How to Take Back Black Friday

For the first time since 2012, the Mall of America – except for three holdouts – will not open early for Thanksgiving shopping. Shoppers will have to wait until Friday before setting foot in the country’s largest shopping center. The idea is to allow both shoppers and employees to spend the full day Thursday with friends and family.

This is after a growing trend of stores began opening on Thanksgiving Day, extending the Black Friday shopping day.

Some of the retailers staying closed on Thursday include: hhgregg, Office Depot, REI, Crate & Barrel, Nordstrom, Costco, and HomeGoods. And mall developer group CBL reported that 72 of its malls will be closed on Thanksgiving.

And it’s no wonder…

Two years ago, for the first time ever, I did all my Black Friday shopping on the Internet… mostly on Amazon (the world’s largest retailer). The deals at your local brick-and-mortar store are simply not good enough to justify losing sleep and spending hours waiting in line.

And after last year’s Thanksgiving weekend, the results were clear – for the first time, online sales surpassed in-store sales.

That number is destined to grow this year too, with more stores following the trend of remaining closed on Thanksgiving Day.

However, traditional department stores still rely on Black Friday deals, which is why you’ll see Kohl’s, Macy’s, and J.C. Penney opening on Thursday.

Yet they’re also joining the online bandwagon… for example, Kohl’s hosts the same deals online and starts them even earlier. And last year, Kohl’s reported that Thanksgiving weekend saw the largest boom in online sales through their website in the company’s history.

Amazon will start their Black Friday deals on November 20 with a week of deals including on their own brand of tablets, e-readers, and voice-activated speaker/computer (the Echo).

And several websites – like TheBlackFriday.com and BlackFriday.com – track the best deals for both Black Friday and Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving). Do what I do and buy electronics on these two shopping days.

Remember, when you shop online this weekend or any other time, take the time to stay safe…

Seven Simple Ways to Protect Yourself When Shopping Online

1) Only use trusted sites. Whenever you enter your credit-card number, always look for the letter “s” at the end of the URL’s “http.” It should say “https://” before the rest of the site’s address. In most browsers, an icon of a closed padlock will appear as well, either next to the URL or at the bottom of the screen.

The lock means it’s an encrypted website. Without encryption, hackers can potentially access your information.

2) Check the spelling. Make sure you’re at the right URL. Many scam-based websites will look almost like the real thing. Sites with “.co” after them are often fake sites and may also have hackers lurking.

And if you aren’t familiar with a retailer’s website, check for a designation from the Better Business Bureau, and be sure to read some reviews from past customers before filling in your personal information.

3) Shield yourself. Lots of Internet shopping means the potential for pop-ups, malware, viruses, and other nasty bugs. Invest in a good malware-removal program and a good antivirus program. I use Norton programs for both. You can check out a free trial right here.

And don’t forget to protect your phone, too. Hackers now have malicious programs that steal information on your smartphone. Programs like Malwarebytes (for Android phones) and Avast SecureLine (for Apple) protect against attacks.

4) Don’t use public “free” Wi-Fi. If you connect your computer or smartphone wirelessly, only use secure, password-protected Wi-Fi. If you have to use public Wi-Fi, avoid signing into your credit-card or bank accounts, or entering your credit-card information. These unsecured networks are far easier for hackers to crack.

Always conduct purchases on secured networks. For an easy guide on how to secure your home network system, read PC Magazine’s tutorial.

5) Guard your password. Some websites now offer something called “two-factor authentication.” Two-factor authentication requires your password plus another piece of information – like a code sent to your e-mail or mobile device associated with your account – to log in to a website. I love using this feature.

Many companies – including Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft – give you the option of using two-factor authentication, as do many banks, brokerages, and credit-card companies.

Tech blog Gizmodo has a guide on how to set up two-factor authentication on some websites. You can read it here.

6) Use resell sites cautiously. Sites where you can buy from third parties… like Amazon’s marketplace, Craigslist, or eBay… can snag you great deals. But anything with an “activation code” requires extra care when purchasing… I’d avoid them.

For example, gift cards can be a gamble. You don’t know if the full value is really still on there.

7) Always check for a receipt. Print out the confirmation page on your computer or save the confirmation e-mail.

And make sure to check your credit-card statement to ensure the charges are correct. Check that day and again a week later to make sure extra charges didn’t slip in after your initial purchase.

Please use these seven tips this week, on Black Friday, and on Cyber Monday to do what I do: Stay home. Do your shopping from the couch and without the stress of fighting your way through hordes of people in a store. And use the extra time to spend with your family.

What We’re Reading…