Don’t Worry If You Missed Out on Black Friday

While Black Friday is the traditional opening day to holiday shopping, this year retailers may have held back from unleashing their best bargains and deals.  So if you were recovering from food coma on Friday, there is still plenty of holiday sales and promotions to look forward to in the next few weeks.  Below are a few tips to help you make it through to 2010:

  • Don’t wait until the last minute – Retailers will be stocking less inventory this year, so if you wait too long, the only thing you’ll see are “Out of Stock” signs.
  • Don’t wait for the lowest price, but for the lowest price you are willing to pay – Sometimes these two may be the same, but often times they are not.  Whether a transaction is a bargain can be subjective.  And the lowest price always comes at a cost.  For example, you might get your netbook for only $200, but it might have a different color or slightly less memory.  Nothing is too trivial to make or break a deal.  You’re the one doling out the dough, so as long as you are willing, go for it.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask a retailer to match a competitor’s lower price for the same product – Apparently, Wal-Mart and Target are happy to do so.  Competition are fierce this year, so I would not be surprised if it also works for places such as Best Buy and Staples.
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This Black Friday, Get the Deals Before Hitting the Stores

As you sketch out your plan for Black Friday shopping this week, you may want to check the retailers’ ads to make sure that you visit the stores with the best deal for what you want to buy.  Even if you are shopping online, knowing what deals will be available may help you save time – an important factor if there are limits on the number of items available on sale or if the internet connection is slow because of traffic.

Many retailers, including Best Buy and Ikea (the latter is even offering a free breakfast coupon valid this Friday-Sunday), have already put out their Black Friday fliers.  But if you want to compare promotions or a sneak peak on fliers that have not been officially released yet, Dealnews has been tracking retailers for Black Friday fliers and posting them as they “leak”.  Visit dealnews this week to see compare Black Friday offers and optimize your shopping plan of attack.

Best Buy Makes Changes to Its Loyalty Program, and You May be Out

In July, we wrote about Best Buy’s Reward Zone loyalty program, showing how it fit into our strategies for double/triple dipping on points and bonuses when shopping.  As of the end of this week, however, the Reward Zone program may no longer be that great of a deal.

On October 31, 2009, Reward Zone rules will change so that any points accumulated through the program will expire at the end of the calendar year and members have to make a purchase every 12 months to maintain their account.  So, while it will still be the case that Reward Zone members receive one point for every dollar spent at Best Buy, and every 250 points can be exchanged for $5 in store credit (effectively a 2% discount), this program will no longer be attractive to those who visit Best Buy only sporadically and don’t make big-ticket purchases.  Of course, Reward Zone is a loyalty program and should focus on its larger, most frequent customers.  Nonetheless, even those customers will likely lose out, since, after the changes, any points over a multiple of 250 will be lost at the end of the year.  That is, if a loyal customer spent $900 at Best Buy one year, for example, she will receive $15 in store credit and the remaining 150 points will be forfeited.

Only the most loyal customers are protected from that.  You can qualify as a Premier Silver member by spending $2,500 within a calendar year at Best Buy, and your membership is carried over through the following year.  Premier Silver members earn an extra quarter-point on every purchase, and their points roll over each calendar year they remain qualified.

Reward Zone is also still a good deal for gamers.  If you enroll your Reward Zone card into the “Gamers Club,” you will get 500 bonus points for every $150 you spend on videogames, computer games, and videogame accessories at Best Buy, on top of the regular points you earn.  If you spend $300 on eligible purchases, for instance, you will receive 300 regular points plus 1000 bonus points, or $5 (with 50 points remaining) plus $20 – essentially an 8% discount.

With these upcoming changes, it is likely that Reward Zone will loose its attractiveness to most people, making it similar to the Borders Rewards, where the principal membership perks are the coupons received rather than the points system.  But unlike Borders, which sends new coupons by email on an almost weekly basis, Best Buy’s Reward Zone coupons only come every few months, and are usually a 10% discount on one item from a very restricted list.

My advice for Best Buy’s less-loyal shoppers: Create or keep your Reward Zone membership just in case you make $250 or more in purchases within a calendar year or you receive a useful coupon; but if you don’t, don’t be disappointed.  Reward Zone is clearly being redesigned for Best Buy’s most loyal customers and gamers.

