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How to conquer Black Friday from your couch
AP spotlight

How to conquer Black Friday from your couch

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’Twas days before Black Friday when all around the country, shoppers were gearing up for a day full of shopping.

OK, so maybe you haven’t exactly been gearing up for the day after Thanksgiving. Maybe you haven’t done any research at all.

No need to worry; we’ve broken down everything you need to do between now and Black Friday to snag the biggest savings — with the least amount of effort.

Here’s your last-minute Black Friday guide.

Search the web for sales

You’ve probably been getting emails about Black Friday sales since October. Believe it or not, those were the early sales. The actual Black Friday event will take place on Nov. 27, and, yes, more deals are coming.

Part of the reason for the longer holiday shopping season? Retailers are in “fierce competition” for sales given the pandemic’s rippling effects of consumer unemployment and lower disposable income, according to Simone Peinkofer, assistant professor of supply chain management at Michigan State University.

Most retailers have already announced their planned Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday discounts with shiny websites and flashy ads. Go directly to a store’s website or do an online search for the store’s name plus the words “Black Friday” to preview the deals. Some deal sites like NerdWallet sift through the ads and pull out the biggest discounts for you.

Scope out stores' websites in advance to learn what Black Friday offers are available this year.

Go online — or hold a spot in line

After you zero in on what you want, decide how you’ll get it. This year, there’s more than one way to shop on Black Friday: online, at the store or a hybrid of both.

Another one of the many retail effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is an increase in online shopping, as opposed to in-store purchases, as people avoid packed indoor spaces.

“There will hopefully be no crowds, no stampedes, and no long lines,” said Vicki Morwitz, the Bruce Greenwald Professor of Business at Columbia Business School, in an email.

Retailers are making it easy to avoid the traditional physical store experience. You can shop online for home delivery or curbside pickup. If you do choose to go to a store, Target will even let you save a spot in line.

Morwitz says stores will probably look different this year as they carry fewer product categories to free up space. The products that occupy the space are changing, too. For example, as business attire gives way to athleisure, retailers may shift space allocations to reflect the current demand.

Save a little extra

Perhaps most importantly, make it your goal to pay the least amount possible for your Black Friday purchases.

Discounts will likely be deep this year because, as Morwitz points out, retailers are counting on a successful holiday selling season, especially after many stores have suffered financially during the COVID-19 crisis. But that doesn’t mean you should pay the first price you see. Compare prices across stores.

Online discount strategies will be particularly useful this year for added savings. Search for coupons and use cash back, recommends Tiara Rea-Palmer, head of partnerships at CouponFollow, a coupon website.

Make a list of the things you know you absolutely want to buy. Then, you can even prepare to buy any items that you think will be in high demand or at risk of selling out.

“Because everyone’s shopping online, no one is going to be lining up in a store,” Rea-Palmer says. “The equivalent of that online is really to put these items in your shopping cart beforehand so that you’re ready to purchase them when they go on sale.”

Prep for a return trip

If you buy something you don’t like on Black Friday, you can usually return it. So just in case something goes wrong with your bargain purchases, figure out how you can return them to the store or by mail.

Walmart and Best Buy, among other stores, have extended their holiday return windows. Look at retailer websites before Black Friday to familiarize yourself with their policies.

As Morwitz points out, longer return periods and easier return methods that don’t require going into stores can help mitigate crowds after the holiday season. Consider making returns by mail when possible.

And after all of your planning and preparation, reap the rewards of Black Friday discounts.

“I think even this year, these retailers are going to go all out to try to get people to continue to shop in the same way that they did in years past,” Rea-Palmer says. “So the deals are going to be very competitive.”

RELATED: How to decide if Black Friday 2020 deals from your favorite stores and brands are worth it

How to decide if Black Friday 2020 deals from your favorite stores and brands are worth it

Here's a preview of some of this year's best Black Friday sales, as well as tips to figure out which deals fit in your budget.

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Ugg is kicking off holiday savings on Nov. 25 with its Cyber Week Closet sale. The retailer promises shoppers will see “bestselling seasonal styles with Classics, boots, shoes, slippers, robes, and UGG apparel at up to 60% off” on its website.

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Following record-breaking sales for the pandemic-rescheduled Prime Day and a "Holiday Dash" sale, Amazon has announced a weeklong Black Friday event, from Nov. 20 through Nov. 27. The retailer will drop new deals daily, with some of the discounts lasting only 24 hours.

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Retailers’ go-to move has been bundling older generation PlayStation consoles with games, store cash or gift cards during Black Friday sales. But this year, the new PlayStation 5 system — which launched Nov. 12 — gets all the attention.

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One new innovation Target is bringing to the pandemic shopping experience: reservations that allow you to skip long lines. You can go to Target.com/line to see if there is a line of shoppers standing outside your local store. If so, you can reserve a spot in line, and Target will text you when it's your turn to enter the store.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

Courtney Jespersen is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: courtney@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @CourtneyNerd.

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