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. Here’s how to score the best deals and avoid getting ripped off.
Make a List (and Do Your Research) Before You Start
We feel that it’s necessary to point this out right away. Most retailers actually mark things up earlier in the year just so they can mark them down on Black Friday and convince you to buy them. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting a great deal, it just means that they marked the products up the rest of the year.
There’s also a stock of lower quality gadgets and other products that they need to get rid of—it’s rare that the high-end or high-quality items actually get marked down. That’s not to say that it doesn’t happen, but it’s just important to keep these things in mind when looking for deals. In some cases, there may even be specific models that are released only for Black Friday at bargain prices (with bargain quality). Remember, a $300 HDTV that has a crappy picture and two HDMI ports isn’t actually a deal if $500 would have got you a sharp picture and all the HDMI ports you needed.
Because that great sale might not be so great after all, and you’ll always save the most money by not spending your money in the first place. To that end, we recommend making a list before you dive in. 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.
In addition, remember that Black Friday—while it has some good sales—doesn’t always have the best deals of the year. Some TVs may be cheaper in December, January, and February, for example. (Read on for tricks on how to figure out what other items this applies for.
Furthermore, the best prices aren’t actually during any sale—they’re on the used market. Black Friday is great for buying gifts, but if you’re buying for yourself, you can save a lot more by scouring Craigslist, LetGo, and OfferUp for used products instead.
It seems terribly elementary, but by making a list of things you’d like to buy during Black Friday, 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. Remember you don’t want an HDTV, you want the HDTV that has all the features you like. Do your research on any product you buy—you know, just like you would if it weren’t Black Friday.
Amazon (and Many Others) Have Month Long Sales
Once upon a time, Black Friday was just one day: the Friday after Thanksgiving. Then came Cyber Monday, which was like a Black Friday for online retailers. Then the whole weekend started to blur together as one mega event. and now it’s gone even further.
Starting in 2014, Amazon decided that they’d have Black Friday all week long, and now they offer discounts all month long. For the entire month, you’ll find discounts of varying quality, and then the week leading up to Black Friday there are lightning 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 2017 page for the current listing.
You’ll find the same phenomenon across many other large retailers too (although Amazon certain has things down to an art with their barrage of fast-paced deals). Best Buy, Newegg, and dozens of other stories (virtual or otherwise) are cranking out so many early Black Friday sales that it’s wise to check in on them now and then spend your holiday just relaxing. You might only end up saving 45% on that thing you wanted instead of the 50% you’d save if you waited in line for a doorbuster price, but then again, you’d buy it without the lines or missing out on holiday time with your family. And speaking of which…
Avoid the Stores
One of the best ways to avoid getting ripped off, overspending, or both, is to stay away from physical stores. Retail stores offer 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 these days there is little reason to actually go to the stores. Outside of those rare door busters (that require campouts 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.
Compare Current (and Historical) Prices
There’s never been a good reason to take a retailer seriously when they tell you they’re offering you the best price—as we mentioned earlier, Black Friday doesn’t always offer the best prices of the year. 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 deals. Use the following sites and mobile apps to compare prices from at home and on the go.
- InvisibleHand: InvisibleHand 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.
- 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.
- 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. Further, Google Shopping will also list prices for the item in nearby stores you can see not only what the average price for the item is but how much you’ll pay if you want to buy it in town.
- CamelCamelCamel: CamelCamelCamel not only tells you the current price of an item on Amazon, Newegg, and Best Buy, but how its price has changed over time. 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). 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.
Historically, we recommended more than just CamelCamelCamel in the price comparison category, but so many sites have become shamelessly unethical when it comes to promoting retails as having the best price (when really they just have the best kickbacks for the deal site), so we’ve been forced to trim our list back.
Sign Up for Emails
We dislike junk mail 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 this month, 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. The competition for every shopping dollar has gotten so fierce that the Black Friday deal emails start pouring in before Halloween these days.
Feel free to set up a spam-catching email address specifically for this purpose—that way, you don’t have to worry about unsubscribing from them all when the holiday season is over.
Hunt the Deal Forums to Become a Deal Hawk
Price comparisons are great, getting an email coupon is too, but the true deal magic happens in 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 newsletter coupon 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.
- SlickDeals: 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. SlickDeals even has a dedicated BlackFriday app now, that will keep you up to date on current Black Friday deals whether you’re out braving the crowds or shopping from your couch (iOS/Android). You can also set up alerts for items you want, and save yourself the trouble of browsing the forums.
- 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.