As a professional shopper, I have spent the last 8 Black Fridays at various outlet malls across the state of Florida, with varying degrees of bargain-hunting success. Shopping an outlet mall on Black Friday can be a great opportunity to score big discounts, but it can also be an exhausting, fruitless wild goose chase. Here are some of my best tips to make your holiday shopping experience worth your while.
SCOPE IT OUT FIRST
If you’re planning to shop at a Florida outlet mall on Black Friday, I highly recommend that you visit it first. Get the lay of the land, and find out where the stores are that you want to shop at, so you can try to park nearby. Check out the merchandise at your favorite stores to get a feel for what the normal markdown levels are. A lot of outlet stores offer the same deals on Black Friday as any other day, so it may not be worth waiting in line for hours. You should also get on the mailing list for any store you’re really interested in. Usually they’ll sign you up for it at the register when you check out. I’ve done this for all of my favorite stores, so I always get lots of great coupons in my email and mailbox.
KNOW THE REAL DEALS
I’ve found that many times the day-after-Thanksgiving discounts are just about a 10% improvement over the usual outlet deals. The big difference on Black Friday is that stores often are really well stocked with new, exciting merchandise. Coach Factory stores are an example of this, their Black Friday markdowns are usually the same as always. There are usually hour-long waits just to get into the Coach Factory stores on Black Friday, but they often have new arrivals direct from the front-line stores which are better than the usual outlet-exclusive merchandise. Come before Black Friday, tour the mall, identify your target stores and map out a plan of attack for the big day.
DON’T BE A DOORBUSTER
Most outlet malls, including the Premium Outlets chain, will open at midnight on Thanksgiving night. I’ve done the midnight thing, and I don’t recommend it. The parking lots and stores get flooded with people, and you’ll probably spend about two hours circling in the lot to get a parking space. Not fun at all. My rule of thumb is to arrive 3 hours after the mall opens. That way, the first batch of people will be done shopping, and their parking spaces will be available! There’s really no need to arrive right when the mall opens. Most of the sales go on all day, or at least until noon on Black Friday. The stores restock throughout the night and day, so you really won’t miss out on anything by not being first in line.
It’s going to be crowded and exhausting, and you’re probably going to have to park REALLY far away from the stores. Plus, it’s dark outside, so there’s really no need to wear fabulous shoes. If there’s any occasion that calls for comfortable footwear, this is it! You may also want to bring a baby stroller or wheeled luggage to carry your finds so you don’t have to waste time walking your shopping bags back to the car over and over. When you first get to the mall, pick up a Black Friday sale flyer, usually displayed at the entrances and map stands. This will show you what kinds of deals the stores are offering and when the specials end, so that you can prioritize your shopping time.
PICK THE BEST ONE
I’ve done Black Friday at every outlet mall in Florida. If you have a choice of where to go, and you want some serious bargains, my favorite Black Friday outlet mall in Florida is the Silver Sands in Destin. This Florida panhandle town is off-season in the fall, so the crowds are much lighter than the usual suspects in Orlando, Ft. Myers, Sarasota and Miami. The deals are better too, since the fall merchandise doesn’t sell as quickly, so it has a chance to get marked down much further. The Off Fifth Saks Fifth Avenue at this mall is amazing. Every time I’ve shopped there, I’ve found incredible markdowns on major designer pieces. Orlando’s two Premium Outlets, the Vineland and International Drive locations, offer some great deals, but the crowds are always really overwhelming.
Remember, you don’t have to get all of your holiday shopping done all in one day. There will be great deals all throughout the month of December, sometimes even better than Black Friday. If you focus on picking up a few amazing deals at the stores that are offering truly special discounts, you can return home triumphant and return to shop another day! Scope it out, make a plan, come prepared, and enjoy the shopportunity- I’ll see you there!
One of my favorite places to shop is the Waterside Shops in Naples, Florida. The ultimate in aspirational shopping, this center is beautifully designed with a bubbling stream that flows throughout, adding a peaceful and elegant ambiance. There are mosaic accents and stunningly crafted colorful light fixtures that are especially pretty at night. With abundant dining options, and often featuring live music performances, this is a lovely place to spend an evening anytime you visit Southwest Florida.
Naples is a haven for wealthy retired Northerners and snowbirds, and this center caters to them with lots of fancy events like car shows, museum exhibits, and charity fundraisers. The Waterside Shops’ target clientele must not like to stay out too late, because all of the shops at this center close at 7 pm every night, even on weekends, and at 6pm on Sundays! My kids and I always find this shocking when we visit- as soon as we’ve finished dinner and are ready to shop, everything closes! So if you want to shop this center, be sure to arrive early.
Waterside Shops features major luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Gucci, Tiffany & Co. and Hermes, so if you’re looking to spoil someone, you’ve come to the right place. The window displays alone are worth the trip, they are very inventive and fun to look at. But this center also has something for everyone: there’s a Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Chico’s, and a beautiful Anthropologie location, plus lots of other upscale mall staples.
Paradoxically, I’ve found some of the best bargains of my shopping career at this very high-end center. I think it’s because Naples is one of those Florida cities that has a ‘season’, most of the visitors come in the winter, and the summer traffic is much lighter. So a lot of the summer merchandise doesn’t sell and ends up on the clearance racks, getting marked down further and further until some lucky person snaps it up! I’ve found $9 dresses at Ann Taylor, $5 jeans at Gap, and incredible jewelry markdowns at the very big, very nice Banana Republic.
The dining options at Waterside Shops are not as exorbitantly priced as one might think, and when we visit we always enjoy eating at Brio Tuscan Grille and Silver Spoon Cafe. Both of these restaurants offer outdoor dining on their relaxing patios, one of the best places in Florida for people watching! Next time you’re vacationing in Naples, be sure to plan an afternoon at Waterside Shops, you’ll definitely be inspired and you might just find the deal of a lifetime!