Black Friday looms like a dark cloud over the malls. The US (and UK) shopping holiday is a cash cow for retailers, a sporting event for deal hunters, and a stressful day for most shoppers.
What was once the start of the holiday shopping season has become a mess of traffic jams, long lines and ravaged stores. Every year, it’s looking better to just stay at home, and that might be the smartest move.
Let’s take a look at the arguments for not heading to the stores on Black Friday.
Avoid the crowds of Black Friday and shop online instead.
1. Stores offer the same sales online
Though Black Friday started as a brick-and-mortar store shopping holiday, many stores now offer the same sales online. You can do all of your shopping in your pajamas and not miss out on the sales.
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Mobile shopping is also getting more popular as an alternative to going out. Adobe’s annual holiday shopping forecast report predicts that 51 percent of purchases on Thanksgiving will come from mobile phones, likely made while recovering from a food coma on the couch.
The catch is that not all items are available online, so you’ll need to do your homework first to plot out what you want to buy and where you can get it.
Here’s a glance at how to shop at some of the biggest US retailers:
Staples’ Black Friday deals are available online starting Thursday.
Best Buy’s Black Friday deals are available online starting Thursday and will reveal exclusive doorbusters on Thanksgiving.
Target will offer its Black Friday deals online, and there’s free shipping with no required minimum purchase now through December 25.
Walmart’s Black Friday sales begin online on Thursday at 3:01 a.m. ET, 12:01 a.m. PT.
GameStop’s sales are available online on Black Friday through Sunday November 29.
Kohl’s is starting its Black Friday deals early online on Monday November 23.
Macy’s Black Friday sale starts online on Thursday, and there’s free shipping with a $50 purchase.
2. Black Friday shopping is madness (and possibly dangerous)
Getting up early or not going to bed at all; lining up outside waiting for a store to open; fighting other shoppers for the last Xbox bundle. Black Friday might save you some money, but you lose in the process.
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First, going out to shop is inefficient, because you have to go from store to store, braving packed parking lots, traffic and overcrowded malls.
Second, despite stores’ best safety efforts, people still get hurt during Black Friday fights — just search for “black friday fights” in your favorite search engine to get a taste. People have also been shot, stabbed and trampled to death, all in the name of a deal. Yes, the odds of something bad happening to you are low, but the day has ended badly for some individuals in years past.
At best, Black Friday is a stressful day of mobs of people and headaches; at worst, it could land you in the ER. Staying at home keeps you away from it all.
Don’t be tempted by low prices on stuff you wouldn’t otherwise buy.
3. It’s no longer a one-day affair
Thanksgiving shopping is not just confined to Black Friday anymore, as more retailers are offering deals in the week leading up to Turkey Day and the week following. As you can see above, some stores are starting their sales on Thanksgiving or earlier. While you can sometimes get a great deal on Black Friday, you can also start shopping now and still snag a sale.
You might also want to wait for Cyber Monday, where retailers offer online exclusive sales. It’s becoming one of the biggest shopping days of the year, and you don’t even have to wait in a line. The bottom line is that Black Friday is less important than it’s been in years’ past, so don’t feel the pressure to get your shopping done on that one day.
4. Deals aren’t always the best you can buy
Don’t fall prey to enticing low prices on stuff you wouldn’t otherwise buy. Many big-ticket doorbusters are for subpar products that you’d overlook any other day. TVs are notorious for this, for example, Target’s TV doorbusters include several low-end TVs from Westinghouse and Element. They are cheap in price and quality, so you’re better off saving your money for a much better model that’s not on sale during Black Friday.
Also look out for items that are bundled with a gift card but aren’t actually on sale. If you aren’t already in the market to buy the item that comes with gift card, don’t let the extra sway you into spending money on something that’s not really a deal.
My CNET colleague Lori Grunin explains why not all deals are worth it, especially since retailers like to compare the discount to the MSRP, even when the item sells for less than that price regularly. Do your homework before you go out to the store to see if the sale on that camera or Blu-ray player is actually worth it, or if you can get it cheaper elsewhere.
Doorbusters aren’t always the best buys, and you can sometimes shop online for them instead.
5. Even doorbusters are a mixed bag
Doorbusters — low-priced items with a limited quantity — are sometimes worth heading out for if — and only if — you are both ready to wait in long lines and you accept that you may not get what you want. Even then, these items aren’t always the best deals around, and you can get something better online.
For example, Target is offering an Xbox One bundle with Gears of War for $299, plus a $60 gift card, but over on Dell’s website you can get a similar bundle with an Xbox One, Gears of War, Fallout 4, plus an extra Xbox controller for $299. If you want that deal, it’s an online exclusive starting at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving.
While Best Buy is offering several good doorbusters, such as up to $125 off certain models of the Apple iPad Air 2, and two Chromecasts for $50, you’ll be able to shop those sales on Thanksgiving, without even leaving your couch.
Of course, if you’re one of those people who thinks camping in line at Walmart at 4 a.m. for a $59 Fitbit Flex is a great excuse for holiday fun, more power to you. I’ll be home in bed, four hours away from a leisurely wake-up followed by some light shopping — accomplished from the comfort of my laptop keyboard.
Will you go out shopping on Black Friday, or stay home? Let us know in the comments.