It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of the shopping mob and fall for the big bait-and-switch deals during Black Friday—those too-good-to-be-true discounts that cleverly get you in the door, then lure you past a quarter-mile of other merchandise just to get to that "prized" TV or laptop. (Assuming, of course, the deal was any good to begin with.)
By spending a little time up front to prepare yourself for the shopping weekend, you can avoid all of the Black Friday frenzied crowds, crappy deals, and general insanity. A well-thought-out attack plan can help you outfox your fellow shoppers and score deals that are actually great buys.
Planning: Start researching right now
To maximize your Black Friday hunting experience. it's important to figure out your shopping list ahead of time. Scout the deals—and there are plenty of experts that can help you decide whether a deal is actually worth pursuing or not—and write down what you want most. Pursue those items first, even if it means taking a nap and waking up at 12:01 tonight when a retailer's website switches over to Black Friday discounts. Heck, you might even be able to buy your new devices on sale right now.
Many of the major tech websites—like The Verge, CNET, Wirecutter, Ars Technica, Tom's Guide, and Kotaku—already have fairly comprehensive (and always-updating) lists of great bargains to check out. You can also browse more deal-oriented websites like Slickdeals or CheapAssGamer, or even slog through some deal-driven subreddits like /r/gamedeals, /r/buildapcsales, or the ever-epic /r/blackfriday.
Plenty of these places also have dedicated Twitter accounts for updates on deals, and you can even set up mobile notifications on Twitter to make sure you aren't missing out on something big.
As you're making your shopping list, don't just focus on the new. You might be able to score big discounts on some older tech products that are still great at everything you need them to do—like, for example, a sous vide cooker. (Just because an older version doesn't have Wi-Fi doesn't mean that it can't make an incredible steak!)
Sourcing: Get to know the tech retail experts
There are people out there who track industry trends—and killer deals—as a career. Learn from their wisdom to become a Jedi Master of shopping yourself. For example, one of our favorite YouTube creators, The Deal Guy, has a ton of helpful information about the kinds of deals you can expect to see this year for 4K televisions, previous-generation smartphones, and big gaming discounts.
Subscribe to him on YouTube, and you'll see near-daily updates of the best items to buy across different categories and stores. Let him do all the retail grunt work for you; you just have to watch.
Strategy: Don't set foot in a store
You hear this every year, but that's because it's true: You can probably get most of your Black Friday shopping done without ever having to step foot in a store. Tech expert Sean Cannell, host of Think Media on YouTube, notes that most of the best deals you'll find this weekend live online. Top online retailers like Amazon are willing to compete fiercely on prices to keep you away from their brick-and-mortar competitors.
For you, that's a good thing. Why lug a giant television around in the cold, surrounded by screaming shoppers, when you can research and order exactly what you want from the comfort of your home or apartment?
Evaluating: Use price-tracking sites and apps to put "deals" in perspective
We alluded to it earlier, but sales and deals on Black Friday can be deceiving. Retailers are known for marking up items, only to offer a "huge discount" that actually drops the item's price to just a smidge below what it normally is—making that "40-percent discount" more lukewarm than hot.
By researching actual pricing data for the items you want to buy, you can determine if a sale is truly exceptional. Check out the free Amazon price tracker camelcamelcamel, which charts the ups and downs of any product offered by Amazon on a stock market-like graph. If you see a big, pre-Black Friday spike on a deal you're evaluating, consider holding off or searching elsewhere.