Expert tips for finding the best deals

As many people begin to think about the upcoming holiday season, some are turning their attention to what experts predict will be one of the biggest shopping events of the year: Black Friday. But Black Friday is not just a 24-hour sale anymore, said Katherine Cullen, senior director of industry and consumer insights for the National Retail Foundation, or NRF — it’s turned into Black November, a month of doorbuster sales and deals that often spills over into October.

“The shape of the holiday season has really started to change,” said Cullen. “We used to see Thanksgiving weekend as the kickoff to the holiday season, but now it’s almost more of a halfway point. By late October or early November, consumers and retailers are in holiday mode.”

SKIP AHEAD When is Black Friday? | Expert shopping tips | Black Friday 2021 performance

With that being said, you’re likely to start seeing Black Friday deals pop up in the next few weeks — Target, for example, recently announced that its hosting Deal Days from Oct. 6-8. But should you take advantage of early deals or wait until the official events after Thanksgiving? And what’s the best way to prepare for the sale event? We asked experts these questions and more to get their advice about when to shop Black Friday deals, what the event might look like this year and what products you’ll typically find the best deals on. We also highlighted information about how to save money while shopping and tips to keep in mind while you’re preparing for the event.

When is Black Friday 2022?

Black Friday officially takes place the Friday after Thanksgiving, which is Nov. 25 this year. But one of the biggest takeaways from the 2021 holiday season is that brands and retailers are likely to start kicking off sales in late October or early November. You should make your list as early as possible and be prepared to shop, experts said.

“Retailers save some of their best deals for Thanksgiving weekend, but when you see early deals on specific products during October or November events, you can assume they’re usually as good as they’re going to get,” Cullen said. Last year, select retailers also offered special price-match policies to ensure early shoppers got the best price possible during the holiday shopping season. If you bought a product during an early Black Friday sale and it dropped to an even lower price later in the season, retailers honored that lower price with post-purchase price matching. The same goes for products that were discounted even more after you got them on Black Friday.

Since deals are starting so early, products may go out of stock before Thanksgiving weekend. This emphasizes why it’s so important to make your shopping list now — if you have your eye on something and it goes on sale, you can grab it while there’s plenty of inventory.

What to buy on Black Friday and what can wait

Because nearly every retailer and service industry participates in sales like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, products across all categories are discounted. But that doesn’t mean every deal is a good one.

Typically, some of the best deals on Black Friday include those on home items, toys, electronics and games, said Vipin Porwal, founder and consumer savings expert at browser cashback extension Smarty. You’ll also see strong discounts on the technology, hardware and gear that those who work from home may be looking for to add to their office spaces, as well as items for metaverse participants like virtual reality headsets and gaming consoles. Because shoppers are often looking to buy gifts during Black Friday, luxury goods across fashion and beauty are usually on sale, as well as pricier eco-friendly products that are “coveted” gifts, Porwal said.

If you don’t need them immediately, Porwal suggested waiting to buy large appliances, mattresses and furniture until sale holidays like President’s Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day. Most brands in those product categories put more items on sale during other sales events, giving you more options to compare, he explained.

During 2021, Adobe Analytics said some of the most-purchased items were the Nintendo Switch, the Oculus VR headset and Barbie products, so be sure to keep your eye on these and related items in categories like tech and toys. We also rounded up a handful of best selling products according to Select readers in 2021, including Apple AirPods, Ninja Foodi Pressure Cookers, the Oral-B Pro 1000 Electric Toothbrush and more.

How to find the best deals and save money during Black Friday

Finding the best deals and saving money during Black Friday go hand in hand — if you shop the deepest discounts, you’ll spend less overall. Below are a handful of tips experts recommend keeping in mind while you’re preparing to shop Black Friday sales, whether that’s in October or the day after Thanksgiving.

  • Make a shopping list and stick to it. This allows you to prioritize what products you’re looking for and can help you avoid impulse purchases, especially if you want to shop within a set budget.
  • Consider shopping brands you may not be familiar with. If you’re looking for a specific item from a specific brand, you probably won’t want to compromise. But if you’re not brand loyal, experts suggested finding a handful of models that meet your qualifications — regardless of the brand — and comparing their prices before adding one to your cart. If you don’t limit yourself to only one brand (or only brands you’re familiar with), you’ll have a wider assortment of deals to browse.
  • Weigh different payment options. Some credit cards offer cash back and rewards points at specific retailers — for example, shopping at Amazon or Walmart with their specific credit cards gets you a certain amount back every time you shop if you’re an Amazon Prime or Walmart+ member. Credit cards may even offer bonus promotions during the holiday shopping season, which Select’s money experts will keep you updated on as they’re announced. Additionally, if you’re looking for ways to finance a larger purchase, buy now, pay later apps may be of interest.
  • Use price trackers and browser extensions. Some, like Honey and Cently, can automatically apply coupon codes to your cart at checkout. Other tools like PriceBlink allow you to compare prices across multiple retailers, and others — including Amazon Assistant and Karma browser extension — monitor prices and alert you when they drop for products you’re interested in.
  • Research retailers’ price match guarantee policies. Some allow you to notify a retailer of a lower price at another competitor so they will match that price. But before participating in a price match program, be sure to read about any exceptions. For example, some retailers only price match for certain competitors and others won’t price match competitors’ special Black Friday pricing.
  • Pay attention to return policies. Retailers’ standard return policies may not apply to purchases made during Black Friday and other big sale events. Make sure you’re aware of return policies before you buy an item, especially if it’s something you’ll need to try on like clothes or shoes.

