Ask your mom and dad or your grandparents what Black Friday was like in the “old days” and they may reminisce about sitting on collapsable lawn chairs, wrapped in blankets while sipping spiked hot chocolate from a heavy Stanely thermos at 3 a.m. outside Walmart.
Believe it or not, back in the 1990s and into the mid-2000s, hoards of people were willing to forgo sleep and shiver for hours in the dark to be the first in line to snatch up deals on a big-screen television, digital pocket camera, or a Tickle Me Elmo or Furby when stores opened their doors at 5 a.m. the morning after Thanksgiving.
But is the tradition of Black Friday dead?
“We haven’t seen that in years,” Kristen McGrath, editor of The Real Deal told The Courier Journal. “Black Friday is pretty subdued. We’ve been checking parking lots outside major retailers for the past several years and the crowds just aren’t there. I’d say there is really no reason to go into a store if you don’t want to because you can get those same deals online.”
The annual Adobe holiday online shopping forecast expects U.S. consumer spending to spike at $207 billion from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31. That’s both a new online spending record and a 10% increase from 2020.
“We are entering a second holiday season where the pandemic will dictate the terms,” said Patrick Brown, vice president of growth marketing and insights of Adobe. “Limited product availability, higher prices, and concerns about shipping delays will drive another surge towards e-commerce, as it provides more flexibility in how and when consumers choose to shop.”
It’s not only the pandemic that forced us to do more than half of our holiday shopping online in 2020. For several years, retailers have been offering consumers both online and brick-and-mortar options during holiday doorbuster sales.
“The pandemic certainly accelerated that but even back in 2018, it was very seldom that a retailer was only offering a deal only instore,” McGrath said. “It had already moved to every deal being offered both online and in-store and in some cases, online only.”
Another shift in consumer habits and spending is what experts like McGrath refer to as the “Black Friday creep.” Retailers begin offering deals that stretch back to mid-October.
“So by actual Black Friday — which this year is Nov. 26 — it is more like the beginning of the end of the holiday shopping season,” she said. “Also, it’s become more of an all weekend sale that takes us right up through Cyber Monday.”
Typical Black Friday doorbusters like clothes, small appliances, electronics, housewares, and toys have already gone on sale. Plus, most major retailers, like Amazon, Best Buy, Kohls, Target, Walmart, have already released their Black Friday (single day) ads — many of which continue through Cyber Monday — so it is easy to compare the sale price today with what will be offered in a couple of weeks.
If you are a single-day Black Friday holdout, this year you’ll also be gambling with the global supply chain shortages. McGrath says it’s possible you’ll save a few dollars if you wait, but will that item still be available on Nov. 26?
“You may not be seeing a supply issue right now but the closer we get to the holidays, I expect to see more items become unavailable,” the shopping expert said. “I’d say there is no reason to wait to purchase the most giftable items on your list.”
Savvy shoppers in 2021 have religated the folding chair to the garage and the thermos to the cupboard. They’ve steeped a cup of tea and are sitting at their computer scrolling through the deals.
If you do plan to shop on Black Friday, here’s what else you need to know:
What to buy before or on Black Friday
Computers, laptops, and tablets
Consumers will find some of the lowest prices of the year during Black Friday sales on things like computers, laptops, and tablets. Keep in mind that doorbuster sales are often on electronics with low specs on things like storage and processing power. But since the price is already lower than usual, you can use that “extra” money to upgrade your device, just be sure to figure that into your total cost.
Nintendo Switch and other gaming consoles
If you’ve got a game lover on your shopping list, you know that over the last year and a half, the Nintendo Switch has been hard to come by. According to retail experts at USA Today, it has continued to skyrocket in popularity in 2021, making it one of the hottest gifts of the year for kids and adults alike. It sells out all the time at Amazon —however, as of mid-November, the original version was still available there and at Best Buy so you’ll want to scoop it up while you still can or opt for the handheld Nintendo Switch Lite.
