Follow CR’s advice to get the best deals now and through the holiday season
By James K. Willcox and Samantha B. Gordon
Some of us wait all year for the Black Friday shopping season, our heads filled with the promise of scoring the very best price on a new TV, smart speaker, printer, or other high-tech gadget. And for good reason—this is when we tend to see some of the biggest discounts of the year on virtually everything.
This year, the landscape of the Black Friday season is changing yet again. As concerns about inflation rise, the National Retail Federation has reported that consumers have started shopping for the holidays earlier than ever before in an effort to find savings and avoid possible price hikes caused by inflation. Retailers have risen to meet their needs, starting the deals in early October. And the sales will only continue throughout November and into December.
A holiday shopping trend report from Adobe predicts that the discounts being offered this year will reach record highs. And even though there are plenty of great sales now, the best deals will still come between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. Adobe suggests that Thanksgiving will be the day to shop for most electronics, but that Black Friday will offer up the lowest TV prices. If you’re looking for toys, wait until Saturday. Apparel and sporting goods can be found at their best prices on Sunday, and laptops are expected to be a bargain on Cyber Monday.
No matter if you shop sales now or wait for Thanksgiving and Black Friday, many of those deals masquerading as fantastic bargains are not always as good as they look, and it’s easy to be fooled if you’re not careful.
No worries—Consumer Reports has been tracking Black Friday deals for years, and we know all the tricks. Our top 10 Black Friday shopping tips will help you find the best offers and keep the frustration—and overspending—to a minimum.
The final three tips in the list below apply specifically to TVs, always a hot-ticket item at this time of year.
1. Start early. Sales have already begun, which means you don’t have to wait for Black Friday weekend to find discounts. Retailers are offering deals on items in virtually every category, and many have holiday refund and return policies that include partial refunds for items that go on sale for less later in the season. Target, for instance, offers price match adjustments for anything bought at its stores or online between October 6 and December 24. If you see that the price has dropped, contact customer service and they’ll refund you the difference. You just have to save your receipts and be proactive about it.
2. Skip the in-store sales and shop online. While many deals will be available in-person and online, you may have more luck and more options by shopping from your phone or computer. In recent years, we’ve seen retailers offer more of the same promotions online that they do in stores.
We’ve also seen more stores remain closed on Thanksgiving, giving shoppers even more incentive to turn to their online counterparts to find deals during the holiday.
3. Use websites and apps. To judge how good the deals really are in crunch time, you need to track prices leading up to Black Friday. The same goes for Cyber Monday. But you don’t have to go retailer by retailer to compare prices. The Consumer Reports website lists the current prices at various outlets for the products in our ratings. You can also try Google Shopping, PriceGrabber, and Shopzilla. When you’re in a store, smartphone apps such as BuyVia, Shopkick, ShopSavvy, and Shopular let you scan bar codes or QR codes to compare prices, get discounts, and score coupons.
There are now dozens of websites that post leaked—and authorized—Black Friday ads. We regularly check BestBlackFriday.com, DealNews, TheBlackFriday.com, Deals Plus/BlackFriday.fm, and GottaDeal. Sign up for deal alerts, which you can usually filter by product category.
Retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and Walmart have their own shopping apps, as well. Amazon’s mobile app, for example, lets you use a smartphone camera to scan products and compare prices when you’re in a store. (When you’re done crossing everything off your holiday list, delete the apps you don’t use to protect your privacy and security.)
But direct comparison shopping can be really tough in the run-up to Black Friday. The best deals at each retailer often feature models unavailable at other stores or nowhere to be found earlier in the year. Here are two quick tips:
• Browser extensions can help. These are small bits of software you can add to web browsers such as Chrome and Firefox to customize your browsing experience. For example, CamelCamelCamel and Honey are tools that will show you price histories and price alerts or available coupons when you shop online.
