How the Internet Killed Black Friday

Posted by · November 18, 2011 12:23 pm

Remember the days when people would line up in front of Big Box Store at 3 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving? Then we’d all tune in to the news Friday night to watch shaky security camera footage of some over-eager power shopper trampling the weak to be one of the 50 people to get their sweaty palms on a free doorbuster that retails for under $15.

Those were the days. Of course, Black Friday is still an event, but it’s largely buoyed by retailers desperate to hold on to a consumption-powered golden era. Black Friday is like a band that was huge in the 80’s but now has to play county fairs and Indian gaming casinos to support their cocaine habit (“on the main stage, Styx with special guest, Black Friday!”)

This year, you can smell the desperation on retailers’ freshly-printed junk mail, as more stores break the (previously assumed) cardinal rule of not opening until at least 12 am on Friday. Sears will open their doors on Turkey Day for the first time ever, selling tires and clothes and everything in between from 7 am to 9 pm. Walmart, while also crossing the Thursday/Friday barrier, at least has the decency to not start their sale until 10 pm.

The Cheap Sherpa has mixed feelings about the slow death of Black Friday. I mean, a day set aside to celebrate saving money, what’s better than that? But I honestly never really liked fighting the crowds. The last time I attempted a Black Friday shopping trip was two years ago when I cart-blocked a hoard of moms to grab the last pink Hanna Montana guitar (said guitar has since been collecting dust in the hall closet).

No, I prefer shopping online for my holiday deals. As All Things D pointed out earlier this week, why mess with the hassle when the internet is open 24/7? So in that spirit, pour an extra glass of Thanksgiving wine, put on your stretchy pants and start clicking off your holiday shopping list from the comfort of your own home. Here are a few tips to help you do it right.

Shop Thursday online-only deals

According to USA Today, Walmart.com gets more traffic on Thanksgiving than any other day of the year. And for good reason too—they usually have a stack of great deals on toys. In fact, this year they’re planning 150 online-only deals, three times more than last year.

But it’s not just Walmart (I feel like I’m talking about them a lot, but they just dominate the Black Friday landscape). Many other retailers offer online exclusives, free shipping and bargain-basement prices on Thanksgiving Day only. Check your favorite stores (both bricks and mortar and online only) a few days before to see what they’re offering.

Let others comparison shop for you

Shopping was simpler when you were limited to the places within an hour’s driving distance. You’d just flip through the 5-10 store flyers in your Sunday paper and pick a few places to shop. Online Black Friday sales are an ad-splosion, so you’re better off letting someone else sort through the deals.

One of my favorite forums is Slickdeals.net. This year they’re featuring the 2011 editor’s best picks for Black Friday. According to the site, their editors “scour through each major retailer’s ad scan to sift and sort the hot deals from the lame ones.” The interface is organized by store and features the top-five handpicked items; it’s a good starting point if you want to take the temperature of many store sales at once.

Take advantage of site-to-store shipping

The biggest advantage bricks-and-mortar will always have over online shopping is the immediacy of having the item in your hand. Site-to-store delivery doesn’t solve that problem, but it is a good shipping workaround. Oftentimes you can purchase an item online for store “delivery” that is actually sitting on the shelf down the street, meaning you can have the product in your hands on the same day for no additional cost.

If the store you’re shopping at doesn’t explicitly offer site-to-store shipping, consider calling your local retailer to see if they can make alternative arrangements. I’ve done this with my local Sears and it has worked wonders.

Shop Friday Night

Can’t give up the thrill of deal hunting in the flesh? I can respect that. If you want to dial it back but still enjoy going out on Black Friday, consider shopping Friday evening. Most stores are open late on Friday night (10 or 11 pm) and from personal experience, they are mostly quiet after 8 o’ clock. Of course, your mileage may vary, but it’s worth a try.

That is, as long as you can live without the doorbusters.