Black Friday 2021: How to snag the best deals (Hint: Start now)

Supply chain backups will add to the season’s usual shopping challenges; here are some tips to ease the way

Shoppers walk through Macy's flagship store in New York's Herald Square on Black Friday 2020. This year, an estimated 158.3 million Americans will shop in-store and online from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday, according to the National Retail Federation. (Gabriela Bhaskar/Bloomberg)
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The days of lining up to shiver outside big box stores in the predawn hours on Black Friday are over for most Americans. Of those planning to shop this year, a projected 80 percent will do at least some of their shopping online to take advantage of holiday deals.

With consumers financially better off than they were last year, analysts are expecting a high-octane season even as retailers remain vexed by supply chain snarl-ups, labor shortages and surging inflation. They will spend $785, on average, on gifts, according to NPD Group’s Holiday Retail Outlook. That is more than 13 percent higher than last year and 6 percent more than 2019.

Most retailers kicked off the season early, with many wheeling out holiday inventory before Halloween. Total U.S. retail sales jumped 1.7 percent in October, the U.S. Commerce Department reported last week, even as consumer confidence hovered at a 10-year low amid rising gas, grocery and electronics prices.

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Popular items are likely to be in short supply and sell out sooner, experts say, so making key purchases will require patience, persistence and flexibility.

“It might just be a strange shopping season, a little bit less predictable but not necessarily more cutthroat,” said Claire Tassin, retail and e-commerce analyst at Morning Consult.

Here’s five tips for more successful holiday shopping, starting with Black Friday weekend: