November 27th is Black Friday: Either you can't wait to hit the nearest mall or you find the whole Thanksgiving-based shopping enterprise a truly noir spectacle to be avoided at all costs. Regardless of your holiday shopping preferences, abundant online resources will ensure a painless experience on both Black Friday and its online sibling, Cyber Monday.
Despite the name, Black Friday sales generally start on the Monday before Thanksgiving, while Cyber Monday sales can come as early as the Saturday following Black Friday. In the US, Black Friday has evolved into a marathon shopping weekend that starts on Thanksgiving and ends on Cyber Monday.
However you define it, Black Friday retailers seek to rake in big bucks by selling discounted items in huge volume. A 2014 Adobe Digital Index report found that on Black Friday, US shoppers spent some $2.4 billion — up 24 percent from the year before —both in retail stores and online.
The trick for online retailers is to deliver the latest sale and doorbuster information while fortifying themselves with enough bandwidth to prevent their storefronts and apps from crashing and timing out, allowing customers to purchase, pay for and ship the merchandise advertised.
Tech is huge
One reason for the popularity of shopping online is that Black Friday and Cyber Monday adherents are also tech oriented. Brand new tech toys like Sphero's Star Wars BB-8 droid, Apple's iPhone 6S, the upcoming iPad Pro, and the Samsung Galaxy S6 will likely dominate the tech scene this year. Video games like the Xbox One and PS4 will also be in high demand.
Here are the best sites and apps to use for navigating through the Black Friday holiday season.
Two weeks of special sales
Amazon will crank out deals every day for two weeks from Thanksgiving week through the end of Cyber Monday week. In addition to the Deal of the Day, Lightning Deals, and limited-time sales, the site offers special prices on cameras and home electronics. The Amazon Mobile app for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone all augment the shopping experience. However, merchandise is not broken out according to category either on desktop or mobile, so you'll need to scroll through the day's bargains to find tech items.
Best Buy has already uploaded Black Friday and Cyber Monday cheat sheets to give shoppers a heads up on the best ways to access doorbusters and other deals on tech items like laptops, desktops and all-in-one computers, HDTVs, 4K HD TVs, Blu-ray players, digital cameras, cell phones, video games, and more. Last-minute deals are available on Best Buy's mobile app for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.
Target is well known as an iPad discount destination, either bundling gift cards with Apple's tablet or shaving a small percentage off the original price — and it now it also sells Apple watches. There's already placeholder pages up for Black Friday and Cyber Monday where an electronics category leads you to the tech deals. It also has a fine selection of video games.
Walmart has posted a notice on its website inviting everyone to sign up for email notifications for Black Friday sales. The store is known to offer discounts on last-generation iPads, so it's possible there will be Black Friday sales on the iPad Air 2 and the iPad mini 3. It also specializes in family oriented video game bundles, so check for consoles like Wii U, PS4 and Xbox One bundled with free games.
One unexpected place to find good deals is none other than eBay. It has a special page dedicated to Black Friday discounts with its most valued sellers. Many eBay sellers buy Black Friday deals and then resell them on the service.
While Black Friday gets most of the ink, Cyber Monday is perhaps an even bigger shopping day. Traditionally, Cyber Monday deals tend to be online-only and generated by smaller retailers, but that's changing. While there are good tech deals to be had on Cyber Monday, the day is considered less tech-y and more geared toward apparel and personal care items. But that's no reason to pass it up, especially if you didn't get everything on your list over the weekend.
Doorbuster deals: in person or online?
Doorbusters — special in-store low prices aimed at getting customers to buy specific items on deep discount while luring them to purchase more while they're in the store — employs a "limited time" strategy to generate a sense of urgency and get people to line up early to get in the door. But that can lead to aggressive behavior and even newsworthy in-store violence.
If you're a masochist or daredevil, by all means get up in the middle of the night and fight weather and traffic to a Walmart or Target that's opening in the dead of the night. One advantage of physical doorbuster deals, especially for home electronics, is that a limited number are truly discounted and can be a good value. The downside is that there's a very limited supply and going after one might get you trampled.
Considering how much of a mad frenzy Black Friday has become, it's probably a much better idea to shop online in the safety and comfort of your home. Look at it this way: The time and money you spend on fuel, stuck in traffic, and on parking, is probably all offset by the amount you're saving on a new laptop or headphones. The hassle of fighting huge crowds rushing for time-limited bargains does not seem worth it.
Black Friday websites and apps
In addition to stores, sites like TechRadar, Black Friday FM, DealNews and others gather the best deals from trusted retailers. It's great to check around for the best price, but be wary of obscure sites you've never heard of.
Companion apps such as Black Friday FM, tgibf, BlackFriday, DealNews, SnipSnap, and SlickDeals all give you up-to-the-minute information about brand new price drops and sales via notifications. Plus, most sites also let you sign up for email alerts — I've been getting tons of them since signing up.
Better still, Rather be Shopping lets you register for coupon alerts from your favorite online retailers (and some printable coupons and free shipping codes as well) or search for coupons directly from the site, which has listings from hundreds of stores. It also has valuable hints and strategies for how to get the best prices and when to shop for certain items. It has over 5,000 coupons in its database, good at more than 800 online stores.
Throughout November, TechRadar will constantly update its pages with all of the newest tech and games deals available online, from cheap PS4 bargains and laptops to TVs, Chromecast 2, iPads, and more.
And it's not all about sales and deals. These sites also feature news, analysis, and insights that will aid your shopping strategy.
Another valuable site for your holiday shopping research is Techwalla. This site rounds up all of the reviews about whatever product you're interested in, so you can see how well (or poorly) reviewed it is without scurrying around to a dozen websites.
You can also use Techwalla's polls to find out what friends and family think about a particular purchase. Can't decide between a Kindle or a iPad, for example? Build a poll and share it online. Your friends and family can vote on it, helping you make a smart choice.
And last but not least, Techwalla's Best 5 articles round up the best 5 gifts in a number of categories. Which is the best tablet? Camera? Drone? Techwalla tries to answer that question.
Just chill out
Not everyone is fortunate enough to have friends and family around for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. If you are among the lucky ones who do, consider taking the lead from retailer REI: Just declare Thanksgiving and the Friday holiday from work a time to do something outdoors.
That sort of quality time — away from both home and shopping center — could be a fun break that augments personal relationships, while at the same time giving your wallet a break.