Get Ready for a Weird Black Friday This Year
Last updated November 16, 2021
Inflation, supply chain disruptions, and the pandemic are shaping this year’s Black Friday promotions, limiting the number of products retailers can advertise and the size of discounts they can offer.
Listen to audio highlights of the story below:
Where are the Deals?
“Hunting for the best Black Friday deals this year is going to be a frustrating experience,” said Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org. “Deeply discounted deals may be harder to find, quantities even more limited than usual, and since fewer sale circulars are being leaked far in advance, planning will be more difficult.”
Dworsky, who has monitored holiday retail trends for decades, said he expects to see fewer great doorbuster deals, especially on electronics and major home appliances, due to inventory shortages. We won’t see French door refrigerators for $998 or TVs for $150 this year, he said.
Usually by this time, the week before Thanksgiving, virtually all the Black Friday ads for major retailers would be available online. This year, some big stores like Best Buy, Amazon, Old Navy, and Bed Bath & Beyond “seem to be keeping their best November 26th bargains secret as long as possible,” Dworsky said.
Even so, he did find a few noteworthy deals at other retailers.
Roku is launching its new Roku LE streaming stick exclusively at Walmart through Black Friday weekend for $15, while supplies last. Walmart also has the Fitbit Charge 4 for $69 (reg. $129).
Department stores tend offer real discounts—as opposed to their everyday fake sale pricing (see below)—for small appliances during their Black Friday sales events. Check Kohls, JCPenney, and Macy’s for various small appliances and kitchenware for under $20 (after rebate). Macy's also has the Ninja blender/food processor on sale for $99.99 (reg. $249.99).
Dworsky recommends visiting HotStock.io to find stores that still have popular electronic items in stock.
Expect Smaller Discounts on Big TVs
Many shoppers wait until Black Friday to buy electronics, especially televisions and laptops. While you will find discounts, Jim Willcox, senior electronics editor at Consumer Reports, said he expects this year’s markdowns to be less aggressive than in the past.
“It's still early, but we haven’t seen a lot of those insanely low prices that drive people either into stores or to websites,” Willcox told Checkbook. “And it's quite possible that we won't see as many as we have in the past.”
Something else different is going on this year. Electronics typically go down in price from year to year, but this year manufacturers raised their prices for televisions. That may limit retailers’ ability to discount them. The sets chosen for doorbuster deals may be off brands.
“Oftentimes the cheapest TVs aren't the best TVs,” Willcox cautioned. “If you're considering buying one of these models as your main TV, the cheapest TV may not be the best option, and you probably don't really have to pay that much more to get a much better set.”
How to Be a Savvy Black Friday Shopper
Remember, just because an item is featured in a Black Friday ad, and even if it’s advertised at a steep percent-off price, that doesn’t mean it’s really a good deal. Checkbook’s researchers tracked prices for months at 19 major retailers and found that most were guilty of hosting fake sales, offering discounts week after week and rarely, if ever, charging the “list prices” they displayed.
Before buying, shop around to make sure the price is a good one. Dworsky and Checkbook suggest using CamelCamelCamel, a website that tracks the price history of items sold by Amazon for the past year.
“By doing this, you can identify if this particular sale is at a great price, a so-so price, or really a lousy price that’s just playing off the Black Friday name,” Dworsky said.
More tips for how to get a good price:
Also, keep in mind that Black Friday is no longer a one-day event—it’s now a month-long sell-a-thon. While some early-bird Black Friday sales have just started—and more will roll out Thanksgiving week—others are long gone.
For example, two of Walmart's three “Deals for Days” sales events are over. The last one begins online November 22 at 7 p.m. ET and in-store November 26 at 5 a.m. Walmart+ members (who pay an annual $98 membership fee) get a four-hour head start for online sales.
Target's Black Friday sale begins November 21. Macy's sale starts November 23. For other stores, check to see when their sales begin and where—online, in store, or both.
You can find all the Black Friday newspaper circulars at GottaDeal. You can flip through the ads, or search by product category, such as laptops, videogame consoles, or sweaters. They also have holiday catalogs from the major retail chains.
- From ConsumerWorld: Top 10 Tips to Bag a Bargain During Black Friday Month
- From Checkbook: 30 Pricing Tricks Retailers Use to Make You Pay Up
Contributing editor Herb Weisbaum (“The ConsumerMan”) is an Emmy award-winning broadcaster and one of America's top consumer experts. He is also the consumer reporter for KOMO radio in Seattle. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and at ConsumerMan.com.