Black Friday may be when prices drop, but if you've carefully read the list of deals, you can tell it's also a BS marketing gimmick. Here's how not to get fooled (plus, what gadgets to avoid at any price):
In other words, many of these "deals" really aren't deals at all. Often, Black Friday sale products are priced differently between stores, or they are priced at or above deals you can find elsewhere any day of the week. You might see a particularly juicy deal in a flyer on a big ticket item like an HDTV, only to discover that the store only had a few units to sell. The bottom line is that you need to do your homework, and this is a good place to start.
After digging through a mind-numbing quantity of deals, I came away with a few impressions about how some major retailers do business. Simply put, they are taking advantage of the herd mentality. Losses taken on truly great deals (which are often in limited quantities), are made up by selling high volume products or crap products at or above their normal retail value.
The companies examined here have different angles on Black Friday, though. Amazon always has volatile pricing, so some of its Black Friday prices are already above the current going rates. Besides that, because it shows you its own prices and prices of its third-party vendors during searches, sometimes its own prices look high. Walmart has great prices, but you have to watch out for crappy products. And Sears and Best Buy, well, they just have bad deals—many of the hottest items on their list are available cheaper right now at other retailers.
The way I see it, your odds of scoring a big-time deal at a brick-and-mortar store are slim, and catching the best deal online is often based entirely on timing, maybe even watching the price of a product over an extended period of time. So this year I plan on skipping the crowds (and a potential trampling) on Black Friday in favor of shopping through some online comparison engines, setting up price alerts and doing some price trending analysis to give myself the best chance of scoring real deals.
The following lists feature some of worst deals on hardware offered up by four major retailers. At the bottom is a supplemental list of products you should avoid at all costs.
While Best Buy's offerings during Black Friday are decent, there are an alarming number of instances where they are getting beat on the price—sometimes badly.
• Cellphones: Motorola Droid priced at $199.99 w/contract, available at Dell Mobility for $120.
• Cellphones: Motorola H710 Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Headset priced at $39.99, currently available from Wireless Emporium (via Amazon) for about the same price with shipping.
• Electronics: Bose in-ear headphones priced at $89.99, found on Amazon for $89.95 right now with free shipping.
• Home Theater: Monster HDMI Cable priced at $49.95, see our piece on the Truth About Monster Cable
• Home Theater: Sony 7.1 Channel 770-Watt A/V Receiver priced at $279.99, currently available on Amazon for $262.91
• Home Theater: Samsung Home Theater System priced at $399.99, currently available at Best Buy and Amazon for the same price.
• Televisions: Sony 46" 1080p 60Hz LCD HDTV priced at $852.99, but on Black Friday, Walmart will sell it for $798
• Televisions: Sony 40" 1080p 60Hz LCD HDTV priced at $662.99; Walmart's Black Friday price is $598
• Televisions: Samsung 42" 720p Plasma HDTV priced at $547.99, only $2 cheaper than current Amazon price with free shipping
• Televisions: Samsung 40" 1080p 60Hz LCD HDTV priced at $597.99, only $2 cheaper than current Dell price with free shipping
• Televisions: Samsung 32" 720p LCD HDTV priced at $397.99, only $2 cheaper than current Amazon price with free shipping
• Portable Storage: Sandisk Cruzer 8GB priced at $19.99, available at Office Depot and Office Max for $14.99
• Blu-ray: Samsung BD-P4600 Blu-ray Disc Player priced at $279.99, available online for $278.75 with free shipping
• Blu-ray: Samsung BD-P1600 Blu-ray Disc Player priced at $149.99, currently available from Amazon for the same price with free shipping
• Digital Media Cards: Sandisk 4GB Memory Stick Pro Duo priced at $14.99, on Black Friday available from Staples for $12.99
• Digital Media Cards: Sandisk 8GB SD Card priced at $19.99, on Black Friday available from several retailers for $14.99
• Digital Cameras: Nikon Coolpix P90 priced at $299.99, currently available at Adorama (via Amazon) for the same price with free shipping
Not surprisingly, Walmart is pretty good about setting the lowest prices. They don't always have the most eye popping offerings, but their deals are solid. Out of their Black Friday electronics lineup, I only found a few questionable (and relatively minor) issues.