A Note of Encouragement

I am a firm believer in loyalty programs, but I know that with some of them it almost feels pointless to give your number/card since it looks like it could take years to reach a reward level.  But these past two weeks were great for me on that front, and I want to offer you a note of encouragement.

Two weekends ago, I received $2.50 Extra Bucks back (a free ½ gallon of milk or cereal?) from CVS for purchases I made during the spring.  A few days later, I redeemed $20 in cash back I had accumulated on Discover for a $25 gift card on Banana Republic, which I used over the weekend to get a top for free!  I use my Discover card mostly for purchases that give me a 5% cash back bonus, which means it takes me a little longer to accumulate cash back than if I used it as my primary card, but I still usually accumulate $20 every 3 or 4 months.

A $5 certificate on Best Buy also came through my Inbox last week.  Their Reward Zone program gives $5 for every $250 spent, and the netbook I bought for my mom last month was $250 and some change.  In the mail, I also got a $10 certificate from DSW just to welcome me to their rewards program (I have only ever made one purchase there before) – and there, $10 goes quite a long way.  And, a year since we first started using OpenTable, we finally reached the points for a $20 gift certificate, which can be redeemed at any member restaurant.  Admittedly, $20 is not much compared to how much we spent dining out over this past year, but being rewarded for using a service that makes life more convenient (no calling restaurants for reservations) is always great.

And in terms of future rewards, thanks in part to my AAdvantage/Citibank credit card, I recently reached enough miles on American Airlines for a free flight to Europe.  While I haven’t booked my ticket yet, I am planning on going to England in a month, and if my recent experiences with reward programs are any indication, I expect redeeming my miles for a flight will be a breeze, too.

Some rewards programs are obviously more generous than others, and I think that the instances in which it may make sense to spend money just to get a reward are few and far apart.  Nonetheless, if you diligently use your loyalty number/card whenever you do make a purchase, there just might be a reward coming your way sooner or later.

The Art of Double and Triple Dipping

Most stores do not allow the use of multiple coupons for the same item (an exception is Harris Teeter – I have never shopped there, but apparently the grocery chain allows up to 20 double coupons, and, on some days, triple coupons), but there are other ways to get more than just the coupon discount.  If you have a credit card that gives you cash back, for example, you can easily double dip by using a coupon and getting some cash back by charging on your card.  Or even better, you can redeem your accumulated cash back for a gift card (a better rate for cash) and use a coupon when paying with that gift card – gift cards are not coupons and are thus perfectly compatible with them.

Triple dipping might require a little more effort, but is certainly worth the benefits.  Here are two examples of how I’ve gotten three times the bang for my buck:

Coupon + Cash Back + Miles: I subscribe to J.Crew emails, and a while back I got a coupon code for 20% off one item (Incidentally, there’s a sale going on at jcrew.com right now, and the coupon code EXTRA20 will give you an extra 20% off sale items until this Saturday, July 10th), which I chose to use on an item that I had been meaning to buy.  I made sure to use my Discover card on that purchase, since it was giving me a 5% cash back bonus for purchases at clothing stores during that quarter.  Finally, I also checked my frequent flier options.  Instead of visiting  jcrew.com directly, I accessed it and placed my order through the AAdvantage eShopping program, which gave me 3 American Airlines miles per dollar I spent on that purchase (minus taxes)!

The triple dipping results: An item on sale for $100, bought for $80, giving me another $4 in cash back and 240 miles.

Store Card + Miles + Upromise cash: Two weeks ago I bought a $260 netbook for my mother at Best Buy.  I already had the Best Buy Reward Zone card, which gives $5 in store credit for every $250 spent (a 2% rate), but I made my purchase through Upromise rather than by going directly to bestbuy.com, earning another 2% plus a $10 incentive (Upromise sends emails with extra offers if you don’t use it for a while).  And of course, I used my Citi/American Airlines card so I would get miles as well (a better deal than Discover when outside the bonus period).

The triple dipping results: A $260 purchase, for which I got $5 in store credit at Best Buy and $15 on Upromise as well as 260 miles.

Admittedly, the extras I got for triple dipping were relatively small compared to the price of the purchases, but they made it a much better deal than spending $100 at J.Crew or $260 at Best Buy and not getting any breaks for that.  And all I needed was a little creativity to consider my options among the available offers.

Have you had a great double/ triple (/quadruple?) dipping experience? Please share it in the comments section!