It’s as much a part of Thanksgiving tradition as watching football and skipping the cranberry sauce: that moment when you pull back from the table, turn on the news and laugh at people huddled outside stores under blankets, waiting for Black Friday 2013 deals to start.
Why do they bother facing the crowds when they could be cozy at home, tucking into a second helping of pumpkin pie?
Because the deals that start on Thanksgiving and run through the next four days really are that good.
“You’re saving about 20 percent over what you would pay if you were shopping two weeks later,” said Brad Wilson, founder and editor-in-chief of Brad’s Deals, one of the websites tracking leaked Black Friday ads.
Wilson’s 20 percent savings estimate is based on his staff’s research. Each year, they track the prices of hot Black Friday items on subsequent Fridays -- and they usually do not see a better price for months to come, he said.
And the savings are not limited to those doorbuster items stores stock only a few of per location, such as the $97 flat-screen TV offered at Walmart last year. To have a chance at those items, you might need to camp out overnight or longer.
“I don’t even think you should try for that. It’s such a waste of your time,” Wilson said. Besides, those high-profile, low-inventory items are usually generic or lesser brands, he added -- that sub-$100 Walmart TV was a 32” Haier.
Thanksgiving weekend shoppers are likely to find deals on a variety of merchandise, not just electronics. The top 20 deals that Brad’s Deals identified from last year’s Black Friday ads include that $97 TV, but also $15 jeans at Old Navy, a $379.99 treadmill at Sears and 50 percent off football apparel at Bon-Ton department stores.
But perhaps the best news of all is you actually don’t have to wait outside in the cold to save money.
“I think the people who do are doing it just as much out of holiday tradition and family routine as they are to save money,” Wilson said.
You can save just as much by shopping online from the couch, on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, through the weekend and, increasingly, on Cyber Monday, when many online retailers will release the stores’ biggest coupon codes of the year. Like in years past, some stores will likely issue coupon codes for 30 percent off your entire order on Cyber Monday, Wilson said.
Top Black Friday Deals
Some things to watch for when planning your Black Friday shopping:
“If I had to focus on one category it would be TVs,” said Wilson, who is waiting until Black Friday to shop for a new flat-screen himself this year. Televisions are even more likely than other items to be sold at the lowest price of the year during this weekend, he said.
Best Buy’s Black Friday ad shows a 65” Samsung TV for $999.99 with free delivery -- almost $400 less than it sells for on Amazon.
“It’s just remarkable how low prices have gotten on TVs and laptops,” said Wilson, who expects to see entry-level laptops sell for less than $150 this year. The cheapest laptops may be a bit heavy, but they are not terrible computers, he said.
“A baseline laptop at this point is sort of a good laptop from two years ago, and a good laptop from two years ago is still perfectly fine for most people,” Wilson said.
Best Buy’s Black Friday ad shows a Dell Inspiron laptop with 4GB memory for $177.99.
3. Appliances large and small
Last year’s top 20 Black Friday deals included kitchen electrics for $9.99 at Macy’s, 35 percent off KitchenAid stand and hand mixers at Bon-Ton stores and a $279 Frigidaire dishwasher at Lowe’s.
The already-released Macy’s Black Friday ad promises 50 percent off winter coats and cashmere sweaters at $39.99. Old Navy can always be counted on for items at very low price points. Gap has been known to release coupon codes on Cyber Monday for a large percentage of your entire order. Thanksgiving weekend is a good time to buy clothes -- but try them on in advance so you can be ready to order online or grab what you want quickly.
It’s not just Toys R Us, which opens at 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Day this year. In fact, the toy discounts at big box stores and on Amazon tend to be even better than at Toys R Us on the big weekend, Wilson said.
Kohl’s will reportedly be selling a Barbie Glam House and Doll Set for $39.99, regular price $79.99, and Target will sell a Hot Wheels Mega Loop Mayhem track set for $25, regular price $59.99. Target also released $100 worth of toy coupons in its kids' gift catalog.
6. Phones and tablets
These are likely to be advertised at very attractive prices this year, Wilson said. The Best Buy Black Friday ad offers a Samsung Galaxy S4 phone free with two-year contract, and a Kindle Fire HD tablet for $99. Kmart is advertising a 7” Android tablet for $39.99, Thanksgiving Day only.
You will even see deals on Apple products, in the form of gift cards or other gimmicks; Walmart’s Black Friday ad is offering a 16GB iPad Mini for $299, and you get a $100 store gift card with purchase, bringing the true price down to $199 -- half the regular Apple Store price.
The Apple Store itself typically offers a five percent, across-the-board discount on Black Friday.
7. Video game systems
With the new PlayStation 4 out and Xbox One coming out, the previous generation of video games will be selling for cheaper than ever. Best Buy will sell the Xbox 360 with 250GB bundled with four games, a controller and a headset for $189.99.
These are categories to watch, but in general Black Friday is a good time to buy practically anything, Wilson said.
“Thanksgiving weekend, the last few years has proven to be, for deals, the equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. Very broad based sales. It’s really hard to go wrong buying anything from Wednesday through Cyber Monday,” Wilson said.
That includes stores you normally might not see big crowds waiting to shop, like Costco, which made last year’s top 20 list by selling a Dyson vacuum cleaner for $369.99, and Michael’s craft stores, which typically offers its best coupon of the year to apply to your entire purchase. Don’t forget Amazon.com and other online-only stores, which sometimes offer killer deals available for just a few hours.
And if you miss Black Friday shopping? Don’t despair. Steep discounts will return at the last minute -- but the sales will not be as broad-based.
“The last few days (before Christmas) and the week between Christmas and new Year’s, you can’t count on getting exactly what you wanted, but the stuff that is marked down is just incredibly good deals,” Wilson said.
Black Friday ads for top retailers: