You can’t get much sweeter than Sunshine Bear, the soft yellow Care Bear with a heart-shaped nose and a cheery little sun embroidered on his fuzzy belly.
But the cute stuffed animal became a bad memory for Chandler mom Tiffany Wilson a few years back.
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“I was grabbing a Care Bear out of a bin, and this old lady grabbed it at the same time, and she basically said she was going to beat me down for this Care Bear. It was crazy,” Wilson says.
The incident happened on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, when retailers slash prices and market door-buster deals to entice hordes of bargain-seeking consumers into stores.
It’s traditionally the time when retailers’ profits go from red to black (hence the name).
Most ring up 25 percent to 40 percent of their yearly sales in the weeks leading up to Christmas, thanks to merchandise-hungry consumers who camp out, stand in line, and devise shopping strategies akin to war room mock-ups in a quest for deeply discounted electronics and the year’s must-have toys.
For Wilson, it’s all gotten too out of hand.
“People forget the reason for Christmas. They get so caught up in buying things, so caught up in the sales, that they don’t think about what they’re buying. They spend more because of a sale, as opposed to buying what they really want or need.”
The feeling has prompted Wilson to change her day-after-Thanksgiving shopping strategy.
“Now I go out in the afternoon, when all the madness is done. My friend and I have a tradition. We get a pumpkin scone in the morning, and we get a pumpkin-spice latte.
By the time we hit the stores, it’s noon or one o’clock and everybody’s gone. Yeah, I’ve missed out on the giant TV for $400, but who cares? We have a leisurely day out — no mad, early morning stuff.”
If you must brave the stores early, check out these tips as you draw up your game plan:
Bone up for Black Friday
Most retailers don’t make public their Black Friday sales until newspaper ads come out on Thanksgiving Day, but there are a number of Web sites that claim to post “leaked” ads weeks early, giving consumers extra days to build their shopping lists and plot their strategies. Check out the sale papers online at:
Thinking ahead can help you navigate Black Friday’s mall maze
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Do your homework. “Don’t just show up; have a plan of action,” says Melissa Buxton, spokeswoman for Superstition Springs Center and Fiesta Mall in Mesa. You can scour Black Friday newspaper ads on Thanksgiving Day, or check out store ads online. Create a list of the items you plan to buy at each store, and figure out which stores you’ll hit based on what time they open and where they’re located.
Map out your visit. After you pore over Black Friday ads, draw up a shopping list and calculate a budget, don’t forget to check shopping centers’ Web sites, says Chandler Fashion Center spokeswoman Munira Smith. Not only do the sites list sales, specials and hours of retailers, they provide a blueprint of the buildings and parking lots.
“If you’re trying to get everything done in one day, it’s the best way to go. You can find out where to park and map out the first, second and third stores you’re going to visit, in order. Taking just a few minutes to figure out the lay of the land means you’re spending less time looking for retailers when you get here,” Smith says.
Befriend the salespeople. Erin Wilson of Chandler has a friend who works at Victoria’s Secret, where a much sought-after tote is going to be released on Black Friday.
“I’m not going early. I’m going to wait — but I do want the tote,” she says.
Her strategy? The friend is going to phone Wilson and update her on the status of the crowds and the bags, so Wilson can, hopefully, slide in at just the right time and pick up a bag before they’re gone.
If you don’t know someone on the inside, visit the store the day before and ask salespeople where the items you want will be on Black Friday. That way, you can go straight to those items while the crowd scatters like hens after chicken feed.
Put technology to work. Devices like a Blackberry, says Buxton, will enable you to receive Black Friday special offer e-mails directly from retailers while you’re out shopping. You can also use them to price check via Web sites like Half, Price Grabber or Shopping.com.
If you don’t have Internet access via your phone, have a buddy at home check prices for you while you shop; communicate with that person via cell phone.
And a basic calculator still comes in very handy when trying to stick to your budget, says Buxton.
Shop in teams. Scottsdale Realtor Joanne Hansook Cho shops on Black Friday, and she says she sees families using the divide-and-conquer strategy to get through the day. Extra bodies can help in so many ways:
- As soon as you enter the store, send one person to stand in line while the others run to grab items.
- Use multiple shoppers to get around per-person limits on items. If you need six iPods and the limit is three per person, you’ll be glad you brought a pal along.
- Scared an item you want may be in short supply? Split up and hit different stores. You can alert each other via cell phone when someone has scored the coveted item.
- Assign a driver. If parking lots are packed, a designated chauffeur can drop you at the door and come back to pick you up, maybe even with hot coffee and snacks in tow.
Take advantage of shopping centers’ free services. Chandler Fashion Center’s Smith says her mall provides shuttle service, package carryout and personal shopping services year-round.
“They’re not exclusive to the holidays, but in this busy time these services really come in handy,” she says.
For a ride to and from the farthest reaches of the parking lot, call guest services or security to arrange to be picked up, or flag down a passing staff vehicle.
