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!