Finding the Real Deals on Black Friday
Take a laptop or smartphone in addition to blankets and chairs if you're looking for a spot in the tent cities springing up outside your local big box store this week. Smartphone-driven on-the-fly research is proving to make it easier this year to find Black Friday deals on TVs, tablets and other merchandise.
Whipping out one of our 110 million smartphones over Thanksgiving dinner may not be a bad idea either -- if a bit antisocial.
Here's a rundown of some of the best ways to find bargains this Black Friday and Cyber Monday:
Step 1: Check the Online Majors
Major online retailers like Amazon have been doing online black weeks for a while now and have become pretty good at it. Amazon's flash sales, which it calls "lightning" sales, go on all week.
On the afternoon I was Web browsing, I saw a D-Link DES-1008E 8-port 10/100 speed networking switch on sale for US$16.99. I've never seen a switch for under $20 before -- even if this is slightly older tech. Gigabit speed is the current gold standard.
Auctioneer eBay also has one-day, instant purchase deals.
Step 2: Get the Apps
Black Friday-specific apps can let you search by store, price and item. Plus they add geo functions and push.
Highly rated examples include Black Friday Deal Finder from FatWallet for iOS, which includes push notifications, and Black Friday App from Dealnews.com for Android, with leaked ads, and comparisons of in-store product prices with online prices.
Step 3: Keep Gathering Intelligence
Maintain your vigilance when out and about. Use barcode scanning look-up apps like Barcode Scanner for Android, and ShopSavvy for iOS and Android to scan items you are considering purchasing.
This is particularly important if you're a leisurely shopper and aren't participating in Tent City, because what happens is that the super-discounted deals, say cheap laptops, sell out early in the long weekend, and you end up perusing a bunch of laptops left over -- not mentioned in the Black Friday pitches.
Use the barcode-lookup app to find out if those outcasts are a good deal or not. You may find that you can beat the price through regular channels. Or likely, that the electronics left over are the higher-powered, later model, more expensive devices -- and better suited to your purposes anyway than the cheap junk the retailer was trying to get you to buy in the first place.
Likely cheap deals this year will be for base-level smartphones, not the newest devices; low power laptops good for kids, but not necessarily for you; and GPS devices -- many people use smartphones these days, not dedicated devices.
Likely in-demand products this year are sub-$500 TVs and tablets.
Step 4: Research Online
Never forget that one of the principal purposes of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is for retailers to get rid of flat-selling, slightly older stock to make room for the latest gear. Remember netbooks?
Be aware that there may well be a reason that a particular TV or tablet is cheap -- it's old tech. A Doorbuster TV won't have gesture recognition -- the latest TV feature, for example.
Beware of the Emperor's New Clothes. Use your time wisely, keep googling while you're standing in line, prospective purchase in hand, and never be afraid to walk away, even if a salesperson has written up the ticket.
Step 5: Caveat Emptor
Also, don't forget that a secondary purpose of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is for the retailer to get you in the store, or the seller to get you onto his website. Don't buy anything you haven't determined has value.
Buying something for the sake of it, because what you wanted was sold out, is a mug's game. In the case of brick-and-mortar, go home, get on the Internet, and buy something with value. Happy Holidays.
Want to Ask a Tech Question?
Is there a piece of tech you'd like to know how to operate properly? Is there a gadget that's got you confounded? Please send your tech questions to me, and I'll try to answer as many as possible in this column.
And use the Talkback feature below to add your comments!