• Blu-ray: The hot $78 Magnavox NB500 Blu-ray Disc Player deal is well priced, but keep in mind that this is the same player they have discounted during the holidays for the last couple of years. It's great for entry-level users, but don't expect streaming Netflix or Amazon on demand, or any of the other features found in sub-$200 Blu-ray players.
• Digital Media Cards: Sony 4GB Memory Stick Pro Duo priced at $20, available from ABX ProTech (via Amazon) for $13.63 with shipping
• Electronics: Philips 6-foot HDMI cable priced at $19. While that's still a lot cheaper than Monster cable, it's overpriced. You can get cable just as good at Monoprice.com or Amazon for under $4.
Sears has something of a reputation for bad Black Friday deals, and this year appears to be more of the same. Looking through their offerings, I noticed a significant number of electronics being sold at or above prices that you can find at other retailers on any given week.
• Digital Cameras: Sony DCR-SR47 60GB Hard Disk Drive Camcorder priced at $299.99, on Black Friday available at Best Buy for $249.99
• Televisions: Sony 52" LCD HDTV (Model KDL52V5100) priced at $1599.99, available for less than $1400 from several online retailers with free shipping
• Televisions: Sony 46" LCD HDTV (Model KDL46V5100) priced at $1239.99, available for less than $1000 from several online retailers with free shipping
•Televisions: Sony 40" 1080p 60Hz LCD HDTV priced at $664.99, on Black Friday available at Walmart for $598
• Televisions: Samsung 55" LED HDTV (Model UN55B6000) priced at $2469.99, currently available at or below that price from several online retailers with free shipping
• Televisions: Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV (Model PN50B530) priced at $899.99, currently available from Crutchfield for the same price with free shipping
• Televisions: Samsung 46" LED HDTV (Model UN46B6000) priced at $1599.99, currently available via ecomelectronics for $1574.95 with free shipping
• Televisions: Samsung 46" 1080P Class LCD HDTV (Model LN46B500) priced at $899.99, on Black Friday available for $848 at Walmart and Best Buy
• MP3 Players: GPX 4GB MP3/4 Player priced at $32.99, available from Kmart for $24.99
• Home Theater: Sony Bravia 5.1 Channel 1000 Watt Integrated Home Theater System DAV-HDX589 priced at $329.99, available at Best Buy for $279.99
• Home Theater: Panasonic Blu-Ray Home Theater System (Model SC-BT200) priced at $399.99, currently available at 6ave (via Amazon) for $376.84 with free shipping
• GPS: Magellan RoadMate 1220 GPS priced at $89.99, on Black Friday available at Kmart for $84.99
• Blu-ray: Sony BDP-S360 Blu-ray Disc Player priced at $149.99, on Black Friday available via Target with a $20 gift card and currently priced at Amazon for $133.89 with shipping
• Blu-ray: Samsung BD-P1600 Blu-ray Disc Player priced at $149.99, currently available from Amazon for the same price with free shipping
• Digital Media Cards: Sony 2GB Memory Stick PRO Duo priced at $12.99, currently $12.82 on Amazon with shipping
While I expected Amazon's prices to fluctuate from one minute to the next, I did not expect some of their current prices to be far below the price they planned to offer as part of their Black Friday deal. It's almost like they are using Black Friday fever as an opportunity to jack up the profits on certain items. Both price points are competitive, but it appears that scoring the best deal is more about price trending over an extended period of time than it is about Black Friday. Amazon also has a funny situation with its third-party retailers. You can see in the list below that many partners are already underselling Amazon's Black Friday prices. It's a good issue to have if you're in the market for particular items—provided you trust the third-party retailer.
• Computers: ASUS Eee PC 1005HA-PU1X-BK 10.1-Inch Black Netbook priced at $349.99, amazingly it is currently available on Amazon for $339.99—so the promoted Black Friday price is $10 higher.
