If you've ever tried shopping on Black Friday, you know that everything about the experience suggests the activities of insane human beings.
You know what I mean: Setting your alarm clock -- on a day off of work! -- for the ungodly hours between when the bars close and the bagel shops open; waiting in long lines in the bleak, cold weather for the privilege of frittering away your hard-earned money; throwing items into your shopping cart so that you run up your bill in order to break the price barrier to get that free paper shredder that you don't even need; and, worst of all, dealing with swarming crowds, high tempers, rightfully exhausted employees and a casual disregard for your fellow man.
Why not stay home this year? There are plenty of ways to get your Black Friday shopping done from the comfort of your barcalounger or waterbed, if you know where to point your mouse. We've got a few tips below.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS
Almost every major online retailer is going to have a section on its website devoted to Black Friday -- and, soon after, Cyber Monday, the online shopping holiday on the Monday after Thanksgiving -- promoting special deals for those who choose not to brave the crowds at the local strip mall.
Amazon, for example, has already set up its Black Friday page with a "Black Friday Deals Week" section, offering discounts on items in the roll-up to the day after Thanksgiving. Best Buy, Target, Walmart, Apple and many others have also followed suit.
In general, you're going to want to keep your eye out for Black Friday/Cyber Monday pages on your favorite retailers' websites: For any brick-and-mortar you're thinking of visiting in person, pay a quick cyber-visit to its online storefront to check those deals before you warm up your car. Last year, many major retailers teased shoppers with free shipping and exclusive web deals (you can see our rundown here as a reference), and this year will likely see similar web bargains. Just type the name of your store plus "black Friday 2012" into Google, and the first result should be the page you are looking for.
To get the most out of Black Friday, you're going to want to know what's being offered, and where, before you start swiping your credit card. Our advice: Take the macro view and scan through a Black Friday deal aggregating website like BFAds.net, TheBlackFriday.com or SlickDeals. The sites house loads of information about the various sales both online and IRL at major retail stores around the country. PCMag's slideshow of the 10 Best Black Friday Sites from last year has many of the best aggregators available.
These sites may be ugly, but the centralized trove of information they contain can be valuable.
PAY SOMEONE TO SHOP FOR YOU
Here's a fantasy for you: What if you had a personal assistant who could do the line-waiting and manic cart-maneuvering for you, while you sit on your caboose and sip on a tropical beverage?
This is obviously the most expensive option, but a few websites make it easy for you to hire a one-day concierge.
TaskRabbit, for example, lets anyone post a description of a short chore in need of completion, and the amount of money available for someone who does it. It's currently available in nine major cities, and you better believe there will be Rabbits willing to hop over to the electronics store for you for a few extra bucks.
You might also check out Zaarly, TaskRabbit's major competitor, where you can post requests to any city or town in the U.S. Agent Anything (N.Y./N.J. only) is another option: The new site follows the same format as TaskRabbit & Zaarly, but its helpers consist only of college students looking to make some extra cash.
And, of course, there's always the redoubtable Craigslist, where you can post pretty much any gig (seriously -- any gig at all) and find someone in your city willing to do it for you.
CELEBRATE 'BUY NOTHING DAY' INSTEAD
The hackers at Anonymous and advocacy group Adbusters are again sponsoring the growing anti-holiday called "Buy Nothing Day," when you buy nothing on Black Friday in protest of America's consumerist culture. Traditional "Buy Nothing Day" activities include the Credit Card Cut-Up, dramatically slicing up your card at a shopping mall; the Zombie Walk, dressing up like a zombie and lumbering around your local shopping complex; and the "Whirl-Mart," forming a conga line with your friends and some shopping carts and pushing the carts around your local Walmart for hours, never buying anything or placing anything in the carts.
To each his own!
If you have a strategy for avoiding lines on Black Friday (besides, you know, not shopping), help out a fellow shopper and share your secret in the comments section.