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Black Friday Will Be Confusing (Again). Here Are Our Tips

Black Friday used to fall on one day of the year. Shoppers would camp outside of stores, eagerly awaiting the chance to bust down some doors and save a ton of cash. Times have changed. The past couple of years have been anything but normal. Stores are offering more deals than ever online, and we shouldn't need to remind you that thanks to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, you ought to avoid unnecessary trips to the store. The same pandemic has contributed to supply chain hurdles that mean shopping early for holiday gifts is key. 

Black Friday has crept into a full month of sales that ebb and flow. It can all get overwhelming. How can you tell if a deal is worth your time and money? When do sales start and end? Do you really need that gadget? We're here to help with a handy FAQ.

Updated November 2021: We've refreshed this guide with new advice for this Black Friday.

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What will Black Friday look like in the pandemic?

The shopping events of 2020 and 2021 are largely similar; stock is limited, and orders are placed mostly online. Many types of products have faced shortages this year, so we aren't expecting blow-out price drops on things like gaming consoles and laptops; rather, finding them in stock and not price-gouged is kind of a small miracle itself. Early Black Friday deals, so far, have been decent, but the inventory is the tricky bit. The WIRED Gear team will be on the hunt for deals that are actually good, and you can follow the advice listed below to make a more informed decision.

Wait, when is Black Friday?

This year, Black Friday falls on November 26. That's nearly the latest that Black Friday can fall in a calendar year, which means there's less time between Black Friday and Christmas than in some previous years. You'll have less time to get your shopping done. 

When do Black Friday sales start?

Early deals typically begin a week or two before Black Friday arrives. This year, thanks to all of the shipping delays, they're starting already. 

Most of the official sales start on Thanksgiving, though some specific deals and doorbusters may start on Friday, usually at midnight. A handful of stores detail exact start times, while others just give a planned day. I (Louryn) have been Black Friday shopping for more than 16 years, and I recommend staying up late the day before Thanksgiving to check for online sales starting around midnight Eastern Time on Wednesday, November 24. WIRED will also cover major sales later in the day on Thanksgiving.

Can you get Black Friday deals online?

You can—and should. We exclusively cover online deals here at WIRED because the majority of Black Friday deals are available on the web. The best deals don't stick around for too long, so it's a good idea to pay attention to your favorite store's sale pages (and our coverage).

Making a list of what you want to buy ahead of time can help you keep a clear head when it's time to start shopping. And, to reiterate, you should not be shopping in stores right now unless it's essential. You also shouldn't buy things just to buy them. Everyone's on a tighter budget these days; sales will happen again. Shipping times will eventually go back to normal. Take a deep breath and don't get sucked into the shopping spree frenzy.

What retailers will have Black Friday deals?

Nearly all of them. There are the obvious stores, like Walmart and Best Buy, but chances are every retailer will have some sort of sale whether they offer clothing, shoes, books, health and beauty items, fitness specialty goods, or something else. There might even be promotions going on at your favorite coffee shop or restaurant. When in doubt, visit a retailer's website. Usually, Black Friday sales are highlighted loud and proud on the homepage.

Here are a few Black Friday sales pages from major retailers:

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Is Black Friday worth it?

TL;DR: Usually.

Long answer: The majority of the time, Black Friday deals are the best we see all year, and they set the precedent for what dictates a good price during the months that follow.

Sometimes, however, Black Friday deals aren't all that great, or are repetitive from year to year. For instance, each year department stores always offer some countertop appliances for $10 or less. You'll also see predictably low prices on some smart home tech, like the Amazon Echo Dot or Google Nest Mini. In 2018, those speakers sold for $25 ($25 off). In 2019, they sold for $22. In 2020, they were $19. Even if they drop down to $15 for Black Friday 2021…do you really need another tiny smart speaker just because it's cheaper than ever? Take a moment to think before you order. 

Some discounts aren't jaw-dropping because those products tend to go on sale every few months, and the fact that stores repeat deals so frequently that we can accurately predict them every year says a lot about the nature of discounts these days.

