Online shopping is getting more popular every year, but that doesn't mean that Black Friday is going out of style. Between in-store doorbusters and online deals, retailers are once again finding ways to grab consumers' interest this year. According to numbers released last week by retail industry group the National Retail Federation, 147 million Americans plan to shop on Black Friday weekend, nearly half the country's population.
Half of all Americans can't be wrong, can they?
Well, as it turns out, they might be. While there are certainly some good deals to be had that day, historical pricing trends suggest that some classes of items tend to have better prices before or after Black Friday. And a few specific items that have shown up in this year's circulars should also be avoided, either because they're of poor quality or because they're not the deal they appear to be.
5 Things You Shouldn't Buy on Black Friday
Many circulars are headlined by deals on large home appliances like refrigerators and washing machines. But according to data provided to DailyFinance by price-tracking site Decide, if you're looking for certain smaller appliances you're better off shopping before or after Black Friday. Take vacuum cleaners, for instance: According to Decide's data, the best time to buy those is actually the week leading up to Black Friday, during which the lowest available price will be about 14% lower than you'd find during the rest of the season.
And some appliances are better to buy in the weeks after Black Friday. Microwaves, for instance, are cheapest in mid-December by about 10% compared to the rest of the season. Mid-December is also the best time to blenders and juicers, though the data also suggests that prices on those items tend to be pretty good on Black Friday as well.
Virtually every electronics retailer and big-box store has a TV deal on the front page, usually at a huge discount. Sears, for instance, has a 32-inch TV for just $97, an unheard-of price for a TV that size.
But the ad doesn't mention what brand of television you're getting, only that it's an HDTV and that models may vary by store. That should raise a red flag.
"The big guys going to be aggressive with non-branded, mid to large TVs -- not the Samsungs or Sonys," says Howard Schaffer, vice president at Offers.com. While such deals may be tempting -- a TV's a TV, right? -- he advises against it. "You'll end up in a better place if you spend an extra $50 to $100 for the brand you know."
"Data for the past three years has consistently shown that a majority of toys will see their best prices in the two weeks leading up to Christmas," says Lindsay Sakraida, features director for deal-hunting site Dealnews. "Many toys and video games will see fairly good deals around Black Friday, but we regularly see those items fall even deeper during that December sweet spot."
But that doesn't necessarily mean you should wait until two weeks before Christmas to do your toy shopping -- some of the most popular toys of the season will sell out if you wait too long, and Sakraida says Dealnews data indicates that the more popular toys often won't go on sale at all.
So if your kid wants one of this year's hot toys, it's best to shop early. In fact, the experts at Decide say that the most popular toys might even sell out on Black Friday, so shop now if at all possible.
"These items can became so hot that inventory levels go down, prices skyrocket, and you can only buy them on eBay, where it's really expensive," says Decide CEO Mike Fridgen.
As with TVs, great deals on laptops tend to show up in the circulars for Black Friday. And as with TVs, the actual laptops on sale are nothing special.
"The TVs and laptops tend to be older models and second-tier brands," says Fridgen. In both cases there will be a few popular brands on sale, but these will be in very limited quantities.
So when should you shop for laptops, if not on Black Friday? The data suggests that prices are best in mid-December, when the lowest available prices will be about 20% lower than the average for the holiday season. But if you're willing to wait until after Christmas (say, because you're actually shopping for yourself), then you can save even more in January.
"If you don't have to have a laptop before the holidays, another good time to buy is in the first half of January," says Fridgen. "Right before CES [the Consumer Electronics Show], there is discounted pricing on current generation laptops."
One of the most eye-catching deals we saw in the Black Friday circulars was the Nintendo Wii console offered in Walmart's ad for just $89. That's a great price for a best-selling, critically acclaimed and very fun video game console.
But you should probably skip it anyway.
See, the Wii is already obsolete. It had a good six-year run and was the most popular system of its generation, but on Sunday, Nintendo released its successor, the Wii U, officially making the Wii a last-generation system. The Wii U will be the hot gift this season, though we fear a lot of parents will become confused and buy the similarly named Wii. If you do so, you will have a very disappointed child on your hands.
Aside from the Wii, though, it's not a bad idea to check out the video game department on Black Friday. Decide's data shows that video games and consoles were a good buy last year, and this year promises to be the same, with discounts and special package deals on consoles like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 appearing in circulars.
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Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.