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Don't Be Duped by Lame Black Friday Deals

Brian Sozzi, NBG Productions

If you’re looking for the best Black Friday deals this year, you’ll have to figure out how to sort the deals from the duds first.

Some deals are so exceptional that we can almost understand why people are lining up at stores a week early (Walmart’s $98 HDTV and Best Buy’s free-with-contract Samsung Galaxy S4 come to mind).

But the truth is that some of the so-called “bargains” flying off shelves may not actually be that great a buy after all.

“There are always going to be deals slipped in there that are not very good,” says Lindsay Sakraida, senior writer for DealNews.com. “Just because it’s in a Black Friday ad does not mean it’s something you should buy.”

TVs and camera deals: Meh

Apart from a few standout deals on HDTVs, the bargain-watchers at DealNews have been underwhelmed by this year’s offerings.

“We haven’t seen some of the really amazing prices that we were expecting,” says Sakraida.

Most of the bargains have centered on off-brand TVs, like the $229 Element 50-inch LED HDTV on offer at Target (on Thanksgiving Day ), which was only one of two TV deals that made DealNews’ top 10 Black Friday ads this year.

Cameras generally aren’t the best bargains on Black Friday, but this year was especially disappointing. “We didn’t see any great deals on digital SLR cameras, and there usually does tend to be a pretty good price flow on those [during Black Friday],” Sakraida says.

To be fair, retailers don’t exactly like to show all their cards this early in the game. We may yet see even better deals advertised (or not) the day of Thanksgiving or Black Friday.

“Even if you’re underwhelmed by what’s out there, it’s still worth paying attention to deals that may not be announced yet,” Sakraida says.

Don't be duped by duplicate deals

The keen-eyed folks at credit and debt site Nerdwallet recently compared Black Friday ads from 25 major retailers against their 2012 offerings and found a whopping 92% of ads featured at least one duplicate deal this year.

Depending on which way you look at it, this could be great news for people who missed out on certain items last year. But if you’ve got your eye on consumer electronics, you might wonder why some retailers haven’t lowered their prices on older models as newer inventory rolled in.

For example, OfficeMax advertises the Brother Laser MFC-7360N all-in-one printer for $129.99 on Black Friday 2013, down from its regular price of $199.99. But the store actually sold the exact same printer last year for the same price. Staples also advertises a super-cheap $50 Brothers printer this year, but it ran the same deal in 2012.

“Consumers automatically assume that everything in the store on Black Friday is a great deal. That’s not even close to the truth,” says Matthew Ong, senior retail analyst for Nerdwallet.

Pre-Black Friday competition  

Even if you do your homework and target deals that make waking up at the crack of dawn worthwhile, you could still wind up let down if you wait until Black Friday to shop.

“The shopping holiday season is shorter this year, so we’re seeing deals moving earlier and earlier,” Ong says. “[Unless stores are closed on Thursday] the best deals really are on Thanksgiving Day.”

Ong is, of course, referring to doorbusters, the creme de la creme of Black Friday bargains. Some stores like Walmart are guaranteeing hot items iPads and TVs in stock, but they require shoppers to be in the store as early as 6 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Good luck finding those products past midnight.

And because some stores are offering deals even earlier than Thanksgiving Day this year, you could be behind on great opportunities without even knowing it.

Amazon is launching its pre-Black Friday deals this Sunday, and Walmart is running a major sale Friday, Nov. 22, offering deals that may beat Black Friday offerings from competitors like Target.

If you want to stay in the loop, we’d recommend signing up for your favorite retailers’ customer mailing lists ASAP.

Wait until Cyber Monday?

If gadgets are your goal, then Black Friday and Gray Thursday are the best days to shop.

However, you’re almost always better off waiting to snap up deals on apparel and shoes until Cyber Monday.

“On the past two Cyber Mondays, we saw an average of 45% more clothing deals than on Black Friday, and about 53% more deals than on Thanksgiving,” says DealNews’ Marcy Bonebright. “We also saw about 50% more shoe deals on Cyber Monday than on Black Friday or Thanksgiving.”

The tricky part? Knowing where and when sales will drop. Unlike Black Friday, retailers don’t generally release Cyber Monday ads at all.

Keep all your bases covered by browsing websites on Sunday morning.“Sunday offers a more captive audience (they’re not at work), and last year several stores started Cyber Monday on Sunday,” says Brent Shelton, spokesperson for FatWallet.com.  

Have you finished your holdiay shopping already? Let me know: mandiw@yahoo-inc.com.

Check out shopping tips from Black Friday guru Katherine Cauley.