Smartwatches and Fitness Trackers
Black Friday season is one of the few times of the year when you are almost guaranteed to find smartwatches (like the Apple Watch) and fitness trackers (like Fitbit) on sale. That goes for older models as well as the newest ones. Keep in mind that you won’t find the absolute biggest discounts on the newest model of the Apple Watch (that’s the Series 7 this year), but you might find some discounts.
According to The Real Deal, in 2020, Target knocked $30 off the Series 6 on Cyber Monday. But discounts will be plentiful on older models, including the Series 3 and Series 6, so expect $50 off or more.
Deals on pressure cookers like the Instapot, air fryers and blenders like the NutriBullet and Vitamix, can drop as low as 50% off during Black Friday sales. The KitchenAid stand-up mixer is another regular during Black Friday sales. There are several models that get discounted by $100 or more during the holiday.
“A lot of people decided during the pandemic that keeping the house tidy is a priority and the robotic vacuum cleaners do all the work for you,” said McGrath. “There are so many models on the market now that you’ll see a lot of sales to get your business.”
Airpods and other wireless earbuds
If you are in the market for a good deal on earbuds, this Black Friday shopping season should be sweet music to your ears. Right now you can find deals on headphones at retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart and Amazon.
The week before Thanksgiving, you could can pick up Apple AirPods Pro with Magsafe charging case for $200 (reduced from $249) on Amazon. Or save $50 on JBL Reflect mini NC sport headphones, which we found for $100 at Best Buy (reduced from $150).
What not to buy on Black Friday
Doorbuster 4K Televisions
Televisions are always one of the most popular purchases on Black Friday. But while you can certainly get a good deal on TVs, you may want to hold off or shop around for the best model. The cheapest doorbuster TV may not be your smartest purchase because it’s often a mediocre model you’ll likely have to replace in a few years.
“A better option is to find a higher quality set with a more modest discount, or better yet, wait until right before the Super Bowl, when retailers run sales on higher-quality TV sets,” McGrath advised.
If you do plan to shop for TVs during Black Friday sales, make sure you understand SKUs (those long strings of numbers and letters in TV model names) so that you know what you’re getting.
Furniture, rugs and mattresses
You’ll see lots of ads for Black Friday deals on items like rugs, furniture and mattresses but unless you truly need these items immediately, consumer experts advise waiting for Presidents Day sales in February. McGrath said it comes down to how much time you want to spend shopping for items like this during the holidays.
“Typically Black Friday sales on home goods like furniture will be on a specific item,” said the shopping expert. “A sale on a specific beige sofa for instance, not the entire inventory of sofas.”
There are plenty of doorbuster deals on clothing during the holidays, but like furniture, these deals are often offered on specific items rather than across the board. Unless it’s a specific gift you intend to give during the holidays or an extremely popular item like Ugg slippers, which typically sell out quickly, go ahead and wait until after Black Friday. Retailers will often offer steep discounts and promo codes (up to 60% off your entire online cart) throughout Cyber Weekend.
Shop holiday sales now or you might regret it
What was once a single-day shopping frenzy known as Black Friday has engulfed most of November and even October.
Add a global supply chain disruption to the 2021 holiday shopping season and consumers who want gifts to arrive before Dec. 25 should take advantage of the longer shopping season of deals.
“I would not shop later than Cyber Monday this year if you are shopping online because it could take three weeks or more with shipping, so you are really cutting it close,” McGrath said.
Another sign that retailers are leveraging early deals and loyalty programs to drive specific consumer behaviors away from that single day Black Friday rush, McGrath said, is that most retailers tend to release their Black Friday deals online on Thanksgiving.
“That means shopping on your phone surreptitiously under the table while you are eating Thanksgiving dinner is now the equivalent of lining up outside a store like people did on Black Friday a decade ago,” she said.
Reach Kirby Adams at [email protected] or Twitter @kirbylouisville.