Tips for Shopping Smart in the Sales
Follow our guide to saving money and getting the best deals in the holiday sales.
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The holiday shopping season began extremely early this year when Amazon led the way with a round of deals over a month before the “traditional” Black Friday with its Prime Early Access Sale (opens in new tab) in October. That second Amazon Prime Day of the year turned out to be the opening shot of holiday shopping.
Others followed, including Best Buy, Home Depot, and Walmart. And sprinkled in there were plenty of deals to make Cyber Monday jealous, with even Apple loosening up and cutting prices passed on to retailers like Target, which now has Apple shops built in.
But there’s still going to be plenty of Black Friday shopping (except at outdoors supplier REI (opens in new tab)) and Cyber Monday tech deals to consider, and retailers are optimistic about holiday sales overall. To that end, we’re offering some guidance for smart shopping on both days and throughout the busy retail season. Have at it.
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Black Friday Deals Will Still Happen
Despite the early launch of Black Friday deals, retailers know traditions die hard. Shoppers will still be up early on November 25 and scouting for bargains as they start (or continue!) their holiday shopping -- plenty of retailers are keeping early Black Friday store hours (opens in new tab). And shopping experts are still pointing to Cyber Monday to get good deals on tech.
“You’ll be able to find deals across all categories, but the categories to really watch are tech, like laptops, TVs, and video game bundles; small home appliances, like robotic vacuums and countertop gadgets; beauty products, and fall apparel and footwear,” notes smart shopping expert Trae Bodge of TrueTrae.com.
Deals expert Andrea Woroch drills down even deeper on Black Friday deals, advising shoppers to be on the lookout for free gift cards and extra rewards on Black Friday. Target, for example, is offering a free $10 gift card for every $50 spent on Legos.
“You can also find deeper discounts on gift cards from restaurants and retailers like Amazon, offering money off or an additional bonus card with purchase that ends up being like two gifts in one,” says Woroch.
Beyond that, “look out for deals on personal gadgets, video game consoles, smart home devices, big screen TVs and small kitchen gadgets,” says Woroch. “You may even find doorbusters on select apparel like a PJ set, sweater or slippers.”
You’d Better Shop Around
It’s a given to know your prices going into your bargain hunt, but in the thrill of the chase, sometimes people forget.
“You'll want to shop around for a couple of reasons,” says Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst at DealNews. “First, to make sure you're getting the best price, obviously, but also to see if other retailers are offering extra perks with their deals. For instance, many may be offering a product at the same price, but you may be able to save more with coupons, rebates, or store credit, which would push one retailer out in front of the others and ensure you'll save even more.”
Smart Shoppers Have a Backup Plan
While overstock has been an issue for retailers this year, out-of-stocks could still be an issue for shoppers, especially on popular items (gaming devices on Cyber Monday, for example). Warnings in 2021 of mass shortages due to supply chain disruptions (remember those?) didn’t quite pan out, but it’s still a good idea to carry with you a backup plan for your holiday shopping.
“Whether you're worried about items selling out or discounts not being what you need, it's good to have a backup plan in place,” says Ramhold. “That way, you have something in mind to shop for if your first choice doesn't work out for whatever reason, and you won't have to worry about panic shopping the big sales and potentially buying something that you'll regret later.”
Panic shopping could force you to buy something you really didn’t want to buy or force you to step out of your financial comfort zone. Or both.
Use Cash-Back Apps and Browser Extensions
Honing your cybershopping skills can save you money.
Says Ramhold, “With inflation affecting prices, using cash back apps and browser extensions is one way to make sure you save at least a little something on your shopping. Even if the rates are on the lower side, if you use the apps and extensions enough the cash back will add up over time and you may receive a significant check at the end of the season.”
Woroch notes that retailers may inflate an original price to make a deal look like a better value “so equip yourself with knowledge and do a little homework,” she says.
Here’s her guidance:
- Review price histories using CamelCamelCamel.com (opens in new tab) to see what an item has sold for previous to the sale, up to 120 days prior.
- Compare competitor prices using the PriceBlink (opens in new tab) tool so you don't miss out on any better deals, even from sites you wouldn't have thought to check.
- Beware of derivative doorbusters — off-brand electronics or models made for holiday sales may be missing key components and features or made of cheap material to keep prices low.
- Research potential purchases (by model number, even) to figure out whether they have been offered all year long. Reviews on trusted sites can help you make sure you're getting what you want.
