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The How-To Geek Guide to Black Friday and Cyber Monday Sales

It’s that shop-til-you-drop time of year again and retailers have already spent most of November with teaser sales and ads for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Read on as we show you how to score the best deals and avoid getting ripped off.

Black Friday and… Cyber Monday?

First, a crash course on these two shopping holidays. Black Friday is the Friday immediately after Thanksgiving and regarded by many as the start of the Christmas shopping season and the most familiar of the shopping holidays. Although the term only came into use in the 1960s, the phenomenon of shopping after Thanksgiving for Christmas certainly predates it. Each decade since the 1960s has intensified the drive for better and better consumer deals and, in the present, it’s not uncommon to see absurd deals during Black Friday sales like below-retail game consoles (however limited the stock may be).

Cyber Monday is a companion shopping “holiday” that follows Black Friday and is the first Monday after Thanksgiving. The term was coined by members of the ecommerce marketing community in 2005 as a way of promoting increased sales for web-based retailers. Thanks to an aggressive marketing scheme and the widespread adoption of sales date across multiple types of retailers, Cyber Monday has quickly gone from known-among-geeks to well known among the general populace.

Practically speaking, not only have the two shopping holidays largely blended together (retailers without brick and mortar stores host Black Friday sales and those with brick and mortar stores, even if they’re selling things as entirely un-“cyber” as sweaters, now have Cyber Monday sales), but most retailers have outright claimed the entirely of November as “Black November”. We’ve been getting Black November sale promotions in our inbox for weeks now. As such, it’s far more practical to focus on deal saving tips and tricks that apply to both holidays (which have essentially merged into one massive shopping weekend).

Retailers promoting both shopping holidays like to claim that they’re offering the best deals and do everything in their power to entice you to spend your money, but are you really scoring a deal? Let’s take a look at how you can actually score deals and avoid getting burned.

Amazon’s Black Friday is All Week Long

For 2014, Amazon has decided that they will have Black Friday all week long, with new deals happening every 10 minutes or so. There are definitely some good deals to be found, although if you are looking for a specific item you may or may not find what you are looking for. You can visit Amazon’s Black Friday 2014 page for the current listing.

Avoid the Stores

One of the best ways to avoid getting ripped off, over spending, or both, on Black Friday is to stay away from physical stores. Retail stores offers extremely enticing “door buster” type sales, but those door buster items are few and far between. If you’re not actually camped out in the Best Buy parking lot right through your family’s Thanksgiving Dinner you’re not getting a ticket to purchase any of those door busters. Showing up after the Black Friday morning stampede has passed through is not only a terrible way to save on anything, but it just encourages you to look at (and potentially buy) the stuff that isn’t marked way down.

Not only is avoiding the stores a great way to not get injured by hordes of overly eager shoppers, but increasingly there is little reason to actually go to the stores. Outside of those rare door busters (that require camp outs to capture), retailers have taken to putting the deals online to avoid missing out on customers who prefer to shop online. By shopping from the comfort of your couch or desk, you’re in a better position to adhere to the rest of our tips, as you’ll be away from the gleam of all the other stuff on the shelves and free from the subconscious pressure to shop and not leave empty handed.

Make a List

What would you buy, right now, if it wasn’t on sale? Would you pay full price for an Xbox One? Would you buy that external hard drive you’ve been meaning to purchase and finally back up your family photos? If you’d buy it now, at full price, then of course you should look for it on sale.

It seems terribly elementary, but by making a list of things you’d like to buy (whether it’s a list of computer upgrades or Christmas gifts), you armor yourself against suddenly wanting to buy a marked down (but still very expensive) IPS monitor just because it’s suddenly on a flash sale.

Not only that, but if you make your wish list ahead of time, especially when it comes to things like electronics, you’ll know exactly what you want and you won’t end up buying your second or third-tier choice just because some retailer claims it’s 50% off.

Compare Current Prices

There’s never been a good reason to take a retailer seriously when they tell you they’re offering you the best price and now, thanks to technology, there’s no reason to be left in the dark. Shoppers today have the world at their fingertips when it comes to finding the best deal. Use the following sites and mobile apps to compare prices from at home and on the go.

Invisible Hand – Invisible Hand is a browser add-on and mobile app that shows you if the item you’re currently looking at is cheaper elsewhere. The true magic trick here is that you don’t have to actively compare and search, it simply checked what retail product you’re looking at and quietly notifies you that you’re about to overpay for it. iOS app available here.

