By Lauren Schwahn
Black Friday, which falls on Nov. 27 this year, has evolved from a frenzied one-day store event to an entire season of savings, with nearly all deals available online. Shopping on the web might seem like a hassle-free choice, especially during the pandemic. But 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. Deals typically 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. For example, Walmart’s /zigman2/quotes/207374728/composite WMT -2.48% sale will begin Friday, Nov. 27, at 12 a.m. Eastern time online and 5 a.m. local time in stores.
Specific deals within a larger online sale might not go live until a certain time. While Amazon’s /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -1.81% 2019 Black Friday Deals Week launched Nov. 22, shoppers had to wait until Nov. 28 to get the discount for the third-generation Echo Dot speaker.
Since sales generally start days or weeks ahead of Black Friday, you don’t have to wait to get steep savings. This year, Amazon’s Prime Day in October sparked even earlier-than-usual holiday deals from competing retailers.
Also read: How to create a home office on a budget
But that’s not the only reason to place orders early. A surge in online shopping and supply chain disruptions during the pandemic could create widespread shipping delays. Making purchases sooner can ensure your packages arrive in time for the holidays. Plus, you’ll stand a better chance of scooping up hot-ticket items before they sell out.
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 an item goes out of stock.
Why risk paying more than you have to? Before you finalize your purchase, pull up a new browser window. Do a quick Google /zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite GOOGL -0.60% search for the item and check out the deals available from different retailers. Some shopping apps will do this work for you. 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 /zigman2/quotes/201854387/composite M -4.63% and JCPenney 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 on 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. Macy’s is dropping the order minimum for free standard shipping from $99 to $25 until Nov. 30.
But free or inexpensive shipping isn’t a guarantee everywhere. Consider picking up your order at the store, if offered, which often allows you to bypass delivery fees. Check store policy details carefully as you weigh the options.
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Lauren Schwahn is a writer for Nerdwallet.