Black Friday sales are everywhere. Judging by retailers’ ads, which are filled with phrases like “must-have deals” and “epic finds not to be missed,” one would think every deal is too good to miss.
But what actually makes a Black Friday deal so valuable? The discounted price, availability and affordability of an item are key elements.
Here’s what to consider before you buy.
Start price tracking now
Prices fluctuate throughout the year, making it difficult to tell if what’s on offer is actually the best of the best. Most people couldn’t tell exactly how much a particular air fryer sold two weeks or two months ago and if that’s any different from today’s price.
“Things you buy every week, you notice that the price goes up. If it’s something you buy maybe once a year or not very often, like a pair of shoes, you don’t know what the price is normal or what it was last time,” said Martin Block, professor emeritus in Medill’s integrated research program Marketing Communications from Northwestern University.
What can you do to become a better judge? Start tracking prices now, said John Boyd, co-founder of ShopSavvy, a price comparison app. Using an app to explore a product’s price history can help you understand retailers’ marketing tactics.
“Sometimes a good sale is really hard to spot because you’re just bombarded with, ‘Oh, we’ve got this great sale and it’s X percent off or Y percent off,’ and there’s no context at all,” Boyd said.
Familiarize yourself with the prices in the days leading up to Black Friday, November 25th this year. Shopping tools like ShopSavvy and PayPal Honey can also alert you to price drops on specific items and compare merchant prices to find the best deals.
It is popular and in stock
Sometimes having the gift on your list is more important than getting the biggest discount. The 2021 holiday shopping season proved that deals aren’t guaranteed to last: Widespreadand increasing demand led to stock shortages and shipping delays. Many experts believe that supply problems will not be as widespread this year. However, popular items could still fly off the shelves.
“Certain toys, such as consoles and certain games, are likely to sell out quickly,” said G. Tony Bell, assistant professor in the Department of Supply Chain Management at Rutgers Business School. “So I would say definitely buy early. The price advantage of a later purchase over an earlier purchase will be minimal at best.”
Buying early could be the right move, even if the product you want drops significantly in price after purchase.
“Most stores will either let you return it or give you a credit if it’s on sale within a certain number of days,” said Debra Radway, board-certified financial planner and associate professor at Arizona State University’s WP Carey School of Business.
Before you shop, find out about retailers’ return, exchange, and price adjustment policies so you know what to expect.
“Buy what you can afford”
Most importantly, a Black Friday deal should fit your budget. A TV that’s in stock and on sale at 99% off is still not worth it if the remaining 1% is outside your price range.
As Bell puts it simply, “Buy what you can afford.”
Bell warns against taking on new loans for Black Friday purchases — like credit cards or installment loans known as “buy now, pay later” plans — because of the potential interest costs or the impact on your credit score if you can’t repay.
And that’s a real possibility: According to a 2022 Holiday Shopping Report by NerdWallet, 31% of holiday shoppers who used a credit card to buy gifts in 2021 still have debt.
“Making a list of who you want to shop for for the holidays and setting a budget before you go shopping will really help control your spending during the holiday season,” Radway said.
However, remember that it’s okay to skip Black Friday sales altogether. Your loved ones may appreciate something homemade like cookies or a heartfelt card just as much as an eye-catching new gift from a store. And you can save some money. That’s a pretty sweet deal.