The choice between hitting the stores on Black Friday or waiting for online deals on Cyber Monday may seem simple to most. Do I want to experience the rush of the annual in-store frenzy? Or do I prefer sitting at home, comfy on my couch, clicking through sales? The best strategy for savings may actually be a mixture of both.
While Black Friday still draws millions of shoppers to brick-and-mortar stores, many consumers have opted to skip the long lines and parking headaches and wait for the online convenience of Cyber Monday.
Retailers have responded with offering specials that are in-store only, or alternatively, discounts only available online. Retailers also tend to offer deep discounts on select categories on either Black Friday or Cyber Monday.
So spreading your shopping over both days may give you the best bang for your buck.
Black Friday always takes place the day after Thanksgiving. This year, Black Friday is November 29, which is later than most years. That means a shorter holiday shopping season. Expect to see Black Friday “creep” this year, with sales starting sooner than usual and some as early as November 1.
The main focus of Black Friday deals tends to be electronics. We all know shoppers—maybe you’re one of them!—that have camped out overnight at a big box store so they can snag a new flat screen TV or Xbox.
True to form, you’ll see deep discounts on TVs, tablets, laptops, headphones, gaming consoles and smartphones on Black Friday. TVs and laptops will see the steepest price cuts. In the past, laptops have dropped as low as $99.
With all electronics, be sure you’re getting the model you want, because sometimes retailers will only deeply discount off-brands or older merchandise.
You can also expect to see special discounts on home goods and small kitchen appliances like mixers, coffeemakers, toasters and crockpots. It’s a good day to snatch up food storage container sets, dishes and other kitchen ware, along with power tools and drill sets.
And if Thanksgiving dinner proved too much for your old oven or dishwasher, you’re in luck—large household appliances are usually some of the best deals on Black Friday.
Check online before you go
It pays to check online. In previous years, some retailers’ “in-store-only” sales on Black Friday were also available online. So do a quick check before you head to the mall; you may be able to stay home and enjoy those Thanksgiving leftovers while shopping from the comfort of your living room.
Read the fine print
While there are sales galore on Black Friday, be wary of vague “doorbuster” and “early bird” deals. Be sure to always read the fine print.
And, if a deal is crazy good, prepare yourself with the knowledge that: 1. Quantities will be extremely limited; 2. You will probably still be digesting your Thanksgiving turkey when you have to get in line; and 3. You may have to fight off your neighbors—and the entire city—to get the deal.
Cyber Monday falls on the Monday after Thanksgiving. This year, Cyber Monday is on December 2.
Apparel is where it’s at on Cyber Monday. Many websites offer as much as 60 percent off clothes and footwear. Some websites sweeten the deal even further with additional coupons and discounts valid only that day. Check your e-mail to see if you receive any offers or coupons from companies you shop at regularly or subscribe to before you start your online shopping. To seal the deal, many online retailers also offer free shipping.
You’ll also see bargains on toys, games, previous-generation gaming systems and VR, computer parts and holiday photos. Smart-home devices, smart lights, baby monitors and security cameras are also solid Cyber Monday buys.
Online sites like Groupon are frequent Cyber Monday participants, with discounted deals on massages, kids’ activities, nail salons and more. Online education sites also usually discount their courses on Cyber Monday.
Travel can be a great Cyber Monday buy, but you can’t be too picky. Airlines, hotels and tours drop prices that day, but only for trips taken to specific places on specific dates. If your travel dates are flexible, there are some fantastic savings to be had. In previous years, domestic flights have dropped as low as $50. Also expect discounts on cruises, and flash sales with up to 90 percent off vacation packages.
Get deals, not duds
Regardless of which day you shop, it’s best to do some legwork ahead of time to make sure you’re getting the best deals and not duds.
Research prices. Just because an item is marked down doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good deal. In fact, one study found that nearly 20 percent of items on sale for Black Friday were actually more expensive than they were the week before. So if you have specific items you’re planning to buy on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, it pays to do a little browsing ahead of time.
Compare prices. One of the easiest ways is to use a price comparison engine to cross-check prices like Google Shopping or PriceGrabber. These shopping sites collect product and price information from a variety of retailers and display the results on a single page so you can compare and contrast prices. If you’re shopping on the go, check out mobile deal and price comparison apps like BuyVia, ShopSavvy or PricePirates.
Keep in mind that no price comparison tool is capable of capturing every retailer. Google Shopping, for instance, usually doesn’t provide Amazon prices. So it’s good practice to use more than one search engine in conjunction with another. It’s also a good idea to check the manufacturer’s direct website to see if they offer a better price.
Beware of bogus price drops. It’s easy to get drawn in by words like “50% off!”—especially on Black Friday and Cyber Monday when you are bombarded by discounts. But how can you tell if it’s a legitimate offer or not? Retailers have a bad habit of inflating prices and then offering “discounts” on special sale days.
First, verify the original price at the manufacturer’s website. Tech giants Apple, Dell, Lenovo and Samsung have online shops where they list the retail prices of their products. Next, check a competitor’s price. For instance, if you’re unsure of a deal you see on Amazon, check out the same product at Best Buy or Walmart and see what price they’re offering. With a little bit of research, it should be easy to determine if the offer you’re seeing is truly a good deal.
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Resources: The Balance, Tom’s Guide, Forbes, Nationwide, Black Friday, TheBlackFriday.com, TheStreet.com, Oberlo, NBC News