The Insider’s Shopping Guide to Black Friday Deals and Sales
Last update: 11/7/2016
Ahh, Black Friday...that delirious, manic shopping frenzy the day after Thanksgiving, and now the entire week! Black Friday marks the kickoff of the holiday buying season and retailers offer deep discounts to coax our credit cards from our wallets and purses.
Be sure to look at our Black Friday Ad Scans and Deals Page
Where did Black Friday Come From?
Let's face it; this American brand of holiday binge-buying has deep roots in our culture stretching back to the early twentieth century. Back in the day, behemoth department stores began sponsoring Thanksgiving parades to attract crowds of consumers to the front of their stores, where they prominently displayed the merchandise of the day in their windows with steep discounts on oversized price tags. In fact, the origin for Black Friday's name came from this era; this was traditionally the day when stores went into the black, or started to make a profit.
In the early 1960's, police officers in Philadelphia dubbed the day after Thanksgiving as "Black Friday", because the streets and sidewalks were so clogged with shopping traffic that day.
Today, retailers reach out to consumers via social media, email, search engine ads, and traditional TV and radio ads - but the result is the same: the best bargains of the year.
To help you find the best of those bargains, we have compiled this comprehensive guide to maximizing your discounts - and sheer shopping bliss - during this crazy time.
Black Friday: The Big In-Store Shopping Day?
Retailers plan their Black Friday strategies well in advance and often pricing information is unintentionally and intentionally leaked on social media and blog posts. If you want to know where the best deals are going to be on specific items, unleash your inner lurker - closely monitor your favorite Black Friday Websites and Apps.
And don't forget your venerable Thanksgiving day newspaper - it will be full of Black Friday ads and coupons. Time to subscribe for a couple days.
The weekend after Black Friday is often filled with special sales as well, but usually on different products and not nearly as discounted as on Black Friday.
Keep in mind - the start date for Black Friday has become fluid, and some stores - especially online retailers, start early. Visit sites like Best Buy, Walmart, or Target in early November, and you can view almost every deal to be launched on Black Friday. Last year, Target started Black Friday deals on November 24th - a full week early.
In fact, Amazon was utterly obtuse about launching early. “Black Friday 2013 is almost here, but we didn’t want you to wait until the day after Thanksgiving for Black Friday deals, so we kicked off the savings a little early,”said Amazon’s Black Friday site last year. “We are counting down to Black Friday 2014 with, yes, even more deals, all day, every day.”
The actual sales start online on Thanksgiving day and have been starting earlier each year in retail stores. Some retail stores are now breaking tradition and staying open on Thanksgiving day, to compete with their online competition. This is unfortunate for the workers as the holidays should be spent with family and friends, with almost 47% of shoppers agreeing with them.
Savvy shoppers know, however that not all products on sale for Black Friday are a great deal. Some retailers repeat the same products and pricing each year, and leftover products are often sold at even lower prices at Cyber Monday sales.
- Products on sale include popular items and one-off products brought in just for the sale.
- Watch out for inflated retail prices on some items and model numbers that cannot be found elsewhere - see more on this topic below.
- Some items may be sold for less later in the season.
- Many products that are MAP (Minimum Advertised Price), UMRP or fixed price cannot be discounted by the retailer, so they include freebies like gift cards instead.
Die-hard shoppers have learned get up early and camp out in front of their favorite stores to be among the first in line when they open their doors. Door buster deals, which are the most deeply discounted items, have limited stock and can sell out in just minutes.
To prevent chaotic stampedes in and out of the store, retailers have learned to hand out vouchers to shoppers outside before they open their doors. Retailers will often open as early as 5:00AM.
Black Friday Car Deals
Black Friday is also a great time to buy a car, although you will not find any super deals like those on TVs. The reason it is a good time to buy is because the date lines up with the annual year end inventory clearance that starts in October. Best deals are on current year models that are being phased out.
1. The sales usually start online early Thanksgiving Day. Different sites may launch their best specials at different times, so refresh your product's page often to see the price drop. 50% of Americans plan to shop on Thanksgiving . 42% plan to do it all online, and 40% will visit a store.
2. Rebates are not always as convenient as stores want you to believe. Retailers often advertise rebates in their ads, but consumers often overlook the real issue: they'll actually be charged full price at the register, and must then mail in the rebate form to receive their rebate in the form of a check. Processing times on these rebates vary wildly and can often take months for the rebate to arrive.
