What to buy and what to skip on Black Friday

Navigate the chaos, land the hottest deals and maximize your savings with these expert tips.
By Nicole Spector

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Year over year, the Black Friday shopping extravaganza seems to get bigger, and 2019 is no exception, with the National Retail Federation reporting that over 165 million people plan to shop between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday, while new research from RetailMeNot finds that 85 percent of consumers plan to shop this weekend — up from 78 percent in 2018.

“There’s more excitement around Black Friday this year compared to last,” Michelle Skupin, retail expert at RetailMeNot says. Excitement is certainly one aspect of it, but with so many stores kicking off so many deals, this shopping weekend can also be fairly overwhelming and difficult to navigate if you’re sticking to a budget. To help with this, we consulted a number of retail experts to learn which are the best sales to focus on, which ones aren’t worth the hype, and how to get the biggest bang for your buck.

Check as many people off your list as you can — time is running out

“There is less time between Black Friday and Christmas, [last year in 2018] shoppers had 32 days between the holidays; this year, there are only 26 days,” says Meaghan Brophy, senior retail analyst at Fit Small Business. “Shoppers might feel a greater sense of urgency this Black Friday, as there is less time to cross items off of the shopping lists.”

Because shoppers are working with just less than three weeks between now and December 25, many retailers rolled out their Black Friday sales early, so you can get a head start. RetailMeNot’s Skupin adds that retailers are also being more generous with their shipping/pickup options, with Skupin noting that “30 percent of retailers offering BOPIS (buy online, pickup in store options) are sweetening the deal with a discount — versus just 20 percent that did so in 2018.”

If you know what you want, online buying is the way to go

Other than picking up in store to save time (and possibly dodge a shipping fee), you should be able to get all of your Black Friday shopping done online, which is what most consumers desire.

“According to our research, 67 percent of consumers say it’s become more important to avoid crowds while shopping over Black Friday weekend,” says Skupin. “More shoppers (83 percent) plan to buy their gifts via mobile this season.”

If you’re worried about missing out on in-store-only deals, that’s fair — but you’re probably worrying for nothing.

“Compared to last year, Black Friday is shaping up for more traffic online and less in store traffic,” says Jon Vincent, founder of EarlyBlackFriday.com. “In 2018, 53 percent of Black Friday shopping came from online sources (web, app) while this year we expect it to increase to 55 percent. Almost every Black Friday deal will be available online. Plus, retailers such as Walmart and Best Buy will be offering online-only deals that you can't get in the stores.”

Download coupon code apps and cashback browser extensions

Shopping online also tends to boast more savings opportunities than in-store because it opens up a secret universe of promo codes, browser extensions, price comparison apps and other digital tools. I shop almost exclusively online, and almost always save a bit of dough. That said, here’s my list of must-haves (though bear in mind you can usually only use one at a time):

Skupin recommends refreshing your Amazon Wish List, too, stating: “Amazon’s Wish List will come in handy because you’ll have set list of what you must purchase. Add notes so you’ll remember what you’re buying for whom and include a budget so you stick with it. You can also use this to research and compare prices by scouring the internet before hitting the stores.”

The winners of best Black Friday deals are ... electronics and tech from Best Buy, Walmart and Target

Shoppers can find excellent deals on numerous electronics and tech this Black Friday, with deals spanning everything from headphones and laptops to smart TVs and game consoles.

“You’ll see some of the best pricing of the year on the PS 4, Xbox One S and Xbox One X. Kohl’s, Walmart, Target, Best Buy and GameStop are consistently offering $100 to $150 off these systems,” says Kristin McGrath, editor and shopping expert at BlackFriday.com (a sister site of Offers.com). “Note that these are older systems, and you may want to wait until the newer consoles start coming out in 2020.”

Julie Ramhold, Consumer Analyst with DealNews.com adds that some of the “best prices ever” on TVs are being rolled out this Black Friday, and highlights the following sales as especially impressive:

1. Best Buy: Samsung 70-Inch LED 2160p Smart 4K UHD TV with HDR

2. Walmart: 40-Inch 1080P Roku Smart LED TV

3. Walmart: Philips 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD 2160p Android Smart LED TV

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4. Target: Element 65-Inch 4k Roku Smart TV

5. Walmart: Google Smart TV Kit

“This is the only Google Smart TV kit we've seen in the Black Friday ads,” Ramhold says. “And it comes with a $10 Vudu credit, which just makes it even more appealing.

Here are some other super hot tech sales to consider, courtesy of Michael Bonebright, Consumer Analyst with DealNews.com:

  • Staples and Target will have the latest Apple iPad 10" WiFi model from around $250. “That price beats our internal predictions by $50,” says Bonebright.

