Black Friday, which falls on Nov. 29 this year, has evolved from a frenzied one-day store event to an entire season of savings, with nearly all deals available online. While shopping on the web might seem like a hassle-free choice, your strategy — or lack of one — can still make or break your experience.
Follow these tips for smoother online Black Friday shopping.
Make a list
Smart Black Friday shopping begins with early planning. Create a budget so you’ll know exactly how much you can afford to spend on gifts — and maybe a few treats for yourself. Then, you can get a list going.
Retailers usually release Black Friday ads in advance, often online, in their apps, through the mail or via email. Browse through the ads and pick out products in your price range. When you log onto the web with your list in hand, it’ll be easier to focus on those items and resist other tempting deals.
Set a schedule
Don’t miss your opportunity to seize the best bargains. Find out when the sales start and mark your calendar or set reminders. Some deals kick off well before Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. It’s also worth noting that retailers’ online and in-store sale timelines don’t always match. Last year, for example, Kohl’s KSS, +1.52% sale began online at 12:01 a.m. Central time on Monday, Nov. 19, and rolled out in stores at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 22.
Specific deals within a larger online sale might not go live until a certain time. While Amazon’s AMZN, +0.08% 2018 Black Friday Deals Week launched Nov. 16, shoppers had to wait until Nov. 22 to get the Echo Dot speaker at a discount.
Create accounts on retailer websites
Set up online accounts with the retailers you plan to visit. Once sale day arrives, you’ll already have your payment and shipping information on file. This can help you speed through the checkout process and complete the transaction before inventory goes out of stock.
Why risk paying more than you have to? Before you complete your purchase, pull up a new browser window. Do a quick Google search for the item and check out the deals available from different retailers. Don’t forget to account for any coupons, loyalty points or special offers — such as a bonus gift card with purchase — when determining where to get the best value.
Some retailers provide coupons on top of already low prices as an extra incentive to shop their sales. In the past, Macy’s M, +1.06% and Victoria’s Secret have included special promo codes in their Black Friday ads. Try searching coupon websites or using a browser extension to locate additional discounts on eligible items in your order.
Look for free or cheap shipping
Free shipping or low order minimums can help you maximize Black Friday savings, too.
Many retailers change their shipping policies around the holiday season, kicking competition into high gear. In November 2018, Target TGT, +2.33% began offering free two-day shipping — which normally applies to select orders of $35 or more — on hundreds of thousands of items with no minimum purchase required.
But free or inexpensive shipping isn’t a guarantee everywhere. Consider in-store pickups, if offered, which often allow you to bypass delivery fees. Check store policy details carefully as you weigh your options.
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Lauren Schwahn is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @lauren_schwahn.