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Nov 25

The Shopping Ninja’s Guide to Black Friday

Everyone’s favorite shopping holiday, Black Friday, is almost here. This week, millions of Americans will log on to Amazon, or stand in line at Walmart, to jump-start the holiday shopping season. Billions of dollars will be spent, but not every deal is worth taking advantage of. Here’s how to make sure you stay sharp in your post-turkey stupor and tackle the biggest shopping weekend of the year like a shopping ninja.

How much will Americans spend?

Thanksgiving is a day for indulgence, in food and spending time with friends and family. The weekend after has become an indulgence in shopping, with 174 million Americans participating in Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping. People aren’t afraid to spend money either, with the average shopper dropping $335. The splits between shopping online and actually going to a physical store are surprisingly even. 51 million Americans report only shopping in stores, 58 million only shop online, and the remaining 65 million shop both online and in stores.

This year, Thanksgiving falls on the latest possible date it can (November 28th, for those of you without a calendar), so retailers have the shortest possible amount of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Expect the shopping season to ramp up quickly; stores have a long way to go, but a short time to get there.

Not all deals are deals

When you browse through the Black Friday and Cyber Monday ads it seems like everything is on sale. Deals can be deceiving though, and you might not be getting the steal you think you are. Here are several things to look out for when shopping this weekend.

Compare prices

If you are planning to purchase a big-ticket item this weekend, you need to not only know what the price is going to be on Black Friday, but the complete price history of the item. $500 for a big TV might seem like a steal, but what does the TV normally sell for? There are tools available online that track the price history for just about anything you can think of. Doing research online before making a big purchasing decision will tell you how good of a deal something actually is. That $500 TV might not seem like such a deal after you learn it normally sells for $510.

For smaller items, price doesn’t matter as much; just use common sense. If you see National Lampoon’s: Christmas Vacation for $5 on Amazon, there’s no need to thoroughly research the price history before making your decision to purchase.

Beware of Black Friday-specific items

Some deals may seem too good to be true, and that’s because they are. Retailers know that consumers demand rock-bottom prices the weekend after Thanksgiving. To meet demand, they manufacture special products just for Black Friday through Cyber Monday. These are called derivative models, and although they are special they aren’t better. They are manufactured with cheaper components, and might come with less features than the standard models (for example, less HDMI ports on a TV).

To make sure you don’t end up with an inferior product, you need to check the model numbers very carefully. Black Friday-specific models will often have small differences in the model numbers. Double check the features to make sure they’re comparable to similar models and aren’t missing anything critical.

The deepest discounts aren’t necessarily the best deals

Stores will often draw you in with “shock and awe” sale prices, but the deepest discounts may not always be the best deals. Often, the products that get discounted the most are the ones nobody wants. The rule of supply and demand tells us that if retailers could sell it for a higher price, they would.

On the other hand, products with only slight or modest discounts might actually be the best deals. If the store isn’t cutting the price steeply, that usually means they don’t have much trouble selling the item normally. The weekend after Thanksgiving can be a great time to find deals on things that don’t usually ever go on sale. Certain Apple products, gift cards, premium electronics, and other name-brand products don’t usually see discounts, but they may get modest discounts on Black Friday that are worth taking advantage of.

What really matters

It can be too easy to get distracted by all the deals on Black Friday and ignore what really matters. Thanksgiving is a time for giving thanks and focusing on what we have, and not what we want. Make sure those important to you know how much you care for them.

Black Friday is seen by many as a display of greed, but it can just as easily be viewed as a display of giving and generosity. Americans standing in line at Walmart or waiting for the latest deals to drop on Amazon usually aren’t there for themselves, but for someone else. Most after-Thanksgiving shopping is done to make someone else’s holiday season a little bit brighter.