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Tech Matters: How to spot a good deal this Black Friday

By Leslie Meredith - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Nov 22, 2023

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Leslie Meredith

It’s that time of year again when Americans are primed and ready to start their holiday shopping come Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. We’ve discussed the basics in previous columns — make a list and stick to it, comparison shop ahead of time and don’t get hoodwinked by deals you see online that seem too good to be true, because they may be a scam or, at the very least, a subpar product. Let’s go a few steps further and learn how to spot a good Black Friday or any holiday season deal when you see it.

You’ve made your list, now what? Start by finding the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, or MSRP, to provide a baseline for any discounts you find. You’re probably familiar with MSRP from buying a car but all manufacturers provide a price for their retail distributors. Of course, retailers can price an item lower or higher based on demand. You’ll find the MSRP on the manufacturer’s website and it may also be listed by the retailer to show you the savings. You should also make sure you’re looking at the same model number.

Some retailers will offer just a few units of a popular product to create buzz and attract more shoppers. The idea is that when the item sells out, you’ll buy something else from them in its place. Once you have the MSRP, find several sources for the product so you can avoid buying under pressure. Make note of any special offers such as accessories or gift cards with purchase that may offset a higher price from one retailer compared with another.

You may also run across a model of an item that is available at only one retailer. This happens often with big ticket items like TVs. A manufacturer may make a TV that’s only available at Costco, for example, and this is called a derivative model. There’s nothing inherently wrong with buying a derivative model but do make sure it has the features that you want. If it does, you may be in for some big savings.

It’s a safe bet to say that just about any product on your list that’s on sale in a store will also be available on the retailer’s website, so no more waiting in line in the early hours of Friday morning. And of course, online-only retailers like Amazon will have a dizzying array of deals. It’s no secret that Amazon uses an algorithm that shows different prices at different times to shoppers. For that reason, you may want to consider browsing both during your research phase and when shopping using incognito mode. This way your activity won’t be tracked from one session to another and you may get a better price.

You may find special offers if you use the retailer’s app. Once you’ve sourced your gifts, download the corresponding apps so they are readily available when it’s time to shop. You can add an item to your cart ahead of time to make it easy to find when you decide on the best deal. You may want to move it to the “Save for later” section so you don’t inadvertently buy something, which is easy to do if you have numerous items in your cart.

Remember, most stores offer deals through the weekend, on Cyber Monday and through that week. When you’ve finished your holiday shopping, delete the apps that you don’t have a continuing use for to safeguard your privacy — and avoid impulse buying from your phone.

Have you ever put a low-priced item in your cart, started to check out and then discovered that the shipping cost is almost as much as the item itself? Shipping can add a significant amount to your total cost, so it’s a good idea to look for an advertised “free shipping” notice on a retailer’s website. Retail technology provider Narvar looked at 48 retailers earlier this year and found the average minimum order threshold for retailers to offer free shipping rose to $64 from $52 in 2019. If you’re close to the minimum amount for free shipping and there’s a useful item you can add, by all means proceed with the purchase. Otherwise, you should check other sources to see if you can find the same item or something similar from a site that offers free shipping.

A related factor to consider when sourcing a gift online is the store’s return policy. Some retailers are charging customers for returns. In some cases, particularly the Chinese mega-sites, you may find it’s more expensive to return your items than what your order cost in the first place.

Leslie Meredith has been writing about technology for more than a decade. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.


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