There was a time when all you needed to prepare for Black Friday was an alarm clock, a coffee maker and a take-no-prisoners attitude.

Not anymore. The best deals this year require a fully charged smartphone and a willingness to go wherever your shopping list takes you, from the corner drugstore to the vastness of cyberspace.

Plus, if you're serious, plan to spend time sifting through online deal updates, virtual coupons and rebate websites.

The technology underlying so many changes in our daily habits continues to shape the nation's annual shopping tradition. Often, the result is substantially improved bargains for online and brick-and-mortar shoppers alike.

But if the increasing complexity of it all seems discouraging — and experts acknowledge the new twists can be a little much for the uninitiated — keep in mind you can still go the conventional route by simply sorting through circulars and heading out early to find doorbusters the day after Thanksgiving.

New strategies

With the changes have come new ways to blend the benefits of online price information, downloadable coupons and tools for deepening an already substantial discount. Shopping tips for comparing and leveraging deals now proliferate at consumer-oriented portals online.

Sales strategies by major retailers, meanwhile, are blurring the line between shopping online and standing in line at a store. The same company may offer different deals simultaneously, with in-store discounts designed to bring people to the mall, and at the same time roll out Internet-only bargains intended to edge out a competing offer at another website.

"They try to kind of capture every piece of the pie," Stockdales Estates consumer savings specialist Andrea Woroch said.

Another trend picking up steam this year is how the annual event is no longer limited to the day after Thanksgiving through Small Business Saturday and the following Cyber Monday. Deals kicking off the holiday bargaining season have already begun: Target released a 20 percent-off deal Saturday.

"Deals are starting earlier and earlier," said Michelle Madhok, another shopping expert and founder of the deals site

Mobile revolution

Mobile connectivity has brought its own profound changes to Black Friday shopping. With deals on some sites updating hourly, checking for real-time updates can make the difference between a bargain and a forehead-slapper.

Smartphone technology also gives consumers and retailers alike access to new in-store capabilities. Stores put up signs telling shoppers they can receive a coupon if they download the right app.

One thing to keep in mind while shopping at a store is that, free wifi can come at a price: Stores might be tracking your path through their aisles.

Smartphones can also be used for scanning product bar codes, which can give shoppers access to instant online price comparisons. Not all retailers see this being to their advantage. Best Buy, for instance, has introduced its own bar codes, forcing the most price-conscious consumers to type in brands and product codes manually.

There are clear signs some people prefer shopping from the comfort of their own phones. Adobe Analytics reported an 11 percent jump in mobile sales between 2016 and 2017.

Old-fashioned competition

Heightened competition among retailers, especially online, does seem to work to consumers' benefit. Careful online shoppers can largely avoid shipping costs for many popular products this week, after Amazon announced earlier this month it wouldn't charge for the service. Target and Best Buy reacted by extending a similar offer for a limited time, also with no minimum dollar amount.

None of this is to say people aren't seeing benefits to driving to the mall. A new survey released by the trade group International Council of Shopping Centers suggests 71 percent of Thanksgiving Weekend shoppers will visit a shopping center or mall, and that the share rises to 83 percent among just millennials.

While online prices can be hard to beat, Madhok noted physical stores are often able to offer experiences shoppers are still looking for.

"In-store events like Santa Claus, pop-up shops (and) demos of new technologies like (virtual reality) are a way people are lured away from online shopping," she said.

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf.

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