The art of the deal
Black Friday shopping will only work if do your homework first, says Fashion Editor Bairbre Power who has 20 expert tips to get you over the line
Do you really want it? Do you need it? Can you afford it? These are the questions you should be asking yourself tomorrow. Black Friday is a retail phenomenon which has travelled across the Atlantic and taken Irish shoppers somewhat by storm in recent years.
What started out as a response to cabin fever, too much Thanksgiving turkey and way too many tiresome relatives is now a Christmas-come-early shopping frenzy this side of the pond.
However, the secret to making this tsunami of reductions online and in bricks and mortar stores really work is not to succumb to seduction.
Attraction to slashed prices is not enough and to make Black Friday and the upcoming Cyber Monday really enhance your life and your finances in advance of Christmas, you can't just relinquish your credit card details on the spur of the moment, so here's my advice...
1. Homework is everything, especially if you are buying from international websites where there are currency variations plus packaging, postage and possibly insurance on high value/delicate items.
2. Approach tomorrow with your very own Santa list and today is the day to do the math. The basics are, of course, to have a list of who you are buying for and what your budget is, but then it starts getting far more serious - start by doing price comparisons between websites and stores, as well as currency differentials if you are buying online. There's also credit card interest rates to be factored into the total cost of the purchase if you don't plan to clear your debt quickly.
3. Get stuck into the research: log all those sweetheart special codes to avail of additional discounts and download any apps that will assist you in making rapid price comparisons.
4. Check with stores if you can sign up for loyalty programmes (and I don't mean store cards) to avail of additional discounts.
5. If it's clothes you are after, know your size, both your current measurements and how they translate into the country where you are buying. The US-UK equivalent is usually minus four sizes in clothes - ie, a zero in the US is a size 4 in the UK. That's been my experience, but some websites say there are only two sizes in the difference. Good fashion brands should have an explanatory list of their measurements for you to check. Be warned, French labels trend to be cut on a very petite block, so if you are buying from labels you've only admired from afar until now, be mindful of this.
6. If you are buying for grandchildren you don't see all the time, check their sizes with their parents now and don't just guess on growth spurts based on how your kids were at that age because, remember, there's other genes at play and little Lisa could be a whole lot bigger than her mum was at that age.
7. Be sensible about the merchandise on offer and, remember, businesses will want to shift the low lying fruit so don't make a pilgrimage to a store expecting all the very latest styles will be discounted. The 20/30/40pc off won't automatically apply to everything.
8. If you are chasing down wardrobe heroes with longevity, buy block colours as opposed to trends. In other words, those big blousy florals which are so big on the fashion front this season may not carry over for many seasons to come.
9. My personal sales target are the luxe fabrics like cashmere that elude me at regular prices. If that predicted cold snap hits hard, you'll be congratulating yourself on your good fortune at picking up a luxe product that can be enjoyed all year round at a discounted price.
10. Black Friday marks the start of a slide towards reductions up until Christmas. Tomorrow will be a race among retailers to get your money ahead of anyone else, which is why they advertise eye-watering bargains.
11. The secret to being a winner on Black Friday is to stay focused and don't allow yourself to get carried away by others around you. Industry insiders call it 'goal contagion' and basically it happens when you go in to buy a case for your smartphone but then you see people with trolleys filled with widescreen TVs and heaps of clothes, and you get swept away by the frenzy.
12. Remember the date: it's November 24 and if you are banking on international websites to deliver clothes for the party season or presents in plenty of time for Santa, check their delivery times.
13. Personalisation on gifts to make products individual and unique is very much in vogue at the moment, but remember, this takes time too so factor that in on top of the usual delivery times.
14. If your plan is to hit the US websites after a day's work tomorrow, keep a steady hand on the mouse and a vigilant eye out for the hidden asterisks. I got caught with a resort fee after booking what seemed a great value hotel offer in New York, but it wasn't at all good value in the end. Note to self: read the small print and, if I'm being honest, don't buy expensive things on your phone where often you miss the catch.
15. Apart from getting a good night's sleep tonight, if you want to do serious shopping tomorrow, another key piece of advice is to stay hydrated - that will improve not just your staying power, but your alertness too.
16. If you are hitting the stores and those hot sales floors, my advice is dress in layers which you can peel off easily and you won't have to queue for changing rooms.
17. Charge up your phone if you are heading out. Remember to bring cash and don't presume their card machines, or indeed the ATMs, will be working like a dream.
18. Hotels and airlines are getting into the whole swing of Black Friday promotions because they want a slice of your money before it all evaporates. Do not suddenly on a whim decide to book for yourself and others without checking with them first. Changing dates and, indeed, passenger names will cost you so don't go on a solo run.
19. Some people are influenced by the numbers of shoppers viewing the same item online, but I would suggest you do your homework on the site of the brand you want to buy, not the e-tailer. That way you can drill down to lots of very practical details and specifications on, for example, a giant TV. The huge screen you've been lusting after for a while may look fabulous value now, but be realistic: do you actually have a wall that could take it? Buying for the lifestyle you aspire to is a little like buying clothes for the body you have yet to achieve.
20. The main consumer rights to remember when shopping online within the EU is the right to change your mind - otherwise known as the 14-day cooling off period.
On Thanksgiving Thursday, the best advice I can give is to be judicious about words like 'best buys.' Don't get blinded by the allure of 'steep discounting' and don't get click happy in the dark when only the light from your laptop is keeping you awake because, otherwise, you might just wake up on Saturday with a bad bout of bargain blues.