How will inflation impact Black Friday 2022?

While the supply chain and staffing issues retailers faced around the 2021 holiday season have largely been resolved, there is a new hurdle this year: inflation. The most recent reports show that inflation is up 8.3% compared to last year, raising the price of everything from groceries and household essentials to gas. Shoppers are spending more across the board, and they’re “looking for deals and savings just about everywhere they can,” Porwal said.

Retailers recognize shoppers’ increased appetite for sales and deals this year, which may cause some to offer early deals, even if they haven’t in the past. Retailers that offered early deals last year may also move their calendars up a few weeks, experts said.

While people are concerned about inflation, Porwal does not predict that rising prices will prevent shoppers from participating in Black Friday or the holiday shopping season in general, especially if this year’s sales are as strong as in years past. Black Friday and the holiday shopping season as a whole is about spending on others — shoppers go into the sales looking for items to buy for their loved ones.

“People do still want to prioritize the holidays since gifting is a very emotional experience,” Cullen said. “People may be reconfiguring their budgets a little bit so they can continue commemorating these special events.”

What Black Friday 2021 performance tell us about 2022

Experts said trends we saw during Black Friday 2021 can give us a lot of insight into what this year’s event may have in store. Below, we highlighted some of the biggest trends and what they could mean for 2022.

1. Shoppers are likely to spread out purchases across the holiday season

Holiday sales in 2021 grew 14.1% to a record $886.7 billion, according to NRF, whose holiday total includes sales for Nov. 1 through Dec. 31. But although Black Friday and Cyber Monday saw billions of dollars in sales in 2021, the events did not see the kind of exponential growth they did in 2020. In fact, online revenue on Black Friday decreased by 1.12% year over year, according to Adobe Analytics, and online revenue on Cyber Monday dropped by 1.4% year over year, falling for the first time ever. Still, the overall 2021 holiday shopping season broke records, which experts said makes clear that shoppers are spreading out their spending over a few months rather than concentrating purchases around the five-day period from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday. This is fueled in part by Black Friday deals starting so early.

Cullen said shoppers are taking advantage of early deals, a trend she expects to continue in 2022 (maybe even more so due to concerns about inflation). There are a few reasons why: First, people like the convenience of getting a head start on their shopping list since there are more options in stock and buying early gives shoppers confidence that gifts will arrive in time for the holidays. Second, “people are dropping a fair amount of money during the holiday season, and that’s a lot to take out of a single paycheck,” Cullen said. Beginning to browse for gifts in October gives shoppers weeks to make purchases, eating less out of their budget at once, especially if inflation is causing them to spend more on essentials like groceries, gas and household goods.

2. Online shopping continues to dominate, though in-person shopping is making a comeback

The total number of online shoppers during Thanksgiving weekend dominated the total number of in-store shoppers in 2021, NRF said. And like in recent years, Black Friday even surpassed Cyber Monday in terms of total online shoppers. Despite the clear preference for online shopping, people returned to in-person shopping during Thanksgiving weekend after staying home in 2020 — NRF said 104.9 million shoppers visited stores in 2021, up from 92.3 million in 2020.

While there’s been a shift towards online shopping during Black Friday for the last few years largely in part to the pandemic, mask mandates and other pandemic-related restrictions have become largely obsolete, encouraging shoppers to return to stores. Around Black Friday especially, “people think about being in a crowded shopping center and feeling the hustle bustle of the season,” Cullen said. “That does not mean they won’t shop online, but we might see some energy around these kinds of pre-pandemic interactions as people are craving that kind of normalcy.” When shopping for gifts, Cullen said people like to see and touch the item to make sure it’s perfect for their loved one, which may also cause some to shop in-stores.

In years past, retailers were open for in-person shopping on Thanksgiving, but many were closed in 2020 and 2021. Some even announced they’ll close stores on Thanksgiving for good, like Target, for example. In 2022, experts said we’ll likely see retailers close their doors on Thanksgiving again to allow employees to spend time with their families on the holiday.

3. Shoppers are becoming ‘cross-channel consumers’

Looking closer at how and where people shopped on Black Friday 2021 shows how many options they have. When it comes to shopping online, people are still using their computers and tablets, but Black Friday shopping via smartphones hit a new record in 2021 — 42.4% of Black Friday ecommerce revenue, or about $3.7 billion, came through smartphones last year, Adobe Analytics found. And as for shopping in stores, many people opted to buy online and pick up in store so they can avoid crowds and long checkout lines but get their products the same day. Adobe Analytics said the number of shoppers who took advantage of curbside pickup during Black Friday 2021 remained 70% higher than pre-pandemic holiday seasons.

Shoppers now expect to be able to shop Black Friday sales through many different channels and choose how they want to get their orders. “Shoppers are going to buy online, through apps, in stores and explore their options,” Cullen said. “We believe we are seeing this move to a cross-channel consumer who doesn’t want to be forced into one way of shopping.”

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