Savvy shoppers can pick up some great deals in the November Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, but how can you spot the genuine offers from the fake ones?
Black Friday falls on 24 November this year, with Cyber Monday coming hot on its heels on 27 November.
The Black Friday phenomenon has its origins in the US as the weekend when Americans started their Christmas shopping in earnest, but it’s since spread all over the world and now sees thousands of retailers discount their products in an attempt to woo buyers.
While there are lots of great deals to be had, buyer beware – many are not as good as they first seem. We asked a group of retail experts for their top tips on bagging the best bargains and spotting the rogue ones.
1. Start early
Don’t think that you need to wait until the end of November to grab yourself a Black Friday bargain.
"For businesses, it's cheaper to start running Black Friday ads in the first week of November than starting closer to the event so customers should start looking for those deals early," says Laura Marsh of Babbico.
Read more: How to cut the cost of Christmas
Many will also begin trialling offers early to see what’s set to be popular and to build up excitement.
2. Subscribe to newsletters and watch socials
Get set for Black Friday by signing up for newsletters from your favourite brands. Many will post subscriber-only discounts or time-limited offers here first so you’ll get a heads-up on what will be discounted and when.
As ever, it’s also worth keeping an eye on social media as retailers often have exclusive flash sales available via these channels.
3. Research, research, research
For big Black Friday items, such as electricals, make sure you research deals well in advance.
"If you want a new TV, research brands, sizes, and features, and note down the regular prices. Then compare this against Black Friday deals to make sure you are getting the best deal," says Elizabeth Buko, Founder of Wealth From Little.
"Use price comparison websites and apps such as pricerunner.co.uk, idealo.co.uk or pricespy.co.uk to find the best deals and check if discounts are genuine. Some deals have limited quantities, so be ready to act fast."
4. Start tracking Amazon deals now
Black Friday stalwart Amazon (AMZN) already changes its prices on a daily basis but it’s easy to find out if you’re getting a good deal or not.
"With Amazon, one app I love to help with this 'research' is called Keepa," says Charlotte Pirie of RUN Marketing. "I use it as a chrome plugin. It then inserts a little section into the Amazon product page to show the change in price over time. You can then see if you're truly getting a great deal or if the item has actually been at a lower price in the past three, six or 12 months."
5. Create a ‘battle plan’
Making a battle plan of what you want to buy beforehand will help you stay focussed and on budget.
"Create a well-defined list of items you're seeking, complete with a specified price range, and stick to it religiously," says Miriam Prada.
"Having a focused strategy will help you resist the allure of impulse buys. It's all too easy to get swept up in the excitement and end up with unnecessary items."
If several retailers sell the product you’re after, draw up a list so you can compare prices and make a note of its RRP before Black Friday.
6. Don’t be swayed by unknown brands
Black Friday is a great opportunity for retailers to offload unwanted stock, so don’t be swayed into buying from brands you’ve never heard of just because they’re on offer.
If you really think an item from an unknown brand is genuinely a good purchase (and it’s something you actually need), check out its online reviews first and compare it to products of a similar spec to see if it lives up to the hype.
7. Watch out for scams
As well as making unnecessary purchases on Black Friday, amidst all the excitement, it’s easy to drop your guard against scammers.
"Don’t be rushed into making a purchase. Scammers will try and use pressure-selling techniques, such as creating false urgency to buy an item, making you feel that you owe the salesperson something, or use unrealistic claims and promises," says Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow Consumer Champion.
"Use a credit card for any purchase over £100. This will provide you with Section 75 cover, meaning that your credit card provider is jointly liable to refund you for any evidenced fraud."
Dewdney also suggests searching up the retailer’s return address and verifying its company number on Companies House before making a purchase.
8. Use cashback to get an added bonus
If you’re planning on spending large amounts of money over the Black Friday weekend, try and make the most of cashback.
Sites such as Quidco and TopCashback will give you money back on any products that you buy from a participating retailer. Sign up to these cashback sites in advance so you know what offers are available.
9. Practice conscious purchasing
The key to Black Friday shopping is knowing when something is a genuine discount and certain product categories will offer true value.
"Some of my personal Black Friday favourites include those items that rarely see discounts, such as luxury candles and high-quality cashmere. On the other hand, some items seem to be perennially on offer, making them excellent candidates for a Black Friday haul," says Prada, who adds that toiletries often make savvy purchases.
"In the midst of the Black Friday madness, maintaining a level of mindfulness in your shopping can result in a more satisfying and economically sound experience."
10. Beware shipping costs and return policies
"Be mindful of shipping costs," says financial coach Vix Munro. "Some retailers might include free shipping but have a higher price, so you need to factor that in."
You also need to look at the return policies as these vary between retailers. "Many stores such as House of Frame and Sports Direct have changed their return policies so they only offer exchanges and no longer offer refunds," says Buko.
"Make sure you understand the return and exchange policies for the items you buy in case they don't meet your expectations."