Amazon – Amazon doesn’t always have the best price in town, but they’re a great baseline when comparison shopping. That Skylander Mega Expansion Pack on sale for 50% off suddenly doesn’t look like such a good sale when the Amazon price scan shows the Amazon non-sale price is already 60% off retail. Browse the actual site or use the barcode scanner to snatch items. Mobile apps available for iOs, Android, and Windows Phone, here.

Red Laser – Scan bar codes or take a photo of an item to get the best price both online and at nearby stores. Red Laser is a well established mobile-only deal comparison app available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.

Google Shopping – The best feature Google Shopping has going for it is that you can immediately see what prices the item you’re searching for is listed for and how many stores are listing it. If you see 50+ stores offering the same item for $99, there’s a strong chance that’s the realistic market rate for the item and you can base your opinion of the current sale you’re eyeing on that figure.

Whether you use our suggested resources or do some search engine comparisons of your own, there has never been a better time to be an informed consumer.

Compare Historical Prices

This is where the price comparison tricks get even better. Not only is it easy to compare current prices, but thanks to price tracking websites, it’s easy to compare historical prices, too. This is an important step because retailers tend to let prices drift up around the holidays so the killer sales they’re pitching look all the more enticing (without hurting their profit as much).

CamelCamelCamel –  CamelCamelCamel specializes in Amazon, NewEgg, and Best Buy price tracking. Not only is it useful to make sure you’re not over paying on Amazon, it’s also useful if you’re using Amazon as your general price baseline. If the price has hit several lows and spiked over the last year, it’s important to know if you’re in the valley or the rise. You can scrutinize the actual price charts yourself or use the handy good deal/best price badges to see if a product is at a currently stable price or historic low. CamelCamelCamel offers price alerts when items you’re monitoring drop in price.

PriceGrabber – Although PriceGrabber doesn’t have a wide reach (you’ll typically find around a dozen big name retailers in any given comparison) it does offer 6 months worth of price tracking, tax and shipping information, and product reviews all rolled into one.

Sign up for Emails

We dislike junkmail as much as the next person, but email coupons can yield ridiculous savings. Our “promotions” tab in Gmail has been brimming with sale coupons and pre-release deal links where we can buy products before sales go public on the main site.

If you’re searching for hardware deals this holiday season, for example, it would be silly to not sign up for the promotional emails from NewEgg, Fry’s Electronics, TigerDirect, and other computer retailers you frequent.

Feel free to set up a spam-catching email address specifically for the purpose.

 Hunt the Deal Forums to become a Deal Hawk

Price comparisons are great, getting an email coupon is too, but where the true deal magic happens is monitoring deal forums. Whether it’s Black Friday or the middle of summer, you stand to save a ton by keeping an eye on the serious deal forums. Internet deal hunters are hardcore. We’ve saved thousands of dollars over the years by keeping an eye on the forums they frequent where they trade tips that lead you to buy things in ways you may never have bought them–like visiting the vendor’s website from the Bing search engine, stacking two coupons, and signing up for an email to net a total of 73% off a product that’s listed for 20% off. Where do you find crazy tips like that? Dive into these sites:

Fat Wallet  – The whole web site is devoted to deals, but the forum is where the deal hunting really happens. Inside the Hot Deals forum you’ll find tips, tricks, price alerts, and coupons. Even better, the real currency in the forum is one upping other posters and proving or disproving the quality of the deals. You’ll know almost instantly if a post is worth pursuing. You can find the dedicated Black Friday forum here.

SlickDealsweb – SlickDeals also has a Hot Deals forum and it’s just as bustling as Fat Wallet’s with the same level of competition between posters. Tune in and get a constantly updating list of the best deals around the web. You can find the dedicated Black Friday forum here.

GottaDeal – GottaDeal doesn’t get as much coverage as Fat Wallet and SlickDeals, but the forums have been around for nearly ten  years and there is a pretty large base of posters scouring the web and posting deals in their forums. You can find the dedicated Black Friday forum here.

As we mentioned above, the people who make these forums their virtual stomping grounds are serious deal hunters. They’re not checking in for Black Friday, they’re hunting the internet for deals every day of the year. If someone posts a Black Friday ad or link that’s clearly peddling an inflated-price item with a fake Black Friday markdown, they’ll be the first to tell you that it’s a rip off.


Armed with these tips and tricks you can avoid stores, comparison shop effectively, and get back to spending time with friends and family over the holiday weekend.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 11/25/14

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