Yes, it's still not quite November, but we're already thinking about Black Friday shopping—America's favorite contact sport after football. This year we expect to see several electronics categories, especially TVs, once again play a major role in many retailers' promotions.
The good news is that we expect to see some great deals on larger, better-featured televisions, including Ultra HD TV sets, as well as new low prices in various screen sizes for barebones models. But with many retailers taking a multi-pronged approach to promotions—using everything from the traditional print circulars to social-media blasts on mobile devices—you may have to do a bit more work this year to make sure you get the best deal.
With that in mind, we're offering five predictions about what's to come as the holiday shopping season begins. We'll be gradually ramping up our Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and holiday shopping coverage across many consumer electronics categories, so keep checking back for buying tips and information.
Here are five things we expect to happen during Black Friday 2014.
1. It will be a great time to get a 60-inch—or even larger—TV. Last year, Vizio blew the doors off the competition with a 60-inch 1080p LCD TV priced at $688. We expect to see even better deals on sets this size, and maybe even larger. We also expect a few major brands to offer derivative models (special Black Friday-only sets) that will be available only during the holidays. Some secondary brands will probably offer new low prices for Ultra HD sets. According to the Chicago-based research firm Market Track, if history is any indicator, prices on promoted items will continue to rise this Black Friday, but that's because retailers will be offering steeper breaks on higher-priced televisions—either larger-sized sets, or models with more features. More promotions will highlight the best values instead of the lowest price.
2. Pricing will be volatile, so you'll have to keep checking back. The days of prices being fixed in a print ad are over; thanks to the Internet, retailers are monitoring their competitors and making adjustments, sometimes hourly, to match prices. According to Market Track, last year several major retailers—including Best Buy, Kmart, RadioShack, Target, and Walmart—each changed the online price of at least 55 percent of the items promoted in their Black Friday circulars. That means to get the absolutely best deal, you'll have to continually check pricing, or try to wrangle a price-match guarantee when you do decide to buy.
3. More retailers will alert prospective shoppers using e-mail, texts, and social media. If you really want to get the best deals, you'll have to opt in to e-mails from your favorite retailers, like them on Facebook, or check their Twitter feeds. Some retailers may use the geolocation feature in your cell phone to alert you to special deals when they know you're in one of their stores.
Find the best HDTV for your needs and budget with our TV buying guide and Ratings.
4. Online shoppers will buy earlier this holiday season. Last year, the surge in later online sales—combined with especially harsh winter weather in some areas—created huge delivery issues for FedEx, UPS, and the U.S. Postal service, and many customers didn't get their packages in time for holiday gifting. That will probably mean that online shoppers will order earlier this year to guarantee delivery, or take advantage of ship-to-store policies that let them pick up purchased items at a local store. To keep the shopping momentum going through the remainder of the holiday season, we expect that online retailers will offer late-breaking promotions and price cuts for those who are able or willing to wait. Even walk-in stores will use late promotions—including incentives such as "store cash" and gift cards—to drive buyers back into their stores to combat the post Black Friday/Cyber Monday lull.
5. Forget Cyber Monday, get ready for Cyber Week. Why restrict to one day a sales event that can last a week? That's what's been happening lately, and there's no reason to think it won't continue. Last year Amazon really drove this extension, and we expect other online retailers to follow suit. Also, expect to see Cyber Week promotions start earlier this year, as early as Sunday evening.
Those are some of our early Black Friday and holiday shopping predictions. As it gets closer to the event, we'll be scouring many of the Black Friday ads and promotions, comparing prices, and evaluating the offers to help you get the best deals on the right products. So keep checking back for all our Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and holiday shopping coverage.
—James K. Willcox