Black Friday is just around the corner, but Black Friday deals are already here. While the exact date of the North American shopping extravaganza this year is Nov. 29, many retailers have turned what used to be a weekend of special deals into a weeks-long marathon of advertising and price-slashing.
That’s just one reason why the era of door-buster deals and consumers lining up outside big-box retailers may be on its way out. Black Friday shopping is also, increasingly, happening online. Less than 16 per cent of 2,000 Canadians responding to a recent survey by RedFlagDeals.com said they plan to take Black Friday off this year. That’s likely because many plan to shop from home or work, according to the website’s general manager, Jeff Novak.
Still, even in its longer, digital-heavy incarnation, Black Friday continues to offer some of the biggest discounts of the year. Here are some tips to make the most of it:
When to shop
To wait or not to wait until the actual Black Friday weekend? That is the question facing shoppers bombarded with pre-Black Friday deals.
If you have your heart set on a particular product — you need that colour and that size — you may want to buy early.
If you’re gunning for the biggest discount, though, you may want to wait.
Online coupon sites
The discounts and the ads can get overwhelming. One way to simplify the search is to turn to sites like RedFlagDeals and RetailMeNot that aggregate deals, coupons and special offers.
Once you’ve decided what to buy and where, you can check on these sites to see whether the retailer you have in mind is part of their cash-back program. If it is, all you have to do is log in and access the retailer’s online portal through the cash-back site. These companies make money from online referrals and share some of the revenue with consumers via cash-back deposits.
Rakuten also has a browser extension that automatically finds the best available coupons and cash-back offers as you shop, the company says.
You’ll receive your cash-back rebates periodically via cheque, PayPal deposit or an Amazon Gift Certificate.
These sites can be a way to save year-round if you’re using them for purchases you would have made anyways. But if you tend to do most of your shopping on Black Friday, now may be a good time to try them out.
Best and worst things to buy
While the Black Friday game plan is changing for both retailers and consumers, the list of what to buy and what to avoid has remained roughly the same through the years.
Here are some of the product categories that usually see deep discounts both in the U.S. and Canada, according to RetailMeNot:
- Winter wear
- Gear and sneakers
- Designer handbags
Booking a trip around Black Friday can save you a lot of money, especially on organized travel, group tours and all-inclusive vacations, said personal finance expert and travel blogger Barry Choi. Air Canada Vacations, for example, usually has a big sale around this time of the year, he said. Booking.com is also going to have steep discounts, and hotel chain Iberostar has a slew of deals both in the run-up to and during Black Friday, Choi said.
The discounts mean “I can go to a place where I wouldn’t normally stay,” he said.
Still, some offers come with black-out dates or exclude costs like parking and resort fees, which can quickly add up, Choi warned.
And if you’re wondering what else to be wary of, here are the worst buys:
- Furniture. January is the best time to buy indoor furniture, according to money expert Kerry Taylor.
- The latest-generation gaming consoles. You’re unlikely to see any meaningful discounts of newly released video games on Black Friday. Retailers usually wait until the final week before Christmas before cutting prices on new models.
- Toys. Black Friday is more about grownups than little people. Often you’ll find bigger discounts on toys in December, according to NerdWallet. However, if your munchkin seems very eager for a particularly popular toy, you may want to buy ASAP, before quantities run out, RetailMeNot suggests.
- Gift cards. Gift cards can also be a better deal in December, when some retailers sell them at less than face value. Apple, for example, has sold $100 iTunes cards for as little as $70, according to RetailMeNot.
- Some TVs. While some of Black Friday’s famous monster deals are centred around TVs, Consumer Reports advises proceeding with caution. “Beware the cheapest set,” the U.S.-based non-profit warns. Some of the least expensive TVs the organization tested weren’t even worth rock-bottom prices.
Check the fine print
Black Friday deals are engineered to make us want to rush, but take the time to read the fine print, Consumer Reports advises.
“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 bring back.”