Millions of Americans are in the midst of the annual Black Friday shopping frenzy and those who have done their homework, mapped out a strategy and carefully prepared their budget will likely have the most success.
From now until Christmas – perhaps even a few days after – you're going to get hit with advertising deals, special offers and bargains “too good to pass up.” A word of advice – keep your wits about you and make sure that deal is really a deal.
“Shoppers are watching their budgets closely this year, which means retailers are as well,” said Jennifer Calonia, consumer savings specialist for GoBankingRates.com. “With heightened competition for consumer cash, stores are resorting to sneaky tactics. Essentially, true Black Friday deals are dead.”
But what about all those “door-buster specials?” GoBankingRates.com points to a Walmart Black Friday ad promoting a 16GB Apple iPad Mini at $299 with a bonus $100 gift card thrown in. But read through the fine print. This offer isn't on Black Friday but was a one-hour guaranteed supply on Thanksgiving Day, from 6 to 7 p.m., meaning shoppers had to spend that much more time standing in line without their turkey and fixings.
Where are the deals?
GoBankingRates said it compared listed prices against their Black Friday ad prices for a number of items in the most popular shopping categories, including laptops, HDTVs, and toys and gaming. It said it found that some mid-to-high priced items received lower discounts, compared to products that were already marked at a low MSRP.
If you're looking for a name brand HDTV, the website says Black Friday is not the time to buy. In fact, it said it found that discounts on knock off model TVs weren't that great either.
There's a good chance that more shoppers than last year are doing their Black Friday shopping online. The deals are just as good, if not better, and you have to admit it's a lot more convenient. Online retailers are particularly motivated because they are looking beyond just the holiday season.
“With online holiday sales growth set to eclipse brick and mortar stores this year, the 2013 holiday shopping season is a critical opportunity for online retailers to attract frequent shoppers and create loyal, long term customers for the other 11 months of the year,” said Fiona Dias, Chief Strategy Officer at ShopRunner.com, an online buying portal. “Smart retailers realize the holidays are the time to capture customer loyalty for the rest of year. With around 40% of online shopping transactions happening during the holidays, now is the time for retailers to hook new customers with a great shopping experience from browsing to purchasing to fast and free shipping.”
Dias says shoppers are not just looking for great prices and great service from online merchants. They want free shipping too. It's something shoppers should be able to take for granted this year, she said.
EBay Enterprise, formerly GSI Commerce, is tracking shopping data this holiday season and notes consumers now have an arsenal of digital devices with which to shop. Even so, it has found that so far 79% of online purchases have been made using the traditional laptop and desktop devices. But Dias says the trend suggests a move toward mobility.
“With tablets, holiday shopping moves to the couch, train and bed,” she said. “Tablets will be a big winner for this year’s online holiday shopping sales, while consumers will mostly just browse on mobile phones unless retailers offer an expedited checkout process that takes no more than a few clicks.”
However you're shopping – online or in a store – make sure you know what you're buying. It may be a tablet for $99 but how much storage capacity does it have? What kind of warranty? This is the reason you should check out ads and investigate the products before you decide to buy.
Look out for identity theft
Since more consumers are doing their Black Friday shopping online, it's worth repeating that identity theft dangers are escalating, along with the online deals. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is warning consumers to only shop with online retailers they know and trust.
“When entering credit card information, be sure that an 'https' precedes the website address in your browser’s address bar,” Koster said. “Many browsers will display a padlock icon when you navigate to a secure site.”
Bob Bunge, a cyber security specialist and engineering professor at DeVry University, told ConsumerAffairs.com earlier this month he expects a big increase in phishing attacks as scammers try to take advantage of the huge increase in consumers making online purchases. Beware of emails offering deals “too good to be true,” he warns.