Black Friday may be the busiest shopping day of the year, but when it comes to sales, no two Black Friday seasons are alike. New competition, the state of the economy, and changing consumer trends all contribute heavily to the makeup of Black Friday.
To help you prepare and get the most from this shopping season, we've created a list of things that will be different this Black Friday, so that you can know what to expect ahead of the sales -- which start earlier and earlier every year.
Last year, to build anticipation, a handful of retailers offered sneak peeks of their Black Friday ads several weeks before the official, complete debut. The strategy was successful at generating buzz, so expect to see far more retailers doing the same this year. A few stores to watch out for include MacMall, JCPenney (JCP) and Macy's (M), which leaked its sales via its Pinterest page.
It was around Black Friday last year that Target (TGT) experienced the first of these massive security hacks, but it wasn't the last; then came Neiman Marcus, eBay (EBAY), Home Depot (HD) and more. There's no denying 2014 has been the year of the hack. As a result, both retailers and consumers will be extra cautious this year, guarding their credit card info from would-be thieves. We recommend brushing up on a few crime prevention basics and limiting the amount of times you use your debit card in public.
Good news for online shoppers: The United States Postal Service has slashed shipping costs for select businesses by up to 58 percent, which may inspire more shipping discounts from retailers. But before you celebrate, the new lower prices may backfire and cause the USPS to be overwhelmed this holiday season, especially as UPS (UPS) and FedEx (FDX) prepare to raise their rates. Your best bet -- shop early and keep an eye on those tracking numbers.
Previous-generation streaming devices tend to see the best deals on Black Friday, but this year the market is busier than ever, meaning we could see significant deals on current-generation set-top boxes. Among the newer models to look out for are Amazon's Fire TV and Sony's (SNE) PlayStation TV, both of which debuted at $99 and cater to gamers.
This year we expect to see no-frills 4K TVs hit well below the $999 mark. Leading the charge will be budget TV manufacturer Seiki, which broke all deal records this summer with its $280 39-inch and $429 50-inch 4K TVs. These and other Seiki screens will hit similar price-lows this Black Friday, bringing 4K technology to the masses.
Bargain bin laptops have hit rock bottom. These simple, low-powered machines can't get any cheaper than prices we've seen in years past, which range from $178 to $200. As a result, this Black Friday you're going to see better discounts on mainstream machines, i.e. laptops with Intel's (INTC) current-generation Core processors and a respectable spec sheet. Deal prices on mainstream machines have been steadily dropping since April, with deals already flirting with the $350 range at the start of the fall season.
Despite a crash in sales, tablets are still a hot commodity and expected to sit atop everyone's shopping list this November. With growing competition from Apple, Google and Microsoft (MSFT), it's a buyer's market, which means you can expect more tablet sales this year than there were in 2013. If you're strapped for cash, Windows tablets could offer the most savings since 50 percent of Windows tablet sales this year have been Editors' Choice deals.
Traditionally, the best toy deals appear in mid December, just before Santa's big debut. However, last Black Friday week saw more toy deals than ever before, beating out every week in December in terms of Editors' Choice deals. While it's hard to predict what might happen this year, one thing is certain: If you have toys on your shopping list, you won't want to sit out this Black Friday.