Nothing works off a tryptophan hangover like a predawn stakeout at the shopping mall in the earliest hours of Black Friday. But those splashy door-busters – the limited-time-only, while-supplies-last, early-morning offers – may not be worth the early rise.
Door-busters can generate considerable buzz. After all, what shopper wouldn’t look twice at a $300 HDTV or a $200 game console? But retailers are using the opportunity to clear out older models — without adding a clearance-sale sticker, which can prompt more thought and inspection on the part of shoppers. Every once in a while, a truly good deal does sneak in, particularly if the sales pitch is for a product that seems close to what you were already looking for.
To separate the good from the overblown, a few rules of thumb: Stores are less likely to offer big discounts on the latest technology, simply because retailers can move these products at higher prices without much fanfare, says Brian Tanis, the founder of sale-tracking site Offers.com. The better values may be hidden in less-talked-about stores, like Meijer or Shopko, or in a slightly more expensive item whose smaller discount and higher price tag are actually a better deal than a lower-quality, cheaper twin that you’ll have to replace sooner. Model numbers for the same product can vary by retailer — on televisions for example, some brands offer different model numbers to membership club stores like Costco (NasdaqGS: COST – News) than, say, to Best Buy (NYSE: BBY – News) — so look at the features to see if the comparison is fair.
Here are three door-busters to skip, and better deals to consider:
1. $99 Sony Blu-ray Player (Models S270, S370)
These players, marked down from $179 in Black Friday ads at Target (NYSE: TGT – News), Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT – News), Walgreen’s (NYSE: WAG – News), and Costco, among others, are billed as offering Internet video, but they aren’t nearly as cheap as they seem. They’re Wi-Fi ready, rather than coming with built-in Wi-Fi. You’ll need an $80 adaptor to go wire-free, says Manu Sachdeva, the director of ecommerce for gadget marketplace Retrevo. “On spec it looks great, but most homes don’t have or want Ethernet cables running [from the modem to] behind the TV,” he says. A better bet would be the Sony S570 with WiFi, which Wal-Mart currently has on sale for $158 instead of $250, he says. Although it’s a more expensive player, you’d save $21 on the whole setup.
2. $300 720p HDTVs
Skip the 32″ no-name sets on sale for $300 or less at Costco, Wal-Mart, Kmart, Sam’s Club and Shopko – with resolution of 720p, they’re nothing special, says Tanis. On the other hand, at $298, Target’s expected 40″ Westinghouse LCD HDTV is a rare bargain. It features cutting-edge 1080p resolution, and it’s the cheapest of the higher-resolution sets in ads for Black Friday. (The next-cheapest 1080p door-buster of that size is a $400 Coby at Shopko.) Experts say the higher resolution doesn’t really pay off in screens smaller than 50″ unless you’re sitting very close (less than 5 feet away), so keep that in mind when you’re picking a set.
3. $299 160GB Playstation 3-Game/DVD Bundles
Best Buy has a bundle with two games (Little Big Planet and ModNation Racers) and one Blu-ray movie (Cars, which came out in 2006), while Sears (NasdaqGS: SHLD – News) has one with one game (Uncharted 2: Among Thieves), a voucher for an online game (PixelJunk Shooter) and a Blu-ray movie (“The Karate Kid”). The console alone also sells for $299 and games run between $10 and $70 — so it seems like a good deal on its face. But is a four-year-old movie or no-name game a deal? “Usually the games aren’t the ones that people want,” says Natali Morris, a senior editor for electronics review site CNET. You could wait for a sale or coupon and get a better price — without collecting a game that will sit in your drawer. For example, superstore Meijer has a similar deal on the console, which includes the same extras as Sears but goes a step further with a $50 coupon good for a future purchase. That’s enough to buy a game you actually want to play.