Apple iPad 10" WiFi Model

Samsung Intel Atom x5 Chromebook

More laptop deals are bound to roll out on Cyber Monday, so if you’re waiting on a specific product or just want more options, it’s best to wait.

Lenovo, HP and Dell all have strong Cyber Monday sales, and Best Buy usually throws one too,” says McGrath. “They’re also known for offering Cyber Monday deals that are very similar to what they offered on Black Friday. So save your Black Friday energy for other items and shop laptops over Cyber Weekend.”

It’s a great time to buy that Instant Pot or Roomba

“While Black Friday is known for discounts on the big-ticket items, don’t forget about the smaller kitchen appliances,” says Sara Skirboll, Shopping and Trends Expert at RetailMeNot. “Items like coffee makers, electric skillets, slow cookers, blenders and more will be heavily discounted and might be the perfect gift to pick up for a family member. A few deals we are seeing on these include the 8-quart Instant Pot at Walmart for under $60. This was one of Walmart’s best performing Black Friday deals last year so we are not surprised they’re bringing this amazing deal back this year. For sparkling water lovers, Target is offering the SodaStream Fizzi for $49.99 down from $89.99.”

Shoppers should also check out Lowe’s and Home Depot, which are already offering up to 40 percent off appliances. “Plus, look out for gift cards when you buy multiple appliances, free installation and other perks,” says McGrath.

In addition to kitchen must-haves, now is a great time to buy other household basics, like vacuums and air purifiers.

“This year, Dyson and Roomba vacuums will be deeply discounted by several retailers,” says Brophy. “These are not commonly thought of as popular Black Friday items, but Amazon shoppers can find air purifiers on the list of Black Friday sales.”

Black Friday touts some great sales on apparel, but Cyber Monday might shine brighter

Rebecca Gramuglia, shopping expert at TopCashback.com, expects fashion to be the most popular category shopped this Black Friday for TopCashback members, just as it was last year.

"Retailers like Gap, Carter’s and Nike led the list for the week of Thanksgiving last year (November 18th), while H&M also topped the list off on the actual day of Black Friday last year, too,” says Gramuglia. “We are predicting those same retailers will fall into the Top 10 again this year, though we wouldn't be surprised if Michael Kors and Adidas made their way towards the top of the list. Based on anticipated shopping habits and pre-Black Friday deals in full-swing.”

You can certainly find great deals right now on fashion, but McGrath makes the argument for consumers to wait until Cyber Monday to buy certain apparel.

“Clothing is, overwhelmingly, one of the smartest Cyber Monday buys you can make,” says McGrath says. “Retailers including Gap, Old Navy, ASOS, Express and more offer between 25 percent and 50 percent off all online orders.”

McGrath finds that Cyber Monday tends to be less “product-specific” when it comes to clothing sales than Black Friday, but shoppers should consider that all of these aforementioned fast fashion brands have announced or kicked off Black Friday sales, so it would be wise to act sooner than later on already-discounted items lest they sell out.

Beauty product sales are hard to come by, but they’re here now

“High-end beauty products rarely go on sale, but this Black Friday you can score major discounts on popular brands such as Urban Decay, Clinique, Mario Badescu, Origins and Too Faced,” says Gramuglia. “Macy’s has already announced their Black Friday sales with beauty gifts starting as low as $10.

Wait on toys, gift cards, fitness and furniture

“While there are plenty of can't-beat deals happening on and around Black Friday, it's important to know that it's not the best time of year for everything,” says Joanie Demer, co-founder of The Krazy Coupon Lady. “Sure, there are deals on toys and gift cards, but if you wait a month, you'll get them for the lowest prices of the year, as Target and Walmart hold their semi-annual toy sales and people offload their gift cards to resellers like Raise.com.”

Kimberly Palmer, NerdWallet personal finance expert, seconds Demer’s point re: passing on toy sales right now, adding that you should also pass on bedding, “which goes on sale in January, and winter clothing, which will go on sale as we approach spring,” she says.

Skupin suggests “avoiding big purchases like fitness equipment and furniture. You will no doubt see doorbuster deals for furniture, but Black Friday is not the time to buy as these items usually have better discounts in January and July through August. As for fitness equipment and gym memberships, those deals pop up in January.”

Black Friday deals you can score now

Instant Pot LUX60 V3 6 Qt

Shark Ion Robot Vacuum

Amazon Fire Stick

Apple AirPods with Charging Case

Amazon Kindle E-Reader

Belkin Boost Up Wireless Charging Pad

Keurig K-Select Single-Serve K-Cup Pod Coffee Maker

23andMe Ancestry and Traits Service

BETTER Gift Guides

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