Can't wait until Black Friday? Neither can a number of major retailers, who have already kicked off pre-Black Friday sales that will run up to Black Friday week. And as always, electronics are a major component of their sales. Although it's tempting to get a jump on your holiday shopping, so far the early deals we've seen haven't been earth-shaking; we think you'll do better if you hold off a few more weeks until we get closer to the actual Black Friday shopping period.
As it did last year, Amazon is offering a Countdown to Black Friday Deals Week, which combines regular sale prices on many items with shorter-duration Lightning deals that last either until they sell out or the online "countdown clock" expires. Deals are scheduled throughout the day, so as one deal expires it's replaced by another. Amazon posts teasers for upcoming items, so you can often guess what the sale items are before the details are revealed.
So far the Lightning deals we've seen for electronics have been heavier on digital cameras and accessories, and lighter on TVs and larger items. But it's possible that TVs could come into greater play as we get closer to Black Friday week.
Those looking for TVs, tablets, notebook computers, and other electronics gear will find a greater assortment right now at Walmart's Early Bird Online Specials. Looking through the available items, we saw a 32-inch 720p Sceptre LCD TV for $180, and a 46-inch 1080p LCD TV from Sanyo for $378. A 50-inch 1080p Scepter LCD TV is priced at $400.
But not all the deals are that special, though. Walmart has a 42-inch 1080p LCD TV from LG—model 42LN5200—for $378, and a 55-inch E-series Vizio (model E550I-A0) sale priced at $728. But you can get either set for exactly the same price at Amazon.
Find out the best places to shop for with our electronics-store buying guide and Ratings.
In addition to a decent assortment of TVs—we saw models from Hanspree, LG, RCA, Sanyo, Sceptre, Seiki, Vizio, and Westinghouse—Walmart has a lot of cell phones and cell phone accessories plus a good selection of tablets. It also has a few laptop computers, some Bluetooth speakers, and streaming media players from Apple and Roku.
Walmart also has several popular iPad and iPod models, but its approach is to bundle them with an accessories kit rather than cut the price. The retailer is offering free shipping on items priced $50 or more, and you can genarally select a "ship to store" option if you'd like to pick up your purchases from a local outlet instead.
Based on these early deals, it looks like you can shave a few dollars off some popular items, but we haven't seen drastic price cuts, specially from Walmart. With TVs, Walmart seems to do better with lesser-known brands, such as Sceptre, than with better-known brands that are more widely available.
Due to their nature, Amazon's Lightning deals are harder to judge, but we'll be keeping an eye on some of the upcoming specials to see if there are big savings. We've also seen some pre-Black Friday deals from a few other retailers, including Best Buy and newegg.com, but so far nothing has really knocked our socks off.
Based on the deals we've seen, our advice so far is to hold out as long as you can to get even better deals as we get closer to the actual Black Friday holiday shopping weekend. Last year, for example, we didn't see big sales on major-brand TVs until the middle of November. But if you are enticed by one of these pre-Black Friday, it's best to check prices at a few other retailers—you may find that many of these so-called pre-Black Friday specials aren't really so special after all.
—James K. Willcox
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