Countdown to Black Friday! Insider shopping tips from CNBC retail expert Courtney Reagan

2019 will have the fewest shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas ever. Here’s how you can make the most of them.
Courtney Reagan, retail reporter for CNBC
Courtney Reagan, retail reporter for CNBCCNBC

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By Laura Haverty

In the 1980s and 1990s, the Reagan family would gather around the post-Thanksgiving table to preview newspaper circulars for “Black Friday” deals. Ideas would be exchanged. Lists would be made. Plans would be set.

The following day, they’d leave their Dayton, Ohio home and be out the door by 5 a.m. Their shopping was often complete in just hours. “The rest of the day we’d walk through the stores just visiting, browsing, and self-gifting,” Courtney Reagan, on-air retail reporter for CNBC, told Know Your Value.

For Reagan, those leisurely memories are far from how she’ll spend Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday 2019. Expect to see her on-air coverage over five days as an estimated 165.3 million people in the U.S. shop for holiday bargains.

Join the crowd

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), which forecasts and tracks retail sale volumes, an estimated 39.6 million consumers will be shopping on Thanksgiving Day, 114.6 million on Black Friday, 66.6 million on Small Business Saturday, and 33.3 million on Sunday. The shopping weekend will wrap up on Cyber Monday, when 68.7 million are expected to take advantage of online bargains.

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For retailers, that’s all good news. NRF’s annual forecast estimates that holiday retail sales in November and December will be up between 3.8 percent and 4.2 percent over 2018 for a total of between $727.9 billion and $730.7 billion.

Smart Shopping

Whether you’re planning to shop at local stores, online, or a bit of both, Reagan offers these tips for making the most of your time.

1. Start Early. Because Thanksgiving fell so late on the calendar this year, there are actually six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas than there were in 2018. “So you need to get started now, especially if you want to buy, wrap, and ship gifts yourself,” said Reagan. “Also, this means shipping may be particularly overloaded this year. If buying online, budget in at least 2-3 extra days for items to arrive.”

2. Make a List. Just like Santa, make a list with ideas of items you want to buy for each recipient. Knowing what you need — sporting goods or cookware — for example, will help you plan where to shop. “Growing up, my younger brother often wanted the hot new Nintendo games, which narrowed our shopping trips to just a few stores,” Reagan said.

3. Do Your Homework. The Internet makes it really easy to find the prices and plan out your shopping trip but pay attention to the fine print. Since you’ve made your list, you will be able to focus in on specific products of interest, cross-comparing prices between stores looking at pick-up in store options versus shipping—which can really save you time (and keep you from making impulse buys and self-gifting.) “Some retailers will offer the same deals online and in stores, but only during certain hours. And, in some cases, the online deals may start earlier,” said Reagan. “Also, if you have a favorite browser plug-in for coupon clipping, I would recommend running it to see if potential savings could exist.”

4. Read Third-Party Policies. Online marketplaces like Amazon.com or Walmart.com host items from third-party retailers identified with “Sold by…” verbiage. “If you’re ordering from a third-party be sure to read their delivery and return policies,” Reagan cautioned. “Some may honor the retailer’s policies, while others may not.”

5. Safeguard Your Private Data. Large retailers may offer an open Wi-Fi connection (no password required) so shoppers can compare deals and order sold-out items with their app. Security experts warn consumers to be cautious when sending sensitive data, like credit card numbers, over open networks. “Always side with caution. If it says it is not a verified connection, it’s probably not worth the potential risks,” advised Reagan.

6. Know Who You’re Dealing With. If you’ve clicked through on Facebook or Instagram to an unfamiliar seller, be sure to research the company’s shipping and return policies. Reagan learned that lesson firsthand when she ordered socks one November that didn’t arrive until January. “I went back to the website and realized it was an overseas brand I was unfamiliar with, with no real customer service or way to communicate shipping issues,” she said.

7. Don’t Wait for Deeper Discounts. Shoppers who have made a habit of waiting for “last minute” deals may be disappointed this year. “Retailers often have a plan for when, and under what circumstances, to offer those deep discounts,” Reagan said. “If sales are strong, you’re taking a gamble by waiting, especially this year.”