An American consumer doing Black Friday shopping

Some of us wait all year for Cyber Monday shopping season, our heads filled with the promise of scoring the best price of the year on a new TV, tablet, printer, or high-tech gadget. But don’t let all the Cyber Monday hype fool you. You might end up overpaying if you get taken in by so-so prices masquerading as fantastic bargains, and you can miss out on great deals if you don’t do your research.

Consumer Reports has been tracking Cyber Monday deals for years, and we know all the tricks. Our Cyber Monday shopping tips will help you get the best deal on the items you want and keep frustration—and overspending—to a minimum.

As usual, we’ll be tracking the best Cyber Monday deals we find in multiple product categories, including televisions, laptops, large and small appliances, and mattresses, so check back for all our holiday deals coverage.

More On Holiday Deals

1. Plan to shop early. The best time to start checking out Cyber Monday deals is the Saturday after Black Friday; many retailers wait until then to post offers so that they don’t steal any thunder from that earlier sale. With Black Friday now in their rear-view mirrors, retailers will be fully focused on Cyber Monday as the next big shopping event. Online retailers regularly update prices as they check out their competition, so check back regularly.

If you want to score some of the very best deals, you may want to set a wake-up call for just after midnight on Monday to get in on the action early. Many top bargains may be available in limited quantities. On the other hand, Cyber Monday sales don’t necessarily end Tuesday morning. Many retailers are now stretching Cyber Monday into a Cyber Week of online specials, so deals may continue to be available after Cyber Monday itself.

2. Do your homework. Getting the best deals on Cyber Monday can take some work because online retailers can update specials, or take away or add new deals, at almost anytime during the event. The good news is that most of the Black Friday sites we’ve already told you about—BFAfadsBestBlackFriday.comDealNewsTheBlackFriday.com, and GottaDeal.com—also track Cyber Monday deals. Sign up and these sites will send you deal alerts, which you can typically filter by product category.

3. Use price and coupon tools. You don’t have to go retailer-by-retailer to compare prices. Try Google Shopping, plus services such as NexTagPriceGrabber, Pricewatch, and Shopzilla. In physical stores, apps such as BuyVia, Flipp, ShopKick, ShopSavvy, and Shopular loaded on your phone let you scan bar codes or QR codes to compare prices, get discounts, and score coupons.

Many major retailers, such as Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and Walmart, have their own apps that will alert you to new deals, and sometimes help shoppers in other ways. Amazon’s app, for example, lets you use a smartphone camera to scan products and price-shop online, and Best Buy’s app lets you know whether an item can be picked up at your local store.


Go to Consumer Reports’ 2018 Holiday Central for updates on deals, expert product reviews, insider tips on shopping, and much more.
 

4. Get social. The Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of your favorite retailers are a great way to find out about deals and promotions. Also check their Instagram and Pinterest accounts. Retailers will often reward customers who like or follow them with special alerts to Cyber Monday discounts and incentives. And, of course, texts, tweets, and social media posts are an easy way to share shopping intel with your friends.



5. Sign up for loyalty programs. Stores often have loyalty programs that offer sales and promotions to their members first, then let them earn rewards on what they buy. Signing up for Cyber Monday shopping alerts will get you the early word on promotions, coupons, and discounts. In some cases, you can even find out whether the products you want are in stock or eligible to buy online and pick up at the store, which can save you on shipping.

6. Create a budget—and stick to it. Yes, this sounds simple. But Cyber Monday sales, especially the special deals available in limited quantities, are designed to get you on the retailer’s website, so hopefully they can sell you additional items.

Decide ahead of time how much you want to spend on your Cyber Monday shopping spree, and do your best to resist impulse buying, especially if you’re not sure how good a specific deal is. And because it’s easier to spend more when using a credit card, a budget can help keep you disciplined. Choose a credit card that doubles the manufacturer’s warranty, then pay it off before any interest accrues.



7. Check return and exchange policies in advance. It’s always good to know a store’s price-match and return policies. We expect more retailers to price-match specific online deals this year, but some stores might suspend their price-match guarantees during the Cyber Monday weekend on certain items, so read the fine print. Check the return and exchange policies for Cyber Monday sales to make sure that the store won’t charge a restocking fee for any item you return.

8. See whether you’ll have to pay shipping for purchases or returns. More retailers are offering free shipping on Cyber Monday, even if they don’t at other times of year. But make sure before you buy. Also, find out who’s responsible for any shipping costs if you need to exchange or return an item. And if you’re buying from the website of a retailer with walk-in stores, see whether you can return items to a store to avoid any shipping costs.

9. Don’t forget walk-in stores. Despite its name, Cyber Monday isn’t just confined to online sales; many walk-in chains may counter internet sales with one-day in-store specials and discounts, especially if their Black Friday sales weren’t as strong as they hoped. And the shopping experience is quite likely to be more enjoyable because you won’t encounter the same crowds that shopped the store on Black Friday.

10. Stay safe from hackers. With nearly 165 million people expected to be shopping during the Black Friday-through-Cyber Monday period this year, according to the National Retail Federation, it’s also a prime time for hackers and cyberthieves looking to steal personal information. To be safe, here are a few best practices to follow when you go online to shop.

Avoid using an unsecured public computer, or public WiFi, when shopping because you’ll be probably be entering credit card information. Also, make sure the URL of the retailer’s site starts with “https,” not “http.” That means the data is in encrypted in transit, so if a hacker does tap into the message, he won’t be able to read it. You should also see an https “lock” symbol to the left of the URL.

If you’re using a retailer or shopping app, make sure it comes from one of the major app stores, such as the Apple App Store or Google Play. And follow these additional tips to make sure it’s not a fake app created by scammers.

Finally, consider installing a virtual private network, or VPN, for your computer and smartphone—especially if you’re going to be checking prices using a WiFi network at a store or café. A VPN creates a secure, encrypted connection while you shop, keeping you safe from nearby hackers.