With Black Friday 2011 drawing near, you may be wondering how to get the most out of your post-Thanksgiving shopping. It can seem overwhelming, but here are a few tips and a guide to help you take advantage of the best buys and avoid the worst ones.
1. Black Friday is one of the biggest shopping days of the year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always the best. Indeed, while many products will be deeply discounted on Black Friday 2011 to lure in shoppers and give retailers a boost in the competitive holiday buying season, others won’t be at their lowest prices until later on – some long after the holidays have wrapped.
“Black Friday is about cheap stuff at cheap prices,” says Dan de Grandpre, CEO at dealnews.com. "Appliances will be second tier. You might be able to get a cashmere sweater at Walmart for $15, but it’s not the same cashmere sweater that you’re going to get at Saks. It’s about cheap stuff in every sense of the word.”
2. The best Black Friday buys are going to be on less coveted items, such as dorm room furniture, seldom-used kitchen appliances like fondue pots, lower-end electronics, and non-brand name clothing. Luxury items, like brand name clothes, jewelry, and top-end electronics might be worth a longer wait.
3. Avoid being tied to a specific store. “No one store has the best prices – there will be hits and misses with each one,” DeGrandpre says. “Figure out the products you want, and then do your comparison shopping online before going out.”
4. Make use of the wide array of smartphone apps, which make comparison shopping and looking up inventory at specific stores a breeze – even while waiting in a long checkout line..
5. To get the best prices, you may be better off shopping from home. “So many of the doorbuster deals are on the websites,” de Grandpre says.
Does the prospect of doing your shopping from the couch seem a little unexciting? Happily, you can do your Black Friday shopping online and not miss out on the late-night rush of jostling through the crowds at the bricks-and-mortar stores: Many of the online deals are released in the middle of the night, and they tend to go quickly. Sign up for e-mail and “push” notifications for specific stores, and be ready to wake up.
What should you get on Black Friday, and which things are worth a longer wait? Here’s a rundown of some of the most popular gift categories:
The TVs and laptops you’ll find deeply discounted on Black Friday are cheaper for a reason: they are generally more cheaply manufactured. “It’s a good time to buy a TV for a bedroom or a den, a laptop that will only be used for email,” de Grandpre says.
Amazon.com and Best Buy tend to go head to head in terms of competitive pricing on these items. This year at Best Buy, you can get a 42-inch Sharp HDTV for $200. But be sure to check Walmart as well.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this paragraph reported a 42" Samsung TV for $200, when in fact Best Buy is offering a Sharp HDTV for $200. The correction has been made above.
Target, too, will reportedly have some of the best deals on HDTVs, including a 32’’ Samsung LCD HDTV for $287, as well as competitively priced gaming bundles (they usually include a console, controllers, games, and various accessories), which are key if you want to buy a gaming system over the holidays.
Black Friday is also the Apple Store’s only sale of the year. But the discounts tend to be modest. Cheaper Apple deals are usually available at third party retailers like MacMall and Best Buy, which bundle gift certificates with Apple merchandise.
Deals on designer brands all but disappear on Black Friday, and you’ll notice that high-end department stores like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue get pretty quiet. However, Macy’s has Black Friday deals on designer labels, including 50 percent off Calvin Klein and DKNY jeans, as well as 50 percent off a slew of winter boots from Marc Ecko, Nine West, and Steve Madden. If you aren’t concerned with labels, JCPenney, Sears, and Kohl's are all boasting deep discounts on clothing.
If you’re loyal to a specific brand, like Gap or Aeropostale, the best deals will be found online, on Cyber Monday. “Niche clothing brands will be stronger then,” says de Grandpre. Worried about buying clothes online? De Grandpre suggests going into the stores to try on items a few days early, then buying online later. “It will be difficult to get into the fitting rooms on Black Friday anyway,” he says.
Black Friday is an excellent time to buy small kitchen appliances and other kitchenware, but, in keeping with theme of the holiday, it probably won’t be of the best quality. “It’s a good time to buy a cheap blender for a college student,” de Grandpre says.
Sears, for one, has lots of bargains on appliances that would make for fun gifts, including a $15 quesedilla maker and complete Magic Bullet blender set for $35. For the big appliances, head over to Lowe’s, where Black Friday prices on washer/dryer sets, stoves, power tools, and refrigerators are already available. Both Lowe’s and Home Depot are offering free delivery on major appliances, as well as haul-away of the old ones. One caveat: “Early” Black Friday pricing means that the item you want may be out of stock by Black Friday.
The holidays are among the worst times to buy jewelry, right up there with Valentines Day and Mothers Day. If you must buy it, however, the best deals will be on cheap items: low-carat diamonds, cubic zirconium, and costume jewelry. Sears has some of the deepest discounts, including 60 percent off select diamond jewelry.
Besides, do you want to live with the guilt of buying your beloved discounted diamonds in the first place?
It’s quite the Christmas spending category, and Toys “R” Us certainly put toys on the radar by clocking in with the earliest Black Friday opening time (9 p.m. on Thanksgiving night). But according to de Grandpre, the deepest markdowns on toys won’t be found until a few weeks after Black Friday, and the ideal shopping window is Dec. 7-20. “Stores like Target and Walmart will expand their toy section by several aisles at the beginning of the season, and then they will need to get rid of it all,” he says. But don’t wait too long: “A few days before Christmas, the prices will go back up, because those last-minute shoppers won’t have any other options,” de Grandpre says.
The exception is toys that are in particularly high demand, like a Leapfrog LeapPad Learning Tablet. It’s best to get those toys whenever they come in stock, or risk paying above retail on eBay or Amazon Marketplace. “For those items, the list price is the deal price,” de Grandpre says.
Let’s face it: Black Friday can be stressful, and afterwards, who wouldn’t want to skip town? Black Friday and Cyber Monday aren’t just for material gifts: The travel booking site Travelocity is offering a wide array of discounted airfares, hotels, and vacation packages that can be booked on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Need a suitcase? JCPenney is offering 50-60 percent off on several pieces of luggage during Black Friday, and Kohl’s has luggage sets for 65 percent off.