Days of research and meticulous planning including creating e-mail folders for online retailer newsletters - that is what Ms Josephine K. Chow has been doing in the lead up to Black Friday. This is the last Friday of November, kicking off the year-end holiday sales in the United States, which end on Boxing Day. This year, Black Friday in the US begins at midnight on Nov 27 EST/PST (Singapore time 1pm or 4pm on Saturday, Nov 28).
Since online shopping makes it possible for those outside the US to get the same big discounts offered by American stores, shoppers such as Ms Chow start gearing up for Black Friday at least a week before.
"I'll make wish lists and check the promotions," says the 27-year-old country manager at ShopBack Singapore, an online cash back platform. "The night before the sales, I'll check that the items I want are in stock. And just before midnight on Black Friday, I'll add all my items to the shopping cart. Once the sales start, I'll check out immediately so that the items I want won't go out of stock." She spent about $1,700 last year. One of her best buys was an emerald sequinned dress from Topshop online which cost $30 instead of its original price of $160. She says the US time difference makes it convenient for her to shop as most sales start during lunch time in Singapore.
The term Black Friday was created in the 1960s by the Philadelphia Police Department. It was coined to describe the chaos created by overcrowded sidewalks and massive traffic jams due to downtown shoppers taking advantage of the first holiday sales. In the 1980s, it took on a more positive association. The idea was that stores were "in the red" or making a loss from January to November and that they transitioned to being "in the black" or making a profit during the holiday season. In 2005, Cyber Monday was conceived as the online counterpart to the brick-and-mortar Black Friday, when stores extended their sales period online over the weekend to include Monday.
Mr Kelvin Chan, 42, head of church administration at Hebron Church, was in Seattle for a holiday in 2001 on Black Friday. He recalls: "We were at Walmart. One hour before midnight, everyone's trolley was full and they were all queuing at the cashiers. It was completely silent. They just waited for midnight to strike and for all the sale prices to be adjusted." He says his family bought beauty products, clothes, shoes and a Nintendo 3DS at great bargain prices.
Last year, he shopped online for gloves for his family during the Black Friday sales. "I find that the winter wear available here is not always as warm as those you get overseas. So I'll get things that can't be found here and things that are of better quality elsewhere." This year, he plans to log on to shop for Christmas gifts, mostly on Amazon, as well as items that have been launched in the US but are not available here yet, such as the latest Chromecast streaming device.
Ms Nadia Oon, 23, who recently graduated from the National University of Singapore, is also looking forward to next Friday. She runs beauty Instagram account @2brokebelles with her friend Sarah Ng, 23. They plan to buy beauty products and make-up from American sites including drugstore.com and cvs.com, and the US Sephora website for brands they cannot find here as well as for better discounts. "I've been saving money for Black Friday for months," she says.
1. Do a time check
Check the starting time of sales. Black Friday in the United States begins at midnight on Nov 27 (Singapore time 1pm or 4pm on Saturday, Nov 28). Some retailers will start even earlier. Amazon began releasing daily deals on Nov 1 as a lead up to Black Friday. Retailers here usually start their sales at midnight on Black Friday as well, but on Singapore time. That means midnight on Nov 27. Some international sites have dedicated promotions for countries in Asia including Singapore and those will adhere to the timezone here.
The first hour of sales is the busiest. Items go out of stock fast so checking out fast means you have a higher chance of getting everything you want.
2. Sign up as a member of sites you are likely to buy from
This is so you can log in and place items in your shopping cart before the sales begin. Those items will not be saved if you are not logged in. Certain sites will save your shopping cart items for up to three days, so you can spread out your browsing time. Putting all your items into your shopping cart an hour or so before the sale starts means that once the clock strikes 12 you can check out immediately.
3. Subscribe to mailing lists
Retail sites will send customers catalogues and special promotion codes the week before Black Friday. Subscribe to the mailing lists to get the latest updates on when the sales will start, what items will be on sale and how much discounts you can get. Following your favourite merchants on social media will also help keep you up to date.
4. Call your credit card company
Credit card companies sometimes offer promotions to coincide with Black Friday. You can subscribe to their mailing lists to get notifications on rebates.
5. Separate your orders
Packages entering Singapore are subject to 7 per cent GST if the items exceed $400 in value. So if you plan on spending more than $400 at a single site, you should split up your orders to avoid the GST charge.
6. Check on shipping
Some sites offer free international shipping for purchases exceeding a specified amount. Amazon offers free shipping to Singapore for orders above $125. The offer does not apply to items larger than 45.72cm x 35.56cm x 20.32cm or over 9.07kg.
For sites that ship only to an American address, use a third-party shipping service such as ComGateway, vPost or Borderlinx. These services provide you with a US address to ship your order to and they will then ship your item to Singapore. ComGateway lets you keep your packages there for about two months, so you can accumulate your smaller purchases into one package for cheaper shipping.
7. Be careful of phishing scams
Some websites have been popping up with lists of Black Friday deals and discount links from stores. However, some sites are out to get your personal details such as your e-mail address or credit card information.
As a precaution, go directly to the store's website or reputable sites listing Black Friday deals such as blackfriday.com, dealnews.com and cybermonday.com.
8. Do not panic if you miss Black Friday
If you miss out on a Black Friday bargain, you can still get good deals on Cyber Monday on Nov 30.
A version of this story was originally published in The Straits Times on November 19, 2015. For more stories like this, head to www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle.