By Jennifer Calonia, Editorial Manager
Retailers are stocking the aisles for Black Friday, the biggest -- and likely most profitable -- shopping event of the year. But retailers aren't the only ones ramping up for this seasonal shopping frenzy; millions of Americans have already committed to pillaging Black Friday sales this Thanksgiving weekend, in lieu of the obligatory turkey dinner with all the fixings. According to the National Retail Federation, holiday spending is expected to reach $616.19 billion this year, an increase of 4.1 percent compared to 2013.
For those who want to join the 45 million shoppers that turned up last Black Friday, doing reconnaissance is essential to avoiding the crowds, finding the best deals and actually saving money. GOBankingRates investigated everything you need to know about Black Friday store hours, deals and shopping tactics so you'll be equipped for your holiday shopping mission.
1. Stores Open on Thanksgiving and Black Friday
Last year, some Americans refused to compromise quality, post-Thanksgiving dinner family time to stand in line for steep discounts on Thursday. But the pre-Black Friday turnout was certainly big enough, considering some of the nation's largest retailers are opening even earlier this year to catch the early bird crowds.
"Shoppers can expect to see stores opening their doors earlier this year," said Edward Stepanyants, research analyst at GOBankingRates. "6 p.m. is the new 8 p.m."
Here is our running list of stores open on Thanksgiving this year:
|Store||Open on Thanksgiving|
|Big Lots||7 a.m.|
|Dollar General||7 a.m.|
|RadioShack||8 a.m. (closed 12 to 5 p.m.)|
|Rite Aid||8 a.m.|
|Bealls Florida||5 p.m.|
|Best Buy||5 p.m.|
|Stage Stores||5 p.m.|
|Stein Mart||5 p.m.|
|Toys'R'Us and Babies'R'Us||5 p.m.|
|Office Depot and Office Max||6 p.m.|
|Sports Authority||6 p.m.|
*Walmart Super Centers are open 24-hours on Thanksgiving, standard Walmart Black Friday deals are available at 6 p.m.
Some prominent retailers have chosen to honor their staff with a day off on Thanksgiving day. Stores closed on Thanksgiving include: Costco, Nordstrom, BJ's Wholesale Club, Burlington Coat Factory, REI, Jo-Ann Fabrics, T.J.Maxx, Marshalls, Barnes & Noble, Patagonia, GameStop, HomeGoods, DSW, Dillard's, Lowe's, The Home Depot, Hobby Lobby, Sur La Table, Talbots, Sierra Trading Post, PetSmart, Petco, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Sam's Club.But avid discount shoppers need not fret -- we've confirmed that the following stores will be open on Black Friday, Nov. 28, along with their competitors that are opening a day earlier on Thanksgiving:
|Store||Open on Black Friday|
|Pier 1 Imports||12 a.m.|
|A.C. Moore||5 a.m.|
|Barnes & Noble||6 a.m.-8 a.m.|
|Sportsman's Warehouse||6 a.m.|
|Harbor Freight Tools||7 a.m.|
|Pep Boys||7 a.m.|
|Sam's Club||7 a.m.|
|Apple||8 a.m.-9 a.m.|
As a reminder, here are last year's Black Friday store hours for several retailers, which could closely reflect this year's open times:
|Store||Open on Thanksgiving||Open on Black Friday|
|Gap||9 a.m. (closed 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.)||12 a.m.|
|Old Navy||9 a.m. (closed 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.)||12 a.m.|
|Simon Malls||6 p.m.||12 a.m.|
|Dick's Sporting Goods||8 p.m.||12 a.m.|
|Bed, Bath & Beyond||Closed||6 a.m.|
|Burlington Coat Factory||Closed||6 a.m.|
|Jo-Ann Fabrics||Closed||6 a.m.|
|P.C. Richard & Son||Closed||6 a.m.|
|BJ's Wholesale Club||Closed||7 a.m.|
2. Hottest Doorbusters and Deals for Black Friday 2014
With each passing year, Black Friday ads have "leaked' as early as three weeks before the event, with major retailers offering sneak peeks of their hottest doorbusters. For example, Target released a limited-time preview of upcoming Black Friday dealsfor its Manhattan Beach, Calif., store location, showcasing price drops on popular items like Beats by Dre Solo HD headphones, priced at just $97 (reg. $169.99) for a total $73 off. Through the preview, shoppers were able to order Black Friday deals on Nov. 10, to pick up in stores on Black Friday weekend.
