Alison Griffiths

After the endless and obscenely expensive American election campaign it’s a relief to shift one’s attention to life’s simple pleasures — such as Black Friday shopping. Cost cutters can bray all they want about the evils of the mall but, let’s face it, at this time of year with the holiday season fast approaching the pursuit of a deal is rather appealing.

Therein lies the rub. Where can you find the deals? If you are planning to head across the border on Friday, Nov. 23, the day after U.S. Thanksgiving, you need a plan, some cash, a bunch of patience and a good knowledge of prices for your target goodies.

But first, let’s pay homage to this only-in-America day. As you can probably guess from the name, Black Friday didn’t start out with positive connotations.

According to Harvard historian Nancy Koehn in a 2011 interview with American Public Media’s consumer show “Marketplace,” Black Friday was “hardly a term of endearment.” In the 1950s, workers increasingly called in sick the day after Thanksgiving. Soon the “sick day” became a shopping day and policing proved challenging as huge crowds pressed into major department stores eager to begin their Christmas shopping.

By the 1970s, the negatives had turned positive as retailers celebrated the annual black ink on their balance sheets after the hordes swarmed through their stores.

This year, the chance of seeing those crowds is climbing. Last year, the National Association of Retailers reported that $52 billion was spent on Black Friday, with the average per-person purchase up about 10 per cent from 2010. This year, retail sales have inched up through the fall. While there appears to be pent-up demand for certain goods — cars and appliances, for example — it’s still not clear whether the demand extends to other consumer goods. This could be good news for shoppers as retailers employ loss leader bargains to lure people into the stores.

The key to success on Black Friday is preparation. Pay attention to these five areas to make the most of the world’s most intense shopping day.

1. The list: Don’t leave home without making one and noting current Canadian and U.S. prices, especially of goods like brand name clothing and electronics. Last year there were numerous reports of items actually costing more on Black Friday than in October or early December.