Debit and credit cards at the ready, the annual discount shopping bonanza that is Black Friday is upon us. An American tradition that has only recently crossed the pond, Black Friday falls on the day after Thanksgiving – November 27 this year – and marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season proper.
Amazon introduced Black Friday flash sales to the UK in 2010 and hot on its heels, other retailers soon got in on the act. In fact, Black Friday 2014 was the biggest online shopping day of the year in the UK, overtaking Boxing Day, with bargain-hunters shelling out a staggering £810m.
Now almost as (in)famous for hordes of frenzied shoppers as it is for jaw-dropping markdowns – anything up to 90%+ – Black Friday is the day to snap up your Christmas pressies at rock-bottom prices. To help you get your head around it all and maximise your chances of bagging a killer bargain or two, we've put together an on and offline shopping guide to the big day.
When does it all kick off?
Offline, many stores will open earlier than usual, from 8am or even 6am on the big day, but it's worth noting that several retailers are running offers all this week and next, so you don't necessarily have to wait until Friday. The same goes for online retailers – there are loads of deals are available right now – but many of the juiciest discounts will go live midnight Thursday or during the early hours of Friday.
Is there any point queuing at the crack of dawn?
Yes and no. Retailers flog so-called 'doorbusters' in-store, heavily discounted star deals with extra-limited availability to generate buzz and attract crowds of queuing customers, e.g. LED TVs reduced by 90%, tablets for £40, that sort of thing. Securing your place in the queue is a must if you're keen to snag one of these exclusive offers, otherwise you can leave your offline shopping for later in the day.
Should I bother staying up late or getting up early to shop online?
While you may scoff at people queuing at 4am in the freezing cold, it may be an idea to stay up late on Thursday night or get up in the small hours on Friday to shop online. Many retailers are featuring deals from midnight Thursday and there's less chance of your chosen websites crashing – the Argos, Boots, Currys and PC World sites all went down last Black Friday. The best time to shop according to Argos is between 3am and 4am, so plan on a very late one or set your alarm.
What is the main advantage of shopping online?
Apart from not having to queue in icy weather or battle your way through crowds, there's one distinct advantage of shopping online for Black Friday bargains – you can get a refund if you change your mind thanks to Consumer Contracts Regulations. Offline, some retailers won't even exchange discounted goods, let alone offer a refund, so you might end up lumbered with an impulse buy you really don't want or need.
Are all the offers amazing?
No. Although this is the day to pick up everything from cut-price tech to homeware, some retailers use Black Friday as an excuse to shift tired old stock at prices that in reality aren't all that wallet-friendly. Plus, you may find your chosen items cheaper elsewhere, regardless of the markdown. Download a barcode-scanning price comparison app such as RedLaser or Idealo, or go to MoneySavingExpert.com's MegaShopBot to double-check prices if you can.
Which big retailers are taking part?
Shopping giants Amazon and John Lewis lead the way, along with most of the big high street names. Asda however is ducking out this year – the near-riot at its Wembley superstore last Black Friday may have something to do with the decision – instead, the supermarket is offering £26m worth of discounts during November and December.
The online retailer is running its biggest ever Black Friday Deals Week, with regular deals of the day and lightning deals going live every 10 minutes until 11.59pm on Friday. And if you sign up for Amazon Prime, you'll get first dibs on the most awesome markdowns.
Top deals: 40% of Anker Electronics, 70% off Vax Air Base vacuum cleaner, Oral-B Bluetooth toothbrush reduced from £170 to £49.99.
John Lewis is promising to honour its 'Never Knowingly Undersold' motto and match competitors' prices this Black Friday, so expect to save lots of cash. The retailer is featuring deals online and in-store all week-long but the real action kicks off Thursday midnight online and 8am Friday morning in-store.
Top deals: save 20% on selected Dyson vacuum cleaners, Panasonic Viera 40" 4K Ultra-HD 3D Smart TV now just £379, £110 off Microsoft Surface Pro 3.
Like Amazon and John lewis, Argos is offering discounts over a longer period of time this year. For 12 days (November 20 to December 1), Argos is featuring regular flash sales, but the hottest deals go online just after midnight on Thursday, and stores open at 6am on Friday morning.
Top deals: Alba 8-inch tablet half-price, save £60 on Sony Smartwatch 3, Nikon Coolpix L340 20MP Camera, was £199.99, now just £89.99.
Boots is running its main Black Friday extravaganza over a long weekend with stores opening at 8am on the big day. Deals will appear online from midnight on Thursday until midnight on Monday, but the chemist is already featuring pre-Black Friday offers online and in-store.
Top deals: Clarisonic Pedi Sonic half-price, up to 60% off selected fragrance, 10% off premium brand mascaras.
Currys PC World
The retailer is offering more than 3,000 deals online and in-store over a 10-day 'Black Tag' period (November 23 to December 2), but the best discounts will be available on Black Friday itself. Stores open at 8am on Friday morning and website traffic is set to be heavy - deals go live at 6am - so try to shop as early as possible.
Top deals: £600 off large screen 4K UHD TVs, Nutribullet now just £69.99, selected wearable tech half-price.
Other major retailers running Black Friday events include M&S, Superdrug and Tesco, so do shop around. Good luck bagging the best bargains!