Big box stores continue to tout HGTVs as a selling point, with Target advertising deals for low-end brands like a 40" Element 1080p LCD HDTV for $119 (reg. $349.99), as well as well-known brands like Samsung, with savings of over $300 for larger 60" displays.
Apple's iPad Air 2 will also be a hot-ticket item this holiday shopping season, and stores like Target know it. Instead of direct discounts applied to the purchase price of an iPad, shoppers looking to score a discount can expect to see deals in the form of a store gift card or cash coupon. Target, for instance, is offering a Target gift card worth up to $140 for every iPad Air 2 sold at regular price, and is also taking 10 percent off all Target gift card purchases up to $300 over Black Friday weekend -- the first time the retailer has ever offered discounts on gift cards.
Here are just a few other major Black Friday sales you might want on your hit list:
- JCPenney: Coupon giveaways at door, up to $100 off, and $20 bonus cash for every $75 spent from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Black Friday. Up to 70 percent off home goods, apparel, jewelry, toys and more.
- Best Buy: Discounts of $100 off all new iPad Air 2's, $75 off iPad Mini 3's, up to $200 off MacBook Pros and iMacs, and $100 off iPhone 6 with trade in and two-year contract.
- Kohl's: $15 for every $50 spent, $99.99 for 32" Direct LED TV, 50 percent off toys.
- Sears: Shop Your Way members receive rewards deals, like 10 percent cash back on purchases, as well as early access to Black Friday doorbusters. Look for a 40" LED 1080p TV for $249.99, plus $50 back for members.
- Kmart: 39" Westinghouse LED 1080p TV for $229.99. Look for two sets of doorbuster deals -- first at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving and again at 7 p.m. on the same day. Kmart also offers Shop Your Way members cash back in points up to 100 percent of purchase price.
- Staples: Offering similar deals to competitors, such as an Asus Intel-powered laptop for $99.99.
- Pier 1 Imports: Holiday supplies up to 30 percent off.
- Pep Boys: The automotive supply and service shop is offering a "buy three tires, get one free" deal.
- Ace Hardware: 50 percent off any regular priced item under $30, as well as savings on tools and Christmas lights.
- Harbor Freight Tools: Save up to 80 percent on tools and hardware.
- Walgreens: 50 percent off select children's toys, and 50 to 60 percent off makeup kits.
For more doorbusters, see: Target, Best Buy and More: 6 Leaked Black Friday Ads You Can't Miss
3. What Not to Buy on Black Friday
Most Black Friday deals will focus on technology and gadgets, and you're likely to see discounts applied to items like HGTVs, tablets, smartphones, laptops and kitchen appliances, according to DealNews. But certain shopping categories are better delayed to Cyber Monday, including clothing and apparel, footwear, beauty products, and toys. As a rule of thumb, here's what to avoid on Black Friday:
- Anything with less than a 50 percent discount will probably not be worth your time.
- Toys will see their best deals and lowest prices closer to the holidays, so hold off until a few weeks before Christmas. You can still find some good deals on toys though, and the same often goes for exercise equipment.
- Like toys, TVs often have the best deals closer to the holidays, as retailers look to clear out their stock. Brand-name TVs are definitely a no-go, as the best deals and discounts are always on lower-tier TV manufacturers (like Westinghouse and Vizio). Same goes for high-end laptops and electronics, which see better prices closer to Christmas.
- There are a number of items that should always be bought in "off seasons" when demand is lower, including jewelry and home and patio ware.
- Airfare and vacations don't have an uptick in deals; there isn't really a best time to purchase airfare, as it's fairly consistent throughout the year.
- Winter gear and decorations are always best to buy after Christmas.
- All in all, for many products, there will be better deals at the end of the holiday season.
