What to buy and what not to buy on Cyber Monday

CYBER MONDAY – THE endpoint of a long holiday shopping weekend that starts the Monday after Thanksgiving – originally served as the online counterpoint to Black Friday. But that line has become blurred over time as Black Friday deals have moved increasingly online, and technology has shifted consumer shopping patterns with early holiday promotions and markdowns. Still, there are plenty of deals and steals to be had on Cyber Monday if you want to forgo the shopping frenzy (and long lines) on Black Friday.

Here's how to shop wisely during the popular shopping holiday to avoid wasting time and money and score the season's biggest bargains.

[See: 12 Shopping Tricks to Keep You Under Budget.]

What to Buy

Remember, some retailers begin their Cyber Monday promotions early in the season, or hold "Cyber Week" sales that run the entire week. That means you should start scouting Cyber Monday deals as early as the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and keep looking for the best deals a few days after Cyber Monday. Also keep in mind that Cyber Monday prices often fluctuate, based on competition from retailers, so check prices often.

With that in mind, here are some of the year's best product categories for deals and discounts.

Gaming consoles. There's been a lull in the gaming industry, with no new major consoles released this year. That means there are some compelling discounts for some of the newer consoles, which are about a year old. This year's crop of Black Friday ads are already showing gaming bundle deals (think: a console plus games, controllers or online gaming credits) for the Nintendo Switch and Xbox One X. This sets a hopeful precedent for Cyber Monday deals, which often mirror Black Friday deals. This year, you may be able to save up to $100 on gaming consoles.

Clothing. Clothing deals abound on Cyber Monday, with plenty of major retailers such as Express, Gap, Old Navy and Target offering sitewide discounts and promo codes. In previous years, shoppers could look forward to discounts of 30 to 50 percent off, depending on the retailer. These types of sitewide discounts are preferable to Black Friday’s specific-item discounts, because instead of being required to buy a certain brand of boots or a particular type of sweater, you can fill your online shopping cart with the clothing you want and get a discount on the entire haul. For instance, last year, Gap and Banana Republic offered 50 percent off clothing, while Target touted a 15 percent blanket discount for Cyber Monday.

Travel. The caveat with booking a future trip and taking advantage of enticing Cyber Monday promotions is that you must be flexible timing- and destination-wise. Airlines, resorts, cruise lines and online travel agencies have become major players for Cyber Monday promotions. Airlines offer cheap one-way fares, resorts advertise perk-filled packages with extra amenities and food credits and Groupon offers upwards of 70 percent off on getaways and local experiences. However, these deals often have certain time windows attached to them, or require you to fly out of a major city.

Still, if you are spontaneous and have a flexible schedule, you’ll discover some of the best travel deals available year-round. For example, last year, Expedia offered flash deals for up to 90 percent off, while Hotels.com offered a limited-time 50 percent off promotion for Cyber Monday.

Smart home devices. Prime Day (also a major online shopping event) is a good indicator of how strong Cyber Monday smart home deals will be. And this year's crop of Prime Day deals on Echo devices, smart TVs, smart doorbells and smart security cameras showed some of the lowest prices ever. Plus, Black Friday ad circulars show a repeat of Prime Day prices, which Cyber Monday shoppers should take as a good sign. For example, for Black Friday, Google Home Minis are available for $25 (down from $49) and the Amazon Echo is available for $69 (down from $99) for Black Friday at retailers such as Target, Walmart and Best Buy. And chances are, that pricing will extend through Cyber Monday.

[Read: Shopping Holidays: The Best Days to Shop in 2018.] 

RELATED: Take a look at the grocery stores that will be open on Thanksgiving:

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Grocery stores that will be open on Thanksgiving
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Grocery stores that will be open on Thanksgiving

Acme

Most stores will be open from 7 a.m. - 11 p.m.

(Getty Images)

Albertson's

Most stores will be open from 6 a.m. - 7 p.m.

(Getty Images)

Cub Foods

Most stores will remain open 24 hours.

(Photo by Tim Boyle/Newsmakers)

Fairway

Most stores will be open from 7 a.m. - 11 p.m.

(Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Food Lion

Stores will open at regular hours and close at 5 p.m.

(Getty Images)

The Fresh Market

Stores will be open from 8 a.m. - 3 p.m.

(Photo by: Jeff Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images)

Hannaford

Some stores will be open from 7 a.m. - 3 p.m.

(Photo by John Ewing/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Harris Teeter

Stores will be open from 6 a.m. - 2 p.m.

(Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

H.E.B. 

Stores will be open from 6 a.m. - 2 p.m.

(Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Hy-Vee

Most stores will offer regular hours, with some stores closing early at 2 p.m.

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Kroger 

Most stores will remain open 24 hours, with some stores offering abbreviated hours from 6 a.m. - 1 p.m.

(Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Lucky Stores

Most stores will be open from 6 a.m. - 7 p.m.

(AP Photo/San Francisco Chronicle, Kim Komenich)

Pavilions

Most stores will be open from 6 a.m. - 7 p.m.

(Getty Images)

Ralphs

Most stores will be open from 5 a.m. - 12 a.m.

(Photo by Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

Rite-Aid 

Stores will be open, but hours will vary depending on location.

(Getty Images)

Safeway 

Stores will be open, but hours will vary depending on location.

(Getty Images)

Save Mart

Stores will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

(Getty Images)

Shaw's

Many stores will be open from 7 a.m. - 12 a.m.

(Photo by John Ewing/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

ShopRite 

Most stores will be open from 7 a.m. - 10 p.m.

(Paul Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Sprouts Farmers Market

Stores will be open from 7 a.m. - 4 p.m.

(Dania Maxwell/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Stop & Shop

Stores will be open from 7 a.m. - 5 p.m., with some locations closing at 3 p.m.

(AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Target 

Stores will open at 5 p.m.

(Photo by Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Vons 

Most stores will be open 6 a.m. - 7 p.m.

(Getty Images)

Walmart 

Stores will be open regular hours. Stores in Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts will be closed.

(AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

Wegmans Food Markets 

Most stores will be open 6 a.m. - 4 p.m.

(Gabby Jones/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Whole Foods Market 

Most will open at 7 a.m. Some will close at 2 p.m.

(Dania Maxwell/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Winn-Dixie 

Most locations 7 a.m. - 10 p.m.

(Saul Martinez/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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What Not to Buy

Most toys. You'll see plenty of toy deals during Cyber Monday. But wait, if you can, until mid-December. That's when toy retailers, who don't want to be saddled with unsold stock in January, will start slashing prices.

However, an important exception is the year's most popular toys. This year, Hatchimals HatchiBabies (currently priced at around $40, depending on the retailer), L.O.L. Surprise! balls (currently priced at around $10 to $80, depending on the model), Fingerlings Hugs animals (currently priced at around $20 to $30, depending on the retailer) and certain FurReal animatronic creatures (priced at about $20 to $90, depending on the animal) are in danger of selling out. If any of these are must-haves for your child, buy them early.

Many board games, play sets, Lego kits and stocking stuffers, however, will remain available (for purchase at the lowest price) a couple weeks before Christmas.

Furniture and appliances. Every year, furniture, home decor and appliance companies jump into the Cyber Monday fray, especially online retailers like Overstock and Wayfair. But if you hold off on purchasing these products, you'll find plenty of other sales during three-day weekends throughout the year, including Presidents Day weekend and Memorial Day weekend. These aren't necessarily disadvantageous Cyber Monday buys, with Lowe's, Home Depot and Best Buy generally offering up to 40 percent off appliances during Cyber Monday, but don't waste your time watching for deals if a higher-priority spending category is on your list.

One exception: instant pots. The price of this popular product hits shocking lows during Cyber Monday. Six-quart instant pots will generally run you about $90, depending on the pot's capabilities. But indications are good that Cyber Monday prices will fall below $60. During Prime Week this year, for example, six-quart instant pots were priced between $48 and $60. So, if you're in the market for a pressure cooker, keep an eye out for deals. Plenty of home goods retailers will offer instant pot specials, but look for attractive deals from Walmart and Amazon in particular.

Artificial trees and holiday decor. With shoppers in a holiday state of mind, big-box home improvement retailers and home decor retailers pummel consumers with online deals on artificial trees, holiday decor and holiday crafting items. Savings of up to 50 percent off pre-lit trees is a common Cyber Monday bargain. These deals are tempting, as the cost of lights, lawn inflatables and pre-lit trees adds up quickly. However, if you can bring yourself to skip holiday decor this year (or rely on last year's decorations), you can save much more the day after Christmas. Hit up the same sites that sent those Cyber Monday deals to your inbox the day after Christmas, and you'll find upward of 80 percent off.

[Read: How to Get the Most Value Out of Cyber Monday.]

Tech. Take caution before buying tech-savvy gadgets and gear. Cyber Monday is known for its tech discounts (think: laptops, desktops and 4K TVs). You'll find plenty of good buys at retailers such as Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Macy's, Sam's Club and Costco. However, check the specs carefully. Make sure the TV with the deeply discounted price (say, a 4K TV with a 60-inch screen for under $300) isn't a cheap off-brand model with a bad reputation. Likewise, make sure the laptop with the tempting price has the specs you need and isn't a pared-down version of the one you've had your eye on. Instead, look for the tech deals that offer the best values. For example, Lenovo is offering attractive laptop deals, including $700 off certain laptops, including the Yoga 720 two-in-one laptop with 16 gigabytes of memory and an Intel Core i7 processor.

Companies and products mentioned in this article may be promoted on www.offers.com.

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