Top 10 Black Friday Shopping Tips
Follow CR's advice to get the best deals, now and throughout the holiday season
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 high-tech gadget.
But as you can imagine, 2020 presents some unique challenges, with significant shortages in some product categories—yes, laptop computers, we're talking about you—and unclear guidance on timing, given that many of the biggest retailers plan to kick off their holiday sales weeks earlier.
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Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us will be cutting back on in-store visits and shopping online instead. And that’s going to alter the nature of holiday promotions, too.
Go to Consumer Reports' Holiday Gift Guide for updates on deals, expert product reviews, insider tips on shopping, and much more.
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There's one thing that isn't changing, though: Many of those deals masquerading as fantastic bargains are not as good as they look—and you don't want to let all the marketing hype fool you.
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 apply specifically to TVs, always a hot-ticket item at this time of year.
1. Start early. Analysts we spoke to agree that starting to shop early this year will be a good strategy, not only because deals are kicking off earlier but also because hot products may quickly sell out or fail to arrive at your doorstep in a timely manner.
“Shoppers who do all their purchasing before Black Friday are more likely to find items in stock, and they have the best chance of getting their purchases shipped in a timely fashion,” says Michael Bonebright, consumer analyst at comparison shopping site DealNews.com.
Walmart, for example, just announced it will have three "Deals for Days" events staggered throughout November that kick off online and then move to stores. Target's "Deal Days" will also span the entire month of November.
Stephen Baker, vice president for industry analysis at the market research firm NPD Group, cautions that while it’s tempting to wait until the last minute to see whether even better deals emerge, the product shortages we saw earlier in the year could be repeated this holiday season, thanks to a high demand for electronics. This will be especially true for TVs.
“The bottom line is that TV prices will always fluctuate, and the best time to buy a TV, especially during a holiday with anticipated record demand, is really when you have decided on the product you want,” he says.
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, which now stretches into a week of online specials.
2. Skip the in-store sales and shop online. There will probably be fewer big in-store promotions this year—no reason to attract crowds—and more emphasis on online shopping, with either free delivery or ship-to-store programs with curbside pickup.
“Since the shift to online shopping has been so successful, I expect many retailers to double down on that strategy and offer promotions throughout the whole month, essentially turning Cyber Monday into a Cyber November,” says Paul Gagnon, senior research director at market research firm Omdia Gagnon.
That means retailers may react to prices offered by their online competitors, making it possible for new deals to emerge throughout the holiday shopping period.
Several major retailers—including Best Buy, Target, and Walmart—have already announced they’ll be closed on Thanksgiving. At those retailers still holding in-store events, expect to find COVID-19 safety protocols in place, such as mandatory mask requirements and limits on the number of people allowed inside the building at one time. That will probably mean fewer doorbuster stampedes and fewer die-hard shoppers lined up in the wee hours of the morning waiting for the doors to open.
3. Use websites and apps. 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 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.
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