• To be a web-savvy shopper, add items to your shopping cart if they have a price you like, so you can find them again quickly and be all set to order. Then go check the websites of other retailers to see whether the price is really special. Putting an item in your cart doesn’t reserve it, though—you need to place your order and get a confirmation that it has been received.
4. Use loyalty programs. Store loyalty programs often grant members early access to coupons, sales, and promotions, then let them earn rewards on what they buy. So sign up for Black Friday shopping alerts. In some cases, you can even find out whether the products you want are in stock or eligible to buy online and pick up at a store, which can save you money on shipping.
5. Get social. The Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds of your favorite retailers are a great way to find out about exclusive deals and promotions. Retailers will often reward customers who like or follow them with special alerts to Black Friday discounts and incentives. And of course texts, tweets, and social media posts are an easy way to share Black Friday shopping intel with your friends, too.
6. Create a budget—and stick to it. Yes, this sounds simple. But Black Friday sales, especially the doorbuster specials available in limited quantities, are designed in part to get you into a store or shopping online so that the retailer can sell you stuff you weren’t intending to buy. It’s really easy to get caught up in the excitement and overspend. Decide ahead of time how much you want to your Black Friday shopping spree to cost, and do your best to resist impulse buying, especially if you’re not sure how good a deal is.
With the shift to online buying, more of us will be using credit cards to pay for purchases. One benefit is that many cards will double the manufacturer’s warranty. But be wary of the interest-free promotions offered by store credit cards. They’re fine if you’re disciplined enough to pay off the balance before the promotional period ends, but if you don’t do that, you’ll get stuck paying interest on the full amount of the purchase, even if you’ve paid down a lot of the balance.
7. Check all store policies in advance. It’s always good to know a store’s price-match and return policies. Analysts expect more retailers to price-match specific deals this year. Almost all the major retailers have some form of price-match policy, and they’ve been expanding them almost every year.
Some stores suspend their price-match guarantees on certain items during the Black Friday weekend, however, so read the fine print. Check the return and exchange policies for Black Friday sales to make sure that the store won’t charge a restocking fee for any item you take back.
Tips for TV Shoppers
Televisions deserve some special attention because so many people shop for deals on TVs at this time of year. Here are three Black Friday shopping tips if you’re looking to upgrade your set this year.
8. Wait until Black Friday to buy. This year, as in years past, we’re expecting to see the biggest discounts on televisions on Black Friday. The Adobe trend report is predicting discounts as high as 19 percent on average, which is up from just 11 percent last year. So it’s shaping up to be a great year to upgrade your TV.
9. Consider a “derivative” TV model. Starting this month, you’ll begin to see low-priced TVs made specifically for Black Friday. Some are available only through a single retailer. These sets are called “derivatives,” because they’re derived from mainstream models—they just have different model numbers and maybe scaled-back features, such as fewer HDMI inputs or a simpler remote control.
We don’t test all the derivative models, but we do bring a number of them into the lab. We often find some derivative TVs from major brands that perform equally well in CR’s tests, despite being priced $100 to $150 lower.
Not every TV introduced at this time of year is a true derivative, though. So it can be hard to judge the quality of newly introduced sets, and it’s difficult to compare prices, too. Consumer Reports will report on heavily promoted sets as they come on the market, and help you pick out the better deals.
10. Beware the cheapest set. Super-low-priced doorbuster specials draw people in with visions of savings, but the sets—often from lesser-known brands—are not always worth the price.
“It is always worth reminding people that Black Friday products are often older technology or specifically engineered to sell at a special Black Friday price and may not be exactly what a consumer would choose,” Stephen Baker, vice president for industry analysis at the market research firm NPD Group, told us last year.
Keep in mind that you’ll be watching your new TV for a number of years. If you’re not happy with the features or picture quality, you may regret not spending the extra $50 to $100 to get something better.
Those loss-leader TVs are usually at their rock-bottom price, too. A retailer may have more wiggle room on a step-up or flagship model, and you shouldn’t hesitate to ask for a better price—regardless of the time of year.