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Black Friday 2015 sales: the best deals at Walmart

Black Friday at Walmart traditionally involves aggressive pricing, innovative inventory strategies, and aggressively courting customers to come into stores. This Black Friday is no different. 

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    An outdoors sign for Walmart is seen in Duarte, Calif. Walmart is not shy about telling the world that it plans to win Black Friday every year.
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Walmart's not shy about telling the world that their goal is to win Black Friday every year. And they do, with aggressive pricing, innovative inventory strategies, and sheer force of will.

It's no surprise that Walmart's 2015 Black Friday sale does exactly that.

“Our customers can count on us to deliver three things on Black Friday – we’re offering amazing prices, we bought deeper on the gifts they want, and we simplified the shopping experience in stores and online,” said Steve Bratspies, chief merchandising officer, Walmart U.S.

The 1-Hour Guarantee and wristbands for high-demand items are back, and this year Walmart is striving to make things easier than ever for their customers. According to a press release issued Thursday morning, most of the items (about 96% according to some reports) in the ad will be available to buy online, and the online sales will start at 12:01am PT on Thanksgiving morning. In-store shoppers, though, will be waiting until 6pm to grab their doorbusters.

Translation: That doorbuster you want still may not be online, but if it is then you might have to be awake and ready to shop as early as 3am (if you're on the East Coast) on Thanksgiving morning to have a shot.

The Visual Comparison:

The graphic design team responsible for putting together Walmart's Black Friday Ad does a pretty good job of making each ad unique, changing layouts and colors from one year to the next and more or less wrecking our plans of putting them side by side to show visually just how alike the sales really are. (Well played, Walmart. Well played.)

Cheap kitchen electrics? Check.
Some orange Rachael Ray cookware? Check.
Pyrex and Rubbermaid storage sets? Check.

However, despite the visual similarities, there aren't actually many true repeats here. Those small kitchen electrics once again include a griddle, slow cooker, a coffee maker, and some mixing bowls, and they'll be sold for just $.05 less than they did in 2014 (which we put in the "close enough" category), but only 4 of the 8 items listed there were also in last year's ad. The bright orange Rachael Ray cookware that's been in every ad for the last few years adds 2 pieces and $8 to the price tag for 2015. The Rubbermaid storage likewise ups the ante from 26-28 pieces to 34-36 pieces, and those eight extra pieces raise the price by $.52. Even the T-fal cookware set, which stays at $49, has a different assortment of goodies in the box.

Black Friday Price Hikes?

It's not unusual for some retailers' Black Friday prices to change by a few cents from one year to the next, and for analysis purposes we've generally been treating any change less than $1 as being the same deal. One year a retailer will round all of the ad prices up to the nearest dollar. The next year the ad will show dollars and cents. It happens.

The price fluctuations at Walmart, on the other hand stood out. Most notably, the Beats Pill Bluetooth Speaker got a $50 price hike over last year's Black Friday price, a pricing change that feels entirely out of character for a brand so doggedly determined to undercut absolutely everyone. Stumped, I ran it by our deal editors. At first we thought it might be a lack of clarity on the fact that the 2015 ad is advertising the 2.0 version, but the original prices on both were listed at $199.95. So why does a popular speaker that got a $100 discount last year only get $50 this year?

The answer probably lies in Minimum Advertised Pricing, a concept more and more brands and manufacturers are using to control how much their products can be sold for. Manufacturers dictate advertising requirements for the prices they set and have the right to refuse to deal with anyone who won't agree to their terms. That means retailers must play by the manufacturer's rules or lose the right to sell the product entirely - even a retailer so dominating and notoriously aggressive in their price negotiations as Walmart.

Minimum Advertised Pricing doesn't explain away most of the price jumps we found, though. Children's pajamas jumped by $.25. Ladies microfleece pants are up $.50. A Sharpie marker set is up by $1.12. Ladies socks and fleece-lined tights are up $.50. Mens Wrangler jeans, up $.25. Men's character fleece sleep pants, up $.50.

Most of these were changes of less than $1, and it's true that we tend to write off such small changes in other ads. The difference between $98.50 and $99 isn't very significant, after all. But at Walmart, where everything is already priced so aggressively low, the difference between $4.50 and $5 really sticks out. It's like they raised the price on high volume items like kids' pajamas to make up for price cuts on the glossy, glamorous stuff.

In the end, though, compared to everyone else, those kids' pajamas are still very aggressively priced and poised to beat everyone else on the Black Friday playing field. You'll just pay a quarter more than last year.

Our Favorite Walmart Black Friday Deals:

Note that Amazon has already started price matching many of Walmart's deals ahead of Black Friday, including that T-fal cookware set I mentioned above.

55" LG Smart 4K UHD TV - $698 (was $998) + 1-Hour Guarantee
An excellent price on a larger size 4K TV from a respectable brand is impossible to ignore, and the 1-Hour Guarantee seals the deal. That does mean that it won't be available online, but so long as you buy it in-store between 6-7pm on Thanksgiving night, you're guaranteed to get it at the $698 price - even if Walmart has to give you a raincheck.