4. Tips for Black Friday Shopping
Black Friday isn't for the faint of heart, but it's a shopping event that you can't help but try once. Be forewarned: If you go into an event of this magnitude hoping to casually scope deals as you browse the aisles, you'll likely end up frustrated and empty-handed. Despite the frenzy broadcast on TV, saving money on Black Friday can and should be an in-and-out operation, as long as you stick to these savvy shopping tips.
- Shop with intent: Compile a spreadsheet of who you're purchasing gifts for, including size and product model preferences. Some seasoned Black Friday shoppers even go so far as to include a column to note which store to get individual items and their store hours, as well as driving directions to each location. At the very least, you should know exactly what you're buying and the discount or promotion that should be reflected at checkout.
- Sign up for loyalty rewards programs: Major retail stores often have a loyalty rewards program that earns you points or instant cash back on all purchases, including those on Black Friday. One retail card that is particularly helpful is Target's self-branded debit card, which provides an instant 5 percent cash back on purchases.
- Comparison shop in store: While you should have your eyes specifically on list items, you might encounter a few deals inside the store that you hadn't seen on Black Friday ads. Before adding it to your card, use your smartphone to do on-the-spot price comparisons. Stores bank on shoppers getting carried away with bulk discount bins and huge neon signs advertising a deal, but you shouldn't take their word for it.
- Tag team with a friend: If you have a few of the year's hot items on your wish list, your trip might be more successful with the help of a friend or family member. The extra set of eyes and hands can prove to be useful when sweeping the aisles for go-to deals. Leave children with a babysitter at home, when possible.
- Leave your debit card at home: Instead of using a debit card, which is linked directly to your bank account funds, consider using a rewards credit card for Black Friday buys. Not only will you add an extra layer of protection to guard your money, but you'll also likely save more money by using a rewards card that offers cash back or redeemable points for a purchase down the line. If you're concerned about over-spending, stick to cash.
- Shop online: Jeanette Pavini, Coupons.com savings expert, said,"Some stores will even let you make your purchases online and choose the in-store pickup location. That way you can take advantage of the convenience of online shopping but in some cases pick up your items within an hour!"
- Look out for price drops: You might think your work is done as soon as you're past the checkout counter -- it's not. If you use a credit card to pay for your Black Friday purchase and find that the price dropped soon after, your credit card issuer might honor a price drop refund. For example, Discover customers benefit from up to a $500 per-claim refund maximum on qualified purchases within 90 days. Keeping your eyes open for price reductions in the months after Black Friday can mean hundreds of dollars saved. Hold onto your purchase receipt, credit card statement with the transaction and the dated advertisement with the lower price (at times a signed letter from the store manager will suffice).
5. Little-Known Black Friday Statistics
- Seven deaths and 90 injuries have been attributed to Black Friday since 2006.
- Popular opinion is that Black Friday got its name from when bookkeepers did everything by hand, and on that day, a move from red to black ink (red=loss, black=profit) was a good thing for retailers.
- Another, more popular theory: The term "Black Friday" was actually coined by the Philadelphia Police Department, thanks to overcrowded streets, sidewalks and stores, and the extra problems that came with the day.
- In 2013, 58.7 percent of Americans said they would shop Black Friday weekend, or 141 million adults, according to the NRF.
- The same study found 31.8 percent of Americans planned to shop on Thanksgiving Day.
- The average amount spent per shopper on Black Friday weekend 2013 was $407.02 -- and the total was $57.3 billion.
- Clothing and clothing accessories are the most-bought items during Black Friday, with 57.5 percent of adults listing it on their shopping list, followed by electronics at 37.7 percent, books/CDs/DVDs/videos/videogames at 36.1 percent, and toys at 34.5 percent.
GOBankingRates will continue updating store hours, doorbusters and deals leading up to Black Friday. Make sure to check back daily to learn where you can find this year's biggest Black Friday savings.
Because of regionally targeted Black Friday advertisements, the hours listed above could vary from store to store. It's always prudent to check in with your local retailer before making your consumerist pilgrimage.
Edward Stepanyants contributed to this report.
Photo credit: Powhusku