If your hands become full before you’re through your shopping list, “Security will help take all those things out and load up your car and bring you back. Just ask,” says Smith.
And guest services can hook you up with a free personal shopper, who can devise a list of gift ideas or select items for you based on your budget and preferences.
Bring your own bags. Shopping carts and bags could be in short supply. Even if they’re not, just wading through the crowd to grab one could be a time-consuming hassle. Bypass the crush at the door by bringing your own reusable shopping bags. If you’re buying large, heavy items, consider bringing your own dolly in case there’s a wait to use equipment provided by the stores.
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Get a baby sitter. “For serious shoppers, I’d say leave the young children at home and come with the girls instead,” says Buxton. Strollers and crowds don’t mix, and tantrums and potty breaks could slow you down, not to mention try your patience on an already high-intensity day.
Wear functional, not fashionable, clothing. Dress for comfort, and for speed in and out of restrooms and dressing rooms. Think easy-to-remove layers — nothing with plackets of tiny buttons or strings to lace — and comfy shoes that will allow you to walk fast and slip them on and off easily.
Even wearing your pajamas is acceptable at Superstition Springs Center and Fiesta Mall, where Buxton says shoppers who check in at guest services wearing pajamas will receive surprise gifts.
Remember to eat and drink. You’ll need fuel to power-shop, but mall food courts and restaurants around major shopping centers will likely be packed. Eat before you leave home, and carry easy-to-munch snacks, such as trail mix or energy bars, with you. If you must buy a meal while you’re out, do it on your way home, farther away from the shopping meccas.
Pack a small cooler with water and other drinks to stow in the car; carry only what you need into the store.
BLACK FRIDAY SURVIVAL GUIDE
Where to shop in the East Valley if you’re ...
- The night owl: Shoppers who dread waking early have another option: Don’t go to sleep. Arizona Mills in Tempe opens at midnight Thanksgiving Day, and the mall is giving away one $1,000 gift card each hour of Black Friday until the doors close at 10 p.m. If you want to start even earlier, Bass Pro Shop’s Outdoor World in Mesa is giving out free hot chocolate, s’mores and gift cards around the campfire 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Starting at 5:30 a.m. Friday, shoppers in line at the outdoor retailer will get free refreshments and holiday serenades by carolers. Kohl’s locations open at 4 a.m. Friday. (Toys ‘R’ Us locations open at midnight Thursday, but door-buster deals don’t start until 5 a.m.)
- The early bird: Spring-out-of-bed types have a host of pre-dawn openings to pick from. Westcor shopping centers such as Superstition Springs Center, Fiesta Mall, Chandler Fashion Center, SanTan Village and Scottsdale Fashion Square open at 6 a.m. (Some retailers within the malls open even earlier; check the mall’s Web site.) So does Target. Best Buy opens at 5 a.m.
- The brunch bunch: The District shops at Tempe Marketplace open at 9 a.m. Scottsdale’s Biltmore Fashion Park opens at 10 a.m. Mesa Riverview and Dana Park also have midmorning openings, though a few individual retailers will open earlier; check the centers’ Web sites for store hours.
- The extreme value shopper: Outlet malls offer deeply discounted merchandise every day of the year, and on Black Friday the discounts go even lower. At VF Outlet Center in Mesa, 2055 S. Power Road, Suite 1039, the first 100 people will receive $5 gift cards, and everyone gets an extra 15 percent off purchases until 10 a.m. The store opens 6 a.m. Friday. The Outlets at Casa Grande, at Tanger Drive just off Interstate 10, will open at midnight Thanksgiving Day, giving shoppers time to get back in time for early-morning store openings within the metro area. Retailers such as Gap Outlet, Guess Factory Store, Osh Kosh B’Gosh, Sears, Perfumania, Liz Claiborne and Pfaltzgraff offer online coupons you can print before you go.
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Buck Black Friday
For all the shoppers that turn out in droves the day after Thanksgiving, there are folks who avoid Black Friday like its the Black Death. Some alternatives to the free-for-all:
Buy Nothing Day
This holiday from consumerism is championed by Adbusters magazine, and it encourages Americans to do the exact opposite of Black Friday — “spend a day without spending.”
How do you participate? Simple — don’t buy anything. Instead, spend your time playing ball with your family, decorating the house for the holidays, or wondering how on earth people had nice Christmases before malls and “big-box” stores came along. (Really, they did.)
Take a break from mindless materialism, supporters say, and you might just have a personal epiphany that inspires you to give gifts of time, love and service this year. At the very least, you’ll save some dough and get first dibs on Thanksgiving dinner leftovers.
The Monday after Thanksgiving, online retailers offer many of the same deals offered by brick-and-mortar stores on Black Friday. No joke: It’s often the same merchandise for the same prices, only you get to stay home and shop in your pajamas. Research sales at these Web sites: