The early bird gets the worm.
Abdolhamid Ebrahimi—Getty Images
By Brad Tuttle
November 11, 2014

Black Friday, a.k.a. the day after Thanksgiving, has traditionally been embraced as the kickoff of the holiday shopping season. But now that the season has been expanded dramatically by retailers, which began airing holiday ads in September, with Black Friday-type deals appearing as early as November 1 and plenty of stores open on Thanksgiving, the idea that Black Friday is the “start” of anything is silly. In fact, the idea that Black Friday is the season’s most important day for retailers is waning, and there’s a decent argument to be made that deal-seeking consumers should be done with their shopping by the time Black Friday rolls around.

The Wall Street Journal has examined retail pricing data from Adobe Systems, which shows that last year, the season’s biggest price drops took place the weekend before Thanksgiving, and the best overall prices were to be had not on Black Friday but the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. This year, Adobe predicts that the season’s lowest prices will pop up on Thanksgiving itself, with an average discount of 24%. The deal-hunting experts at dealnews also anticipate that Thanksgiving will beat Black Friday and come out overall as the best day for low prices.

This isn’t to say that Black Friday won’t have some phenomenal bargains. Best Buy, Walmart, Target, Macy’s, and the rest of the field will surely roll out their share of doorbusters and huge one-day discounts. You’ll probably be able to scoop up off-brand TVs for a song, and the lucky few with the right combination of timing, endurance, and sharp elbows will assuredly snag other in-demand toys and electronics at deep discounts on Black Friday.

But they’ll have to battle traffic and crowds at the mall to do so. More importantly, based on the data presented above, it should be clear that Black Friday won’t necessarily have the best prices on everything. The pitfall shoppers should really try to avoid is heading to the mall on Black Friday for a few amazing doorbuster deals—and then sticking around and impulsively buying a bunch of other things at prices that are higher than you need to pay.

Combine that with the fact that the majority of sales on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and the rest of the weekend are available online at the same prices, and that huge online sales are all but guaranteed for Cyber Monday at the start of the next week, and there’s considerable justification for staying away from the mall the entire time.

It may not be the most appealing idea, but there’s even some justification for getting a good portion of your holiday shopping done right now. The Wall Street Journal has been tracking prices of 10 top holiday gift items at Amazon and other major retailers, and what it found is that competitors are changing prices from day to day, sometimes dramatically so, and that some particularly good deals are appearing sooner than they normally do in the season. “This year retailers are trying to lengthen the season by dropping prices even earlier,” Tamara Gaffney, principal analyst of Adobe Digital Index, explained to the WSJ.

Dealnews agrees. “The truth is that the entire month of November will see blockbuster sales,” a post in late October explained. “So if you see the item you want at a price that suits your budget, by all means don’t wait to purchase that item later.”

Certainly, there’s no reason to feel like you must wait and physically go shopping on Black Friday.

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