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
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.
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.
• 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.