• Computers: Samsung N120-12GW 10.1-Inch White Netbook priced at $363.32, again, Amazon is selling it cheaper right now—only $319
• Computers: Toshiba Satellite T135-S1307 TruBrite 13.3-Inch Ultrathin Black Laptop priced at $699.99, selling on Amazon right now for $599.99
• Electronics: Archos 5 250 GB Internet Media Tablet priced at $259.95, currently selling on Amazon for $229.99
• GPS: DeLorme Earthmate PN-30 Green Handheld GPS priced at $224.37, currently selling on Amazon for $179.99
• GPS: DeLorme Earthmate PN-30 Realtree Handheld GPS priced at $236, currently selling on Amazon for $179.99
• GPS Garmin Nüvi 780 4.3-Inch Widescreen Bluetooth Portable GPS Navigator with MSN Direct Service priced at $179.99, important to note that MSN Direct is shutting down in 2011
• GPS: Magellan RoadMate 1220 3.5-Inch Portable GPS Navigator priced at $96.94, currently available on Amazon for $89.99
• GPS: Magellan RoadMate 1440 4.3-Inch Portable GPS Navigator priced at $149, currently available on Amazon $138.91 with shipping
• GPS: Magellan RoadMate 1470 4.7-Inch Widescreen Portable GPS Navigator priced at $149, currently available from Electronics Expo (via Amazon) for $139.39 with shipping
• Home Theater: Denon S-32 Internet Radio with Built-in Speakers and 2-Alarm Clock priced at $319, currently available from One Call (via Amazon) for $299
• Television: LG 37LH55 37-Inch 1080p 240Hz LCD HDTV priced at $866.97, currently available from Adorama (via Amazon) for $849.99
• Television: Panasonic VIERA G10 Series TC-P42G10 42-Inch 1080p Plasma HDTV priced at $909.69, currently available on Amazon for $897.87 with shipping Update: price jumped overnight to $916.42
The Worst Gadgets of The Year
There are bad deals, and then there are bad products. Except where otherwise noted, the gadgets in the lists above are more or less worth it if you can find the best prices. The stuff below appear under the Worstmodo tag; it's the stuff we don't want to see any of you people buying. We've mentioned a bunch more Don't Buy products our continuing gift guide series, but here are the most egregious offenders of the year.
TwitterPeek: If you are going to make a gadget that only handles Twitter, it had damn sure better provide an experience that outstrips what I could do with just about any ordinary cellphone. By most accounts, the TwitterPeek fails in this regard. If you spend $99 for 6-months or $200 for a lifetime of service on this, you have lost your mind.
Garmin Nuvifone G60 GPS Phone: As our review clearly states, the Garmin Nuvifone G60 should be taken out back and put out of its misery. Besides functioning poorly, it charges you for what other devices can do better, and for free.
Sony PRS-600 Touch Edition Reader: Sony has long been a proponent of the e-ink ebook, but they keep messing it up by overlaying it with a resistive touchscreen. The trouble is glare—even in the gentle light of a reading lamp, you can see your reflection as you try to make out the page. Some reviewers don't mind this for some reason, but we do, and besides, with so many ebook options out there, why settle for a compromised machine? (We haven't reviewed the upcoming Sony PRS-900 Daily Edition, but we have been told that the touchscreen is constructed the same. This is bad news for Sony. Steer clear!)
Windows Mobile 6.5: With the bar being set by the iPhone and Android, and the Palm Pre doing a nice job of keeping up, Microsoft needed to get their act together with Windows Mobile if they really wanted to compete. The 6.5 update doesn't bring anything new to the table outside of some UI tweaks. As we noted in our review, it's a major letdown...and then some.
Panasonic SDR-SW21 Waterproof Camera: Despite a $400 price tag, the SDR-SW21 takes 640x480 SD video and 0.3MP stills, putting it the same league as some of the crappiest cameraphones. It's also billed as being waterproof and rugged, but can only be used at depths above 6-feet. A complete piece of garbage, pure and simple.
CatGenie Litter Box: A litter box that does all the cleaning for you sounds like a cat lover's dream come true—that is until you realize that the CatGenie creates as many problems as it solves. It cleans up well, but it's also an enormous, power sucking money pit. Check out our review for the full details.
Cell-Mate Hands Free Cellphone Holder: How could wearing a Bluetooth headset in public make you look like a bigger idiot? Answer: when the Bluetooth is coming from the phone strapped to your head. The product page doesn't explain where you can actually buy one of these cellphone-holding headsets, but if you come across the Cell-Mate in the wild, just keep on walking.
[Image via Flickr]
Send an email to Sean Fallon, the author of this post, at email@example.com.
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