3. If you have tech items in your shopping list, watch out for derivative devices such as tablets, laptops, and TVs. Some retailers bring in cheap look-alike products in these categories with fewer features and capabilities. For example, you might be interested in an Asus 27" monitor, and you find a great price on a retailer's website. You notice, however that there is no manufacturer's model number, few technical specifications, and the monitor is listed as a "special buy." A search of the Asus website shows no matching monitor, and a Google search shows only the retailer's product. This monitor is likely a derivative product meant to resemble other, higher quality Asus products, and manufactured just for Black Friday.
4. Finally, don't be fooled by phony "regular" prices displayed next to the Black Friday price. Some retailers use the product's MSRP for this purpose to artificially inflate the discount amount. For instance, you may find a tablet for $99 with a regular price of $199. Great deal, right? Not so fast - a quick check of the manufacturer's website lists the tablet at $129. While $99 is not such a bad deal, it is a far cry from the $100 savings advertised.
5. Some Black Friday deals are available at other sales during the year. And in some cases, better deals can be had later in the year as the holiday season progresses. For example, consider a kitchen staple: the iconic Kitchenaid Classic Stand Mixer. In 2013, the mixer was priced at $199 at Target for Black Friday - a full $30 discount from its usual $229 price tag. However, if you had checked the Target website a month earlier, you would have found it available for just $184.
6. Not everything in the store is on sale. Sure, door busters grab the headlines, but most of the products in any given store will be full price. Clearly, the best strategy for smart shoppers is to research and price compare.
7. Leaked Black Friday Ads start appearing at the end of October. Most of the initial ones are from smaller store chain trying to get some free publicity. (Half Price Books, Harbor Freight, Ace Hardware) The large stores (Target, Walmart, Best Buy) typically have their ads leaked around Mid November.
How to Prepare for Black Friday
If you have ventured out into the frantic frenzy of Black Friday before, you know it pays to be prepared. Start by finding others in your family and friends who are willing to join you - you can take turns standing in line, compare notes, and even split up to make certain you get all the fast moving items before they sell out. At the very least, coordinate your trips and save time.
Here's our top tips for navigating the chaos:
- Look online for deals before picking a store to go to
- Buy online instead of waiting in line
- Bring snacks and water
- Make certain you keep track of when your favorite stores open and when the door busters are valid
- Wear comfortable clothes and keep warm
- Charge up your smartphone or tablet
- Download Black Friday app
Prepare your payment methods
- Make sure all your credit cards have chips
- Setup phones that have Apple Pay or Samsung Pay
- Create accounts for Paypal, Visa Checkout
Don't fall victim to unintended impulse purchases - savvy shoppers know to put a shopping list on their smartphone and stick to it. And don't forget to include something for yourself this holiday season - you've worked smart and hard all year, right?
Smart Tip: Visit deal sites such as BuyVia which will list Black Friday sales early at major retailers.
While more Black Friday shoppers are shopping online in their PJs while sipping a latte each year, this also means the store crowds are thinning. The upshot for you? Some of the best items with the deepest discounts may only be available in the store.
But just because you are venturing out doesn't mean you have to be offline. Gear up your inner shopping warrior - charge your smartphone and tablet, and bring extra batteries. Download an app like Black Friday app for Android and iOS.
- Payoff your credit cards
- Bring friends
- Have a shopping list with products and model numbers and clothing sizes
- Go to the store a few days before to check out where products are located
- Have a parking strategy ready if there is no parking lot
- Have a schedule of store hours
Although Black Friday is no longer the official start date of the holiday shopping season, the date itself is still a strong incentive for retailers - a symbol that they can once again pick up their virtual megaphone and start the shameless shill to separate you from your gift-giving dollars.
Smart consumers have learned to be less concerned about the date and more about the discount itself. It's not so different than any other time of year; discerning comparison shopping will always help you find the best deal.
Still, Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year with millions being spent across the nation. Your entire holiday shopping list and personal wish list can be fulfilled at a fraction of the regular price. If you want to get the absolute rock bottom pricing, it is crucial that you plan ahead to reap the rewards available on these two days.
Don't forget the Saturday after Black Friday is now Small Business Saturday. Save some of your money and shop local or use your American Express card - American Express even offers rewards when you buy from participating small businesses.
And finally, you may want to save some space on your credit cards for Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday occurs online the Monday after Black Friday and offers amazing discounts, incentives, and best of all - free shipping.
For example, Cyber Monday starts at midnight on Amazon and new deals kickoff every ten minutes. Last year, Cyber Monday became Cyber Week; Amazon pushed deals to discount-thirsty consumers for five days, and they covered a wide range of products.
Do you have a favorite Black Friday or Cyber Monday story to share with us? Please comment below.