70" Vizio Smart HDTV 1080p - $898 (save $300)
A 70" Smart TV from a good brand priced under $1,000 definitely deserves a nod on our list of best deals. Our last mention of a 70" Vizio Smart HDTV was a refurb that was priced at $990 after a mail-in rebate.

50" Class HDTV - $269
40" Class HDTV - $149
We're going to address these two together since our commentary for them is pretty much the same. These TVs are the ones you line up early in the cold for, the reason you travel light and wear your running shoes. Both are ultra-cheap TVs. Both are listed as "brands may vary by store," which is retail-speak for "you've never heard of this brand before" as well as a tip off that you won't find them online. If you can get your hands on one, the price is worth it.

iPad Air 2 Gold 16GB with Wi-Fi - $399 (was $499) + 1-Hour Guarantee
In years past, Walmart liked to pair popular tech like iPads with gift cards, but for the 2015 sale they've really pulled away from the bundling strategy. We're guessing that's thanks to renewed the emphasis on simplicity that they've been talking about in their press releases. At any rate, the combination of a straightforward $100 discount and the 1-Hour Guarantee makes this iPad Air deal a winner. We just wonder if gold really is the only color they're going to have?

iPad mini 2 16GB with Wi-Fi - $199 (was $268)
NEWS FLASH! You can get this deal at Walmart right now! The $199 price is good through 11/17 and is one of the lowest prices we've ever seen on this model. Of course, if you miss it now, it will be back for Black Friday.

Fitbit Flex Wristband - $59 (was $99)
Until now, the lowest price we'd ever seen on this popular fitness tracker was $60 back in September. If you're sold on the idea of a Fitbit but the $119 price tag on the Fitbit Charge is a bit much, the Flex does the job reliably well.

RCA 7" Voyager II Android Ad-Free Tablet - $28.88 (was $49.87)
While it's hard to expect the quality will be anywhere close to that of other better known Android tablets like Samsung's Galaxy Tab, there is no doubt that this is easily the lowest price we've ever seen on a tablet of any kind.

iPod touch 16GB - $165 (was $195)
The ad doesn't say, but we believe this is the 6th gen model. Last year we saw the same net price on the 5th gen, but it was also bundled with a $30 gift card. Now your effective cost is the same, but now that $30 stays in your pocket instead of being locked in a gift card.

Disney Frozen Elsa or Anna Toddler Doll - $15 (was $24.97)
Frozen continues its reign in the hearts and minds of little ones everywhere this holiday season. This Disney trend shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon! These Elsa and Anna toddler dolls are both adorable and priced just right for your little Frozen fan.

24" Granite Peak Mountain Bike - $59 (was $84.84)
We like the price of these 24" mountain bikes quite a bit. The lowest price we've ever posted on any comparable kids' mountain bike was $79 back in March.

Crock-Pot Stainless 5-Qt. Slow Cooker - $9.72
Black Friday has long been one of the best days to pick up small kitchen electrics, and this Crock-Pot proves the point. Considering that we're currently listing a 4-qt Crock-Pot for $14 (good through 11/15), this 5-qt. version is a steal at $9.72.

Better Homes and Gardens 21-pc. Mixing Bowl Set - $9.72
The brushed-copper look of the finish on this set of stainless steel mixing bowls is what caught our eye, but it also comes in red or silver. It looks a lot more expensive than the $9.72 price tag, and works out to $.46 per piece.

Pyrex Bake-n Store 24-pc. Set - $19
These Pyrex storage sets often make it into our lists of favorite deals, but this one from Walmart is the best of the lot. Where other retailers offer 18-pc. sets for $18, Walmart adds another 6 pieces for just $1 more.

Dyson DC33 Multi-Floor Bagless Upright Vacuum - $197 (was $269)
We first saw the DC33 drop to $269 at Walmart in September, and it's been spotted at that price several times since. For Black Friday, Walmart blows its own price out of the water, dropping it to an all-time, jaw-dropping low of $197.

Bath Towels, 6-pk Washcloths, or Hand Towels - $1.60
It's hard not to love bath towels for $1.60. You could easily take advantage of this deal to replace all of your old, worn out bathroom linens for under $20.

Hardside Upright 20" Luggage - $24.77
On some airlines, the cost of this hardsided carry-on luggage is less than the cost of the fee you'll pay to take it with you on the plane. And if you check it instead, the brightly colored designs make it easy to spot on the baggage carousel.

Children's Pajamas - $4.75
The Walmart ad lists several different types of toddlers' and children's pajamas at $4.75, including 2-pc sleep sets, sleep gowns, and even some Carter's blanket sleepers. Some of the character pjs feature Frozen, Star Wars, Hello Kitty, Minions, and more. The price is up $.25 compared to last year's ad, but it's still the best deal running on kids sleepwear. 

Better Than Last Year:

More Returning Deals:

You can check out the complete Walmart Black Friday Ad now at Brad's Black Friday.

This article first appeared in Brad's Deals. 

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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