Who needs Black Friday?

— 11:01 PM on November 20, 2008

We're about a week away from Black Friday, that glorious day after Thanksgiving when retailers slash prices to absurd lows and offer incredibly limited deals that have come to be known as "doorbusters." Thrifty shoppers camp out up to a day in advance, inexplicably forsaking their Thanksgiving meals for a lawn chair, a blanket, and some fast food. I've worked my share of Black Fridays in the past; arriving at 4AM and not leaving until 8PM. It's fascinating how much going an entire day without seeing the sun can throw off your internal clock.

Thankfully, that won't be the case this year. My years of working retail are well behind me, and now it's my turn to reap the benefits of the fantastic sales. With just a few days to go and the Internet's penchant for ruining surprises, it's a great time to start looking at the ads retailers will print next week and start planning potential purchases. I even had the noble idea to scour flyers from Best Buy, Circuit City, Office Max, and other stores in an effort to find the best deals and share my finds with TR readers. Only one problem presented itself: Black Friday's deals aren't so fantastic.

The most interesting items to me this year are HDTVs, digital SLR cameras, and video game consoles. Accessories like flash drives and portable hard drives are usually discounted heavily due to their high margin, so I'm keeping my eyes open for those, as well. The best deal I've found for an Xbox 360 is in Target's flyer, which advertises an Xbox 360 Pro Holiday Bundle with Lego Indiana Jones, Kung Fu Panda, and a $50 gift card for $299. However, smart shoppers who monitor sites like Slickdeals.net will already know that Dell recently had a 15%-off coupon that made it possible to get an Xbox 360 Pro Holiday Bundle for only $254.15 with free shipping. I'll take $45 and change in cash over a $50 gift card any day, and that's all without having to leave the house. Things only get worse from here.

On the flash drive front, Best Buy will have a PNY 2GB Optima Pro flash drive for $7.99. The only problem is that Amazon already sells it for $4.99, and Newegg's got an even smaller-form-factor 2GB PNY drive for $4.99. Digging through more Black Friday ads, Office Max will have an 8GB SanDisk Cruzer Micro flash drive for $17.99 (regular price: $69.99), while RadioShack will be selling the same for $19.99. Either one sounds like a great deal for 8GB of storage, right? Think again. Amazon's got it for $12.74, and it's in stock right now. How about a 1TB Western Digital My Book external hard drive for $149.99 (normally $259.99) in Best Buy's ad? Whoops, looks like Amazon beat another retailer to the punch. It's already got the 1TB My Book priced at $149.99. So much for scoring more storage on Black Friday.

Digital SLRs are fast becoming must-have cameras, despite their bulky sizes and the fact that many users will never touch half of their features. That said, I've been watching for any deals on Canon's EOS 40D, since it was recently replaced by the 50D, and a healthy amount of stock should have remained for retailers to put on clearance sales. Sure enough, Circuit City will have the EOS 40D along with the kit lens on sale for $1149.99, which is $150 less than its regular price. But you already know what I'm going to say, don't you? That's right, Amazon's got it for less right now; on sale for $1058.94 to be precise. Maybe Circuit City can do better with Canon's consumer-grade digital SLR, the Rebel XSi. Circuit City will have the Rebel XSi along with the kit lens in its Black Friday ad for $699.99. That's a healthy $100 off of the MSRP. Unfortunately for Circuit City, online retailers have bested it once again. You'll find the Rebel XSi at Amazon for $649.95 and at Newegg for $649. Online shopping is the greatest, isn't it?

I don't want to sound like a shill for Amazon (or Newegg), but are consumers still so far behind the times that brick & mortar retailers can get away with these prices—on Black Friday of all days? Shouldn't we all know to check online prices by now? Are they just counting on impulse buys from shoppers who don't know any better? I'm not saying that there won't be some deals to be found on Black Friday, but are the miniscule savings worth the traffic, the crowds, and the lines?

If you're still planning on going out on Black Friday despite my naysaying, I've got a few tips for you:

  • Dress warm. Stores will be opening as early as 4AM, and you can expect to wait outside for a little while before getting in the front doors.
  • Bring food. You'll have a hard enough time convincing someone to save your spot in line to grab something, and you'll need the energy to fight through the crowds.
  • Try to price match other retailers. Some stores won't honor their price match guarantee on Black Friday, but there's no set rule on what to expect. If you can get a store to price match others' ads, you'll save yourself a lot of time.
  • If it's going to be an extremely limited deal, try buying the product in advance of Black Friday, then simply do a price match on Black Friday. Like the previous tip, your mileage may vary on this one. Some retailers don't even have their returns/exchanges counter open on Black Friday.

The only purchases that I've found truly tempting are the numerous TV show series that retailers like Target, Best Buy, and Circuit City sell for $15 per season. All four seasons of Futurama for $60 is certainly a compelling proposition. However, I think I'll be staying home this Black Friday, enjoying time with family, devouring leftovers, and maybe starting my holiday shopping online. That is, of course, unless some thrifty TR readers can find some deals I've missed. Let us know if you've spotted any killer Black Friday deals in the comments below, or if you don't want to let us in on your secret before the big day, feel free to gloat here about your great buys after Black Friday.

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