fleeting in-person deals. But to make adjustments during the COVID-19 era, you can get the same bargains without having to leave your house.
“There is no reason to visit the physical stores on Black Friday this year,” Vincent says. “While the in-store shopping experience will be made as safe as possible, all of the same deals will be available online, so we do not feel that it’s worth the potential health risk to visit the stores. If customers do end up going to the stores on Black Friday, they can be comforted by the fact that retailers will be making social distancing and mask-wearing mandatory in all stores. Extra staff will be wiping down high-touch surfaces to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Wearing a mask, practicing social distancing while shopping, and using hand sanitizer once you are done shopping are the best practices you will want to follow.”
If you’re nervous about shopping in-store this year, you’re not alone.
“Most Americans have concerns when it comes to holiday shopping this year during COVID-19,” Skirboll says. “Nearly nine in 10 (87%) are concerned about COVID-19 when thinking about holiday season shopping. Among those concerned, top concerns include other shoppers not following CDC guidelines (57%), being around other shoppers (57%), being around crowds during Black Friday shopping (54%), waiting in long lines due to reduced store capacity (50%), or shopping in stores with others (47%).”
For those reasons, Skirboll says 75% of shoppers will prefer online shopping for holidays, and 18% plan to complete holiday shopping online only. A whopping 88% of consumers say they will not shop the traditional in-store doorbuster deals this year, and Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping will occur mostly online as more retailers choose to close on Thanksgiving.
“In-store will continue to have an important role,” Rosenblum says. “A lot of people have quarantine fatigue and are excited to get back to stores, and there are some categories where it’s really important to touch and feel products.”
Those who still feel the need to shop in person: Ensure retailers take health and safety precautions seriously. Before going to the store, Vincent advises visiting the retailer’s website, going to the store locator page, and selecting their local store location. There should be information on that page that lists the steps the retailer is taking to make their stores safe to shop in.
Next, when you visit the store, look for signage at the entrance that indicates that social distancing and mask-wearing are mandatory. If you don’t see those signs and there are customers without masks, avoid the store. Any time you see unsafe practices, the best thing to do is simply leave and stick to stores that respect their customers’ health.
Support Small Businesses
Mom-and-pop shops have been hit especially hard this year, with many of them forced to permanently shutter their doors. That’s why it’s crucial to support small businesses as much as you can during the holiday season.
“Small businesses have to follow the same restrictions as larger retailers, which limit the amount of shoppers they can have in the store at once,” Vincent says. “To safely support your local small business, see if they have a website where you can place an order online or by phone. This will help them limit their in-store traffic so that other shoppers can shop in their stores. Finally, do not expect small businesses to match the extremely low prices you will find at a major online retailer. However, even if you have to pay a little more, it’s good to know that a local small business is benefiting from your sale.”
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Are You Ready for the Black Friday and Cyber Monday Deals?
While 2020 may have been a dumpster fire wrapped in a trainwreck, Cyber Week should deliver some solid discounts (along with much needed holiday cheer).
Whether you decide to shop sales in-person or stick to online-only deals, taking the time to budget, create a wish list, and price check before you shop can help you get the most bang for your buck this holiday season. And no matter the time of year, it’s always important to practice online safety.
Above all, have fun, stay safe, and happy shopping!