- Compare coupons in one place using a deal aggregator like CouponCabin.com (opens in new tab).
- Be cautious about rebate promotions – if you’re giving a gift, for example, you’re unlikely to be able to claim it if you have to do something like cut out a barcode from the product packaging. Instead, opt for a smaller discount from a retailer offering instant savings and earn a rebate by using a cashback app like Fetch Rewards (opens in new tab) that gives you free gift cards for snapping pictures of your receipts.
- Set sale alerts using Paypal Honey Droplist (opens in new tab) or SlickDeals and track price drops even after purchase using Paribus (opens in new tab), as you may be eligible for a price adjustment through the store or credit card you bought it with.
- Skip store credit card offers — they have high-interest rates and expensive fees, and low credit limits rarely outweigh the rewards offered (which are generally linked just to that retailer.) You're better off using a general-use cash back credit card that can earn you more back over the entire holiday season than whatever amount you'd save in a single transaction.
What to Skip in the sales
Not everything is a good buy at sales time, of course. We’ve already offered you some tools to figure out if a seemingly good buy is really a good buy. Here are a few more things to skip:
Avoid buying clothing, beauty, and footwear on Black Friday. These are best to buy on Cyber Monday “with plenty of site-wide sales (look for coupon codes to save more via text alerts, email newsletters or coupon sites),” says Woroch.
And then there are items to wait on altogether. “Toys will be marked down further the last two weeks of December and winter apparel is cheapest the last few days before Christmas, and right after.” Hold off buying bedding and linen until the new year – during January's “white sales.”
Stores to Hit for Black Friday and Cyber Monday Shopping
Malls and strip shopping centers have been the typical destinations for early rising shoppers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
But Bodge says think outside that box – and head for the big box store as well.
“If you belong to Costco, Sam’s Club, or BJ’s, take a look at their ad circulars to see what they have going on over Cyber Weekend,” says Bodge. “They often have deep discounts on tech, and clothing. They also have giant holiday gift baskets that can be broken up into smaller gifts.”
We’ve regularly updated our list of the best things to buy at dollar stores, and smart shoppers should make them their destination for Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping.
“If you haven’t been to one lately, you might be surprised to find a bounty of holiday-themed gifts, never mind wrapping paper, gift bags, bows, and décor,” says Bodge. “They probably won’t have Black Friday deals, but their prices are so low that it won’t matter.”
Shopping Tips Specifically for Cyber Monday
Cyber Monday is the junior of the two big holiday shopping launch days. It picked up its name, courtesy of the National Retail Federation, in 2005, and it’s been a focal point of the holiday season ever since.
But it can also be a chancy shopping dive if you’re new to it, don’t know your prices, or are perhaps overly wary about shopping for tech online. Here are some Cyber Monday shopping strategies from Woroch:
- Save payment and shipping info on sites (possibly by creating an account) ahead of time you can pounce on hot-selling items that might sell out.
- Set sale alerts using Honey's DropList for items that will go on sale at different times of the day.
- Install browser tools like Cently that automatically add coupons and cash back.
- Avoid delivery delays and potential order cancellations by opting to buy online and pickup in store. Many retailers, including Walmart and Target, are building out areas on the store property dedicated specifically for BOPIS – buy online, pickup in store – shoppers.
- Find out if your credit card is offering bonus cash back or extra points for select stores.
- Beware of free shipping minimums designed to get you to buy more. Buy from stores that offer no-minimum free shipping.
- Review return policies to avoid restocking fees and return shipping fees.
- Keep your data safe! Shop on a secure network, only buy from reputable retailers you are familiar with and don’t click links from emails you don’t know.
- Track online orders to avoid package theft. Often, retailers will provide tracking numbers you can use on the major delivery company sites. You can also use the Deliveries app.
Bob is a Senior Online Editor at Kiplinger.com. He has more than 40 years of experience in online, print and visual journalism. Bob has worked as an award-winning writer and editor in the Washington, D.C., market as well as at news organizations in New York, Michigan and California. Bob joined Kiplinger in 2016, bringing a wealth of expertise covering retail, entertainment, and money-saving trends and topics. He was one of the first journalists at a daily news organization to aggressively cover retail as a specialty, and has been lauded in the retail industry for his expertise. Bob has also been an adjunct and associate professor of print, online and visual journalism at Syracuse University and Ithaca College. He has a master’s degree from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and a bachelor’s degree in communications and theater from Hope College.
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