With Black Friday a mere three days away (two, if you go by Target's definition of "Friday"), many people are already feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of leaving their homes, walking into a store, and purchasing the goods they find therein.

Walmart, the ninth circle of Black Friday Hell, looks like it will be even more nightmarish than usual, and "usual" is that someone gets trampled to death. Lots of retailers are planning to open Thanksgiving night. Many stores have already been open for weeks. It's bedlam, but less organized.

How will you defeat the great Black shadow looming over Thanksgiving?

With the use of Gawker's handy shopping guide.

50 Shades of Black

There are many kinds of Black Friday shoppers, and the very first thing you must do is identify your type. The quickest way to learn your type is to determine the emotion you feel when you hear the words "Black Friday." Do you feel:

  1. Ambivalent: You do not plan on going out on Black Friday. You are a Conscientious or Lazy Objector. Thank you for clicking on this post. Please share it on social media.
  2. Nervous and Excited: Like a LAX bro who enrolls in an intro Women's Studies course, you are "just here for the experience." As a Black Friday Rookie, the horrors you witness in the field will either break you, or harden your soul so that you become:
  3. Grimly Determined: Like the line outside Toys R Us at 7 p.m., you've been around the block around the few times. You are a Black Friday Black Belt.
  4. Skittish: The Crazy 8 of Black Friday, you're going into this with the unpredictability of a cornered animal. Was that orange juice you gulped down this morning, or was it a big glass of adrenaline? You might leave your first store without buying a single item, or you might emerge as Black Friday's greatest warrior. Wildcard.


Calm down. You do have a plan. We're making the plan now. You are pretty much directly in the middle of the plan.

  • Tuesday/Wednesday (or Thursday, fuck your family): Reconnaissance
    If you're planning to visit a store you're not super familiar with, head over ahead of time to scope out the layout, traffic flow, and parking options. Just because you went to Best Buy to buy a TV two years ago does not mean you know where things are stocked.
  • You know that old cliché of the scout who can taste a finger of dirt and know that a pregnant deer walked east from that spot 24 hours ago? That is you in Best Buy. Lick the ground. Smell the headphone boxes. Ask where the netbooks are kept.
  • Thanksgiving Day: The Ads Arrive
    Comb through the phonebook-sized advertising insert of your local paper for coupons and deals. Circle the items you want with a big black marker ("LOL, I will use whatever color marker I want," you say – NO. These ads have a lot of different color backgrounds. Some will be red. Some will be green. CIRCLE IN BLACK.) Keep notes on the front page of the ads detailing the specific items you want from that store, as well as the coupons offered, in an ink of your choosing.
  • To consolidate your shopping, verify if any of the stores you're considering participate in "price matching" (that is: honoring a competitor's coupons). Check here to see whether this is the case for stores you were planning on visiting, and be sure to make sure that the price-matching policy does not exclude Thanksgiving sales (Target's does; Walmart's doesn't.) Also note whether coupons are combinable with other offers.

What Should I Bring?

  • A good attitude. Just kidding. That's for suckers. Do NOT bring that. A murderous attitude will do.
  • A snack. Many stores have rules against eating indoors. These stores also have rules against acting like fucking animals, rippling up displays, and throwing clothes on the ground that everyone ignores on Black Friday, so feel free to snack openly. You WILL get hungry and irritable otherwise.
  • Distractions. For the average Black Friday shopper, the worst part of the day isn't the energizing fights over 70% off Ugg Boots, but the lines whose lengths test the boundaries of credulity.
  • Don't count on your phone to bail you out; friends won't want to entertain you with texts at 4 a.m. and even your most fun games will grate after forty minutes of playing. Instead, download podcasts or bring a book to give yourself the illusion of accomplishing something. ("Wow, I listened to that whole podcast.")
  • An accomplice? There are two ways to look at this. On the one hand, a friend could help you procure items more quickly, and will give you someone to gripe to while you wait in line. On the other, unless your friend is a slave, they probably are intending to do some shopping for themselves on this trip, which could leave you operating on discordant shopping rhythms. I advise against bringing an accomplice unless you can treat that accomplice like a servant (my mom brings me).

Dress for Excess

Because I like to try on clothes, my outfit of choice consists of: black tights, a skirt (non-pencil),and a shirt that can be pulled on and off easily.

Avoid one piece garments like dresses so you don't have to grab two items of clothing (a top and a bottom) every time you want to try on one.

With the right outfit (and/or a flair for exhibitionism), you won't even have to wait for a dressing room to try on clothes. Thinking about buying a skirt? Pull it up under the one you're wearing, then rutch that one down over it to step out. At this point, you might as well steal the skirt you're trying on because, fuck it, you look great.

It's Not Called "America's Next Top Best Friend"

Enemy Tactics: On a normal day, a shopper's enemy is the mean store charging him money for things he wants. On Black Friday, a shopper's enemy is his fellow shopper. These bastards know your strategies and want your bargains. They have also read the very blog post you are reading. Your only option is to become the Stranger Danger they fear.

Defense Maneuvers: Tuesday or Wednesday, head to your nearest grocery store and practice a couple basic defense and sabotage maneuvers. Reach for a box of cereal at the same time as a stock boy, then elbow him to the face. Grab a cart, then practice cutting around corners with it and using it to block people's paths (of exit or entry). Practice falling in a way that distributes your weight evenly. Get a feel for what kinds of displays provide the greatest distraction when overturned. Take an introductory physics class.

When Normal Passes for Nice: Tips for the Psychopath

If you go shopping on Black Friday, you guarantee yourself a supporting, if not starring (depending on how ornery you are), position in at least one store employee's personal hell. These people have the same Black Friday stresses you do, except that they aren't granted release from the miserable chamber of horrors until the end of the day. They are in a fragile state. Use it to your advantage, by being kind (or even just normal) to them.

A "Secret Menu" of Savings: A few Black Fridays ago, my mom and I were chatting in line while waiting to be rung up at Macy's, when the cashier started looking over at us and apologizing.

"Thank you so much for waiting patiently. I'm so sorry. Thank you for waiting. I really appreciate it. Thank you."

Let me make it clear: we were not doing anything other than standing in line normally, chatting with one another. After a couple minutes, we made it up to that cashier and she thanked us again for waiting patiently. Then she gave us an additional discount just for having been normal people in a line.

The lesson: it pays to be kind, or anyway, normal, when dealing with frazzled employees.

Blue Crush State of Mind

Ride the waves: If a store opens at 5 a.m., following an initial wave of determined early birds (that lasts until, say, 7 a.m.) there will be a brief lull period until the next wave of shoppers hits. The people who are committed enough to wake up at 7 will have been committed enough to wake up at 5. The people who want to get in early without acting crazy will wait til 9. You sneak in in between them.

If you wait to slip in during less busy times (look for another lull late-afternoon, when the 5 a.m.-ers go home to nap), you might miss out on some of the best deals, but you also are less likely to suffer a stress-induced heart attack or be trampled.

Anything else?

Don't forget the reason for the season: There is none! (It's not Christmas yet.) The reason for the season is anarchy. Embrace it, and ride the winds like a wraith, snatching up door busters.

Please share your Black Friday tips below. And be sure to take pictures and video (HOLD YOUR PHONE SIDEWAYS, JESUS) of the mayhem when you're out and about on Friday — we'll collect everyone's horror stories in a post later that day.

Image by Jim Cooke.