Itching to get that holiday-shopping rush in person rather than online this long Thanksgiving weekend?
Braving the crush at the malls doesn't have to be a chore. Offering up advice on such logistical matters as when best to shop, how to find a place to charge your phone, and where, oh where, to park are representatives of the companies most eager to have you visit — Simon Property Group and Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), which own a majority of the Philadelphia region's malls.
Here are their tips for navigating the Thanksgiving-Black Friday-and-beyond retail whirl:
Simon Property Group. To take advantage of door-buster and other sales, the owner of King of Prussia Mall and the Gloucester and Philadelphia Premium Outlets malls, among others, says the best times to shop will be at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving and from 6 to 8 a.m. on Black Friday. For smaller Friday crowds, shop from 6 to 10 p.m.
• Take advantage of mall amenities, which vary by mall. These include free coat and bag check; mall greeters at the entrances to answer your questions about store locations, restrooms, and best deals; seating lounges with device-charging stations; and free gift-wrap stations to decorate the presents you've already bought while you hunt for more.
• Consult digital directories (at King of Prussia only). These touchscreens are in high-traffic areas and offer interactive maps that highlight the locations of shops and services and display the fastest route to reach them. You can send the directions to your mobile device by text message or QR code.
• Have a game plan. Know what you want to buy, where you want to buy it, and how much you want to spend on each person. The free Simon Malls app will have real-time information on the latest Black Friday retailer promotions and a mall map. Knowing where the stores you want are narrows down where to look for parking.
• Maximize down time. While you wait at the checkout, check off items purchased, compile all receipts in one place, and check retailers' social-media channels to see the latest promotions.
• Wear comfortable shoes. There are more than 2.9 million square feet to troll at King of Prussia Mall alone.
PREIT. The owner of Cherry Hill, Plymouth Meeting, and Willow Grove Park malls, among others, says its stores often run deal-busters at opening on Black Friday, but you can expect deals all weekend long. Least-crowded times Friday are likely to be early afternoon and early evening. If you're visiting Santa, grab a FastPass and skip the line.
• Mobilize. Use Google or Apple maps to anticipate traffic; do research in advance to find the quickest travel time. When you arrive, use mall directories. Google Maps now provides interior pedestrian directions to the stores.
• Check the malls' websites; there are free charging areas, so your phone won't run out of juice. Each mall has a special "holiday" section that includes extended hours, events, deals, and VIP Perks. Cherry Hill, for example, offers free bag and coat check and a personal shopper for Perks members.
• Hit the parking decks. Surface lots are the first to fill up. The parking decks offer more spaces, protection from the weather, and may actually be closer to a mall entrance.