Still, the deals are worth it if you are in the market for an item and want to save some cash. Just keep in mind that price research is important, and if you miss out on a deal, don't fret; there's a strong chance it will pop up again at some point in the future.

How much money can I save on Black Friday?

That depends on what you're shopping for. There are so many deals up for grabs in so many categories that it's impossible to list them all here.

For example, TVs are usually a great purchase to make around Black Friday, if you can find the right model. They are at their cheapest around Black Friday and through the holidays, in general. The hottest TV deal rarely budges in price from year to year, but you'll usually get more features and better specs compared to the best TV deal from the previous year.

In the same vein, you'll be able to save on clothes, toys, and home items, but those deals may not be as enticing when you're talking about specific dollar amounts. Those products are certainly cheaper than usual, though.

Bottom line, there are deals on just about every sort of item you can think of. If you're diligent about scoring discounts, you'll save a ton of money on the things you need to buy.

How do I know if a deal is good?

Always do your price research! When you're shopping online, take a quick second to Google the item you're considering. You'll be able to see what it's selling for at other stores.

One tool that we like to use is Camelcamelcamel, which tracks Amazon's prices over time. Some deals, such as Lightning Deals, are excluded from the pricing history, but it's still useful to see what an item has sold for in the past.

You can also check out WIRED's ongoing deals coverage to find roundups of the best discounts available.

What's a 'doorbuster' deal?

Originally, doorbusters were in-store exclusive crazy-good deals that often required shoppers to arrive early—and sometimes camp out for hours or days—in order to score them. They were typically available in small quantities and designed to entice shoppers to choose one store over another.

These days, those sorts of doorbusters still exist, but more doorbusters than ever are also available online. A similar set of restrictions usually apply, though. If a deal catches your eye, and it's marked as a doorbuster, you should be prepared to hit that refresh key at the exact time it starts to avoid it selling out.

Here at WIRED, we only cover online deals, and rarely doorbusters because they're often quite difficult to nab on time. But when we do cover them, it's because we think it's worth the extra work. Retailers usually make Black Friday shopping circulars available in early November. Those circulars are useful when planning, especially for doorbusters. 

How do I make sure a deal I want doesn't sell out?

Every Black Friday fanatic has experienced a deal going out of stock. If you can find out the start time for a deal, make sure that you're actively paying attention to the store's website around that time. Get on the page and refresh. If the deal is at a retailer you trust, create accounts and save your credit card information before the event begins so the checkout process is as fast as possible. It's also a good idea to clear your web browser cache before you start shopping for Black Friday deals.

The good news: If a deal does sell out, there's a chance that another store will have the same deal or one that's very similar. That is especially true for big box stores like Walmart, Target, Amazon, and Best Buy. Check other stores if a deal that you want is out of stock. You might find what you're looking for. Sometimes deals come back in stock as well.

What about Cyber Monday and other shopping holidays?

Small Business Saturday arrives immediately after Black Friday. It's all about celebrating smaller local retailers and businesses. The following Monday is Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday deals are usually focused on tech products like laptops and headphones, but a lot of the major Black Friday deals will still be discounted on Monday. WIRED will cover both of them.

Assuming that the year goes as planned, the Monday after Cyber Monday will be called Green Monday (the green is for Christmas). It's less celebrated, but eBay and a few other stores usually have decent sales. After that, there's a break until we get closer to Christmas. Retailers will often hold last-minute sales, and Free Shipping Day will occur on December 14 (though ideally you will have completed your holiday shopping before that). As its name suggests, many stores will offer free shipping with no minimum purchase. With all of the delays, it's possible that Free Shipping Day will arrive earlier (or not at all).

There are also discounts after Christmas. We'll cover some of those on December 26.

Outside of the holiday shopping season, popular shopping holidays are Memorial Day, Prime Day, and Labor Day, among others. WIRED usually covers those events with deal roundups and recommendations, too.

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