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How to Shop on Black Friday Like a True Pro

Robert, 31, learned his Black Friday tricks as a former retail worker.

An illustration of a piggy bank with a coin going in

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Welcome to Racked’s How Do You Shop? series, in which we ask a variety of people some deeply personal questions about how they earn, save, and especially spend their money. If you know or are someone with an interesting relationship to $$$, email alanna@racked.com.

Robert, 31, miraculously recovered from multiple retail gigs not hating Black Friday. In fact, now that he works for an Atlanta-based digital agency, he finishes every Thanksgiving feast by gearing up for a shopping marathon with his shopping partner, Austin. And boy, do they clean up.


What is your annual salary, on average?

$50,000.

And how much do you currently spend on renting?

My share is about $600.

How much would you say you spend on clothing per month?

Give or take, $100 to $150.

Tell me a little bit about your entry into this world of Black Friday shopping. When did you start, and what was that like?

I worked in retail from the end of high school until about 22 or 23, when I decided to enter a college, because I didn’t go immediately after high school. I just worked retail full-time thinking I was gonna turn that into a career. So I would call that my entree into the Black Friday shopping deal, because I was in it firsthand. I saw what was taking place even though it was kind of a hellscape most of the time; I saw how people were getting deals and what they were doing and so on and so forth. So after I left retail, I just kind of kept that going.

I worked Black Friday every single year for about six years. I worked at Express, Bloomingdale’s, Lucky Brand, a shoe store called Aldo, Ikea, American Eagle.

I can't imagine Ikea on Black Friday. What was that like?

It was a circus. An absolute circus. For no reason, ‘cause we didn't really have that many deals, but it was also the first year that Ikea was open in Atlanta, so I think it was that a lot of people were just like, “Oh, Ikea’s there anyway. Let’s get stuff.”

That makes sense. Tell me about how you prepare in advance of Black Friday.

There are two ways we go about it. The first way is more improvisational, and it’s more so of a, “Oh, I need pants. I need shoes. I need X, Y, Z item,” and then we just agree to go to the outlets about an hour from here — North Georgia Premium Outlets — and just go around the stores in there. Sometimes we’ll even split up and hold a spot in line at one store while someone else goes to another store that we like and do that kind of thing.

As far as super pre-planning goes, I actually have another friend who I do Thanksgiving with every year, and that friend’s mother is big on the big-box retailers — Target, Kohl’s, and all of that — so she’ll keep the catalogs and the clippings and the coupons and all of that. She maps it out on her own, and I’ll just look at her map to see if there’s anything I want from those stores. From there, we get together like, “Oh, maybe I should go here and do this before this time, X, Y, Z.”

How do you prioritize, say, clothing versus other types of items? And I know you say you start at outlets, but when does that all begin?

What’s been happening much more recently is that a lot of these stores will offer discounts on top of discounts based on what time you come in and shop. So we typically go Thanksgiving night at around 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. Usually that early, you’ll get the doorbuster deals, be it, like, a gift with purchase or an extra 20 percent off a specific item. Then from there, we see which of the stores has the better deal for the things that we want.

Like, if I need pants more than I need shoes and they’re only offering it with percent-discount between the hours of 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., then we’ll prioritize that as opposed to the shoes. And then when it comes to things like Target or Kohl’s, if there’s a gift with purchase or something in the store, we go there, too. But that’s not really super high on our list, ‘cause we’re not always shopping for, like, electronics and home goods and things like that — it’s mostly clothing.

Whats the average amount of money that you save each year by this shopping tactic?

I’ve never really sat down and done the math on it, but I would say about $150, $200. Maybe a little more than that.

And about how much time do you spend actually shopping?

Six or seven hours, maybe a little more than that. I know about two years ago, it was bordering on 12 hours ‘cause we went to so many places.

What are some of the best deals that youve scored?

I went to Kohl’s one year. I think this was the first Black Friday in which I had my first big boy job, whatever you want to call it. So they had dress boots on sale that were typically, like, $90 and they were down to, like, $25, so I got two pairs of those at $50 combined.

Tell me about some of the more extreme fellow shoppers that youve seen.

Ooh. When I was working at Ikea, there was a lady there who was there for a full 10 hours. I remember we both walked in at the beginning of my shift, and she walked out for the day at the end of my shift.

I do remember that lady very fondly, and I thought that was absolutely insane. As far as other shoppers I’ve seen, I've seen grander tactics that we’ve used — like having one person wait in one line. Groups of five or six people literally discuss in a circle waiting in line at five or six different stores so everyone can tag in and out and do this, that, and the other.

What is some of the classic amateur hour behavior that you see?

Trying clothes on is an amateur thing if you’re shopping for clothing. There’s no need to go to the dressing room. You need to buy in such a way that you can return easily, so you just get what you need to get while the deal is active and while things are still in stock and then stand in line.

I also think an amateur thing that a lot of people do is unnecessarily open up store credit cards despite the extra discount that they give — the interest rate is so high on those things that you’re actually paying more money than you should for the items. You’re not only negating your discount, but you’re paying much more on top of that.

What are some of the other tips that you would offer a first-timer?

Don’t get overwhelmed by the people. Know your limits. If you are very impatient when it comes to this kind of thing, it might not be for you. Know if you go to certain stores how things fit on you. If you’re — I’m just gonna speak from personal experience — if you’re a 36 waist with X company but you’re a 38 waist with Y company, know that stuff going in.

Make a list, if need be. All of our lists are mental, ‘cause we’re shopping for ourselves, basically, and we buy much more on emotion than actual need. Like, we will need pants or shoes or something of the sort, but if we see like a shirt that’s a really, really good deal, or a sweater that’s a really, really good deal, we pull the trigger on that.

Definitely. And what do other people not understand about Black Friday shopping? It’s a fun event in itself, if you pace yourself and know how the retail war works. And also, good behavior in stores and not feeling entitled to things nets you so many rewards that it’s really beneficial to be nice. I’ve gotten coupons on top of coupons because I was one of eight people who didn’t yell at a cash register person. So empathizing with other employees, despite whatever frustrations you may have, because it’s largely out of their control, usually nets a really good response.