The biggest shopping weekend of the year is on our doorstep: yes, Black Friday is almost here.
The US craze, which takes place the Friday after Thanksgiving, has been lovingly adopted by us Brits who see it as a golden opportunity to start ticking off our Christmas shopping lists or splash out on that high spend we’ve been waiting all year to go on sale.
Needless to say, we won’t see a mad scrum at the shops this year, no bemusing pictures of people fighting over TV sets or abandoning their vehicles for the sake of a reduced sofa. If the pandemic hasn’t made most people crowd-averse, Lockdown 2.0 has forbidden us from visiting all but essential stores, sealing the fate of IRL Black Friday shopping.
We would wager a drop in footfall had this been a normal year too, though. Savvy customers are waking up to the convenience and ease of shopping online, made even more seductive by fuss-free returns.
Online, there are no crowds or tussles for the last one on the shelf, no parents using prams as battering rams, no queuing for hours at a till which will inevitably lead to a short, but all-consuming, existential crisis.
Just feet propped up in front of the telly, laptop, tablet or phone on the go, and a nice cup of tea by your side. Civilised.
Online shopping isn’t without its pitfalls, mind you. Locked down customers and retailers competing for our attention - and cash - have created the perfect storm. 2020’s event is set to be the biggest for online shopping on record so we can expect crashed sites and sold-out stock.
According to Finder.com, £5.55bn was spent by the UK’s bargain hunters on Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2019, a number predicted to surge this year to £5.98bn. The success and subsequent sell out of the new PS5 has reminded us that there are some crucial rules to play by at a time like this.
So, we’ve put together a crack list of tips from experts to help you bring your A-game and win the Black Friday sales.
Black Friday shopping tips
Make a Black Friday shopping list
Just as you should never attempt grocery shopping on an empty stomach, heading onto the Black Friday battlefield without a plan - or list - is reckless. AO.com’s appliance expert Lauren Clark suggests making a wish list and keeping an eye on prices until they reach what you feel is the best discount. “Making a list also ensures that you don’t stray and get sucked in by any extras, keeping you on track with your budget,” she says.
It’s also worth filling your online basket with goods you intend to buy on Black Friday and then leaving them until the big moment comes.
In a tip sure to delight the uber-organised, Money.co.uk suggested categorising your list even further with sections for:
Who you’re buying for
How much you are willing to spend on each item
What gifts you need to buy
Is there anything you need for yourself?
Which items are must-buys and which can wait until later
Google spreadsheets, your moment in the sun has come.
Research products and their price history
Deborah Shanahan, deals and features editor at MoneySavingExpert.com says: “Make a list of the items you’d like to buy, and set price alerts. One option is PriceSpy, which tracks different websites, any price history and notifications when the price drops. Price compare those items online well in advance, so when it comes to Black Friday, you’ll know what is a good price or whether that deal you see on the day is a dud.”
If you’re planning to shop at Amazon, Shanahan suggests using Amazon price monitoring website CamelCamelCamel first: “It tracks prices throughout the year, so you’ll be able to gauge whether its Black Friday offering stacks up.”
Sign up to save
Lots of retailers and brands use platforms like Instagram to let loyal customers know about early-sales and offers. Clark encourages following your favourite stores and brands on social media to stay ahead of the shopping curve.
Signing up to your favourite shop’s newsletter is a great idea too - not only do they often offer extra discounts, but you’ll be first in line to hear about deals and flash sales as well. If you’re worried about clogging up your inbox, set up a new email address specifically for online shopping - it takes two minutes and that way all your Black Friday emails are in one spot, out of the way.
If the object of your attention has reached a price so stupendously low that it may as well be free, check against other stockists just to see it isn’t even cheaper elsewhere or offered with attractive extras. It’s a handy step for heavy items where delivery charges - or lack of - and loyalty points could swing where you end up shopping.
Shanahan adds: “If various retailers are offering the item you want at the same price, factor in extra delivery costs and warranty. John Lewis will often price match, but it also throws in a two-year warranty on small electricals, which could be the clincher.”
Timing is vital
While there won’t be any physical jostling when you’re shopping online come Black Friday, you could find yourself in the digital version of a moshpit.
According to Barclays, Black Friday 2019 was bigger than ever; they processed a record 1,184 transactions per second between 1 - 2pm.
Get around site crashes, queue countdowns or long load times by shopping tactically. Money.co.uk says: “the early bird catches the worm... But it's not uncommon for websites to crash as a result of the huge influx of traffic on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. So it might be a good idea to wake up early during the quieter buying period to do your shopping.”
This may feel a step too far if you’re only opportunistically looking for fashion or beauty deals, but if you’re hoping to buy big items like a new bed frame or washing machine, it will pay to be there early doors.
Stay safe online
You wouldn’t walk down the street waving wads of cash around or buy from a shifty-looking shop, so it would be foolish to do the virtual equivalent. You don’t need to work in cyber security to spot if something is off when shopping with a website.
Look for a padlock symbol in the address bar to show the site is secure - if the whole address bar goes green, that’s a thumbs up too. Check spelling errors to catch out phony sites and watch out for deals on top luxury brands at inconceivably low prices; if it sounds too good to be true, it may very well be.
Buying with PayPal is great, because it keeps your bank details hidden. Plastic is also fantastic, especially credit cards which offer you more protection.
Money.co.uk says: “If you spent more than £100 on your credit card, whether online or in-store, you’re automatically protected under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. This means you can speak to your credit card company about getting a refund if you run into a problem with your purchase that has not been dealt with well by the retailer.”
Finally, CEO of online security experts, RapidSpike.com, Gav Winter suggests a number of easy measures to stay safe as the sales kick off:
Updating your computer and software so your device’s security is at its strongest
Changing your email’s password. “Once a hacker has access to your email account, they can impersonate you across hundreds of websites very quickly. Change your password to a random phrase, the longer the better.”
Don’t take phishing bait: “These emails increase rapidly amongst times like Black Friday to catch you out, so be extra cautious and type out the website address instead of clicking through the email.”
Make sure you have a secure Wi-Fi connection rather than a public network: “Don’t do your Black Friday shopping on the bus if you can help it.”
Good luck, and happy shopping!