Black Friday can be a bargain hunter's bonanza, but smart shoppers know the biggest over-hyped shopping day of the year can also be treacherous. Not only can things get downright nasty between shoppers fighting over low-priced toaster ovens, but retailers pull out dirty sales tricks you will want to avoid as well.
Black Friday just isn't all that it's cracked up to be and if you are not careful you could be wasting your time and money on what you think are unbelievable deals that are actually duds. The truth about Black Friday "doorbuster" deals is they are little more than a sales tactic to lure you into the store where the odds are good you'll buy something even if all the doorbusters are gone. The term doorbuster deal is marketing-speak and is used to describe a limited number of low-priced merchandise shoppers are willing to wait in line for and maybe even bust the store's door down to buy when they open.
Here are five important tips for navigating the Black Friday fog of shopping before venturing out in the cold in search of a $100 HDTV or a $200 laptop late Thursday.
Savings are not what they seem
Here is the golden rule of Black Friday shopping: advertised savings are often inaccurate. Always do your homework and don't be fooled by supposed savings. Advertised price cuts are typically based on the manufacturer's suggested retail price or MSRP, but retailers often price an item at less than the MSRP to stay competitive.
Best Buy on Thursday will sell a Canon EOS Digital Rebel T3 12.2 megapixel camera for $450. That's a savings of $100, according to Best Buy, except that you can buy the exact same camera right now from the big box retailer for $500 . Best Buy is also offering a 50-inch Toshiba 1080p HDTV for $400 on Friday, which is supposed to be 50 percent off. And it would be if Best Buy was selling the item for $800, but you can buy it right now for $550 . You still get real world savings of $150, but that's nowhere near 50 percent off.
Another trick is to include a popular brand name item in your Black Friday flyer and not change the price at all. Items to watch out for include pretty much anything made by Apple as well as Amazon's Kindle devices. Staples' Black Friday flyer has a number of Kindle devices right on the front page such as the Kindle Paperwhite for $120 and the 16GB 7-inch Kindle Fire HD for $200. Kindle prices that are no cheaper now than they were on launch day.
Limited items per store
On Black Friday take terms such as "while supplies last" or "limited availability" very seriously. Stores such as Best Buy, Sears and Walmart routinely stock 2-5 items at a doorbuster price per store meaning you have to get in line early and, at some retailers, literallyrisk life and limb to get your item before stocks run out. Some retailers, such as Best Buy, get around the midnight madness dash by handing out vouchers for purchasing limited quantity deals. But with ticket handouts starting two hours before the store opens, you'll have to line-up early to take advantage of any significant deals. And in some areas of the country it may already be too late to line-up at Best Buy.
Black Friday is more expensive this year
Here's an interesting statistic: the median price for gear at many Black Friday retailers is actually higher in 2012 than it was in 2011, according to NerdWallet. The spendthrift site took a look at 22 Black Friday ad scans from 2011 and 2012 for major retailers such as Best Buy, Dell and Walmart. At Best Buy, NerdWallet reports, the median price for Black Friday gear is $35 this year, compared to $30 the previous year. NerdWallet surmises this is because retailers are expecting big crowds this holiday season and thus aren't as motivated to slash prices for the 2012 holidays as they were in previous years.
NerdWallet also found that 90 percent of current Black Friday ads contain some of the exact same items at the exact same prices as they did during Black Friday 2011. Electronics items like a 500GB USB 3.0 hard drive ($50) at RadioShack and a Brother multi-function printer ($200) at Staples haven't budged an inch on price in 12 months, NerdWallet says.
So this Black Friday you can look forward to saving less money and paying the same amount of money as you did in 2011 for an item that is now a year older.
You can get deals online
Every year more retailers are offering the same deals online as they are in store. In fact, some of the same deals slated for Black Friday were already being sold by retailers online at the Black Friday price a week early.
Walmart, for example, was offering a Samsung 32-inch 720p HDTV for $248 online (the deal is no longer available). And starting at 10 p.m. Thursday night the exact same TV will go on sale at Walmart locations for the exact same price.
Best Buy, as mentioned earlier, will start offering some of its deals online on Thursday. The Microsoft Store and Radio Shack are starting their deals online on Thursday morning at midnight. And don't forget November 26 is Cyber Monday, the official start of the online shopping season, when similar, if not the same, items will be available at low prices.
You get what you pay for, relatively speaking
Best Buy is offering a 40-inch Toshiba HDTV for just $180 on Black Friday. That's a pretty good deal, and I even highlighted it in a recent doorbuster deals post. But if you're wondering why that TV can be sold so cheap just look at the specs. This cheap-o Toshiba has a limited number of USB and HDMI ports, the refresh rate is average, and it has no Internet capability. Would I pay $180 for this TV? Yes. Would I stand in the cold for two to three hours, or in some cases up to a week, to pay that price? Heck no.
There are going to be some great electronics deals on Black Friday, but there will also be great deals online the following Monday plus a few more days in December leading up to free shipping day on December 17. So save yourself some grief and be thankful that this year you didn't become one of the suckers lining up for hours for doorbusters that really aren't such great deals in the first place.
This story, "How to spot bogus Black Friday deals" was originally published by PCWorld.