- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Black Friday shoppers may want to reconsider tradition, because waking up early and standing outside in long lines in the freezing cold won’t necessarily help them score great deals.

For consumers, getting the best deal means sorting through door-buster specials, Internet offers and maybe just waiting until the whole holiday rush has passed.

In many cases, the sheer number of shoppers on Black Friday means stores can make profits without too much discounting. Holiday shoppers will find better deals in the weeks and days leading up to Christmas, or at other times of the year, analysts say, though they also caution that waiting too late in the season risks missing out on popular name-brand products.

“There’s no reason to ruin your Thanksgiving or get up at 4 in the morning to maybe save 10 percent,” said Jessica Patel, a personal finance analyst with Bankrate.com. “It’s just not that good of a deal.”

But that may not stop dedicated shoppers from pulling all-nighters outside their favorite retail outlets after Thanksgiving dinner.

“Black Friday is the one time of year that consumers expect retailers to pull out all the stops,” National Retail Federation spokeswoman Kathy Grannis said. “Black Friday is the day. It’s the Super Bowl for shopping, and people still want to see those great deals on that day.”

The best goods

The key is knowing which products will feature the best discounts and which ones to avoid.

Electronics, toys, jewelry and watches are among the items that price-conscious consumers should avoid on Black Friday, analysts say, while they still may be able to find good deals on video games, Blu-ray movies and kitchen items.

“There are plenty of good deals to be had; you just need to know what to look for,” Ms. Patel said. “I feel like the allure of Black Friday, a lot of it is a tradition by people who love to shop. So if they enjoy shopping, they will still have fun going out and finding deals.”

Electronics are always in demand this time of year. Some of the most popular door-buster sales will feature televisions, but they will be made from brands less popular than Sony or Samsung.

“You can get a TV for cheap, but it won’t be that 3-D, top-of-the-line TV,” Ms. Patel said. “You’ll still get a decent television, but just not the top-tier television.”

Instead, the best time to buy televisions is in January, leading up to the Super Bowl, when retailers are trying to get rid of their old televisions to make room for the new models.

“Throughout the year, those name-brand products will get marked down and will see significant price cuts,” Ms. Grannis said. “It just won’t happen on Black Friday.”

Limits on deals

Smartphones and tablet computers also are poised to be popular gifts this holiday season, with 50 percent of shoppers planning to buy one of those products, according to Bankrate.com, but don’t expect great deals.

When it comes to Apple’s market-leading iPhone and iPad, the company usually offers discounts of about 5 percent to 10 percent. Apple’s competitors, such as Amazon’s Kindle, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows phones and tablets, already are priced at the bottom of the market.

“They are already cheaper, so they can’t make them cheaper,” Ms. Patel said. “They were already marked so low to try to get them out on the market.”

Digital cameras, however, may be a good buy.

“There’s usually not a camera that goes as fast as a $200 50-inch flat screen,” Ms. Grannis said.

Other good buys are DVDs and video games, which stores use to boost profits by drawing in customers and getting them to buy other, more expensive items.

So customers who are on budgets should remember to “skip the odds and ends,” Ms. Patel said. “You’ll see them and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, $5, this is a great deal.’ But do you really need that great deal? Will you use it? Probably not.”

The worst goods

Toys are also in high demand on Black Friday, which makes them “terrible, terrible to buy,” said Ms. Patel, who advises price-conscious shoppers to wait until the two weeks before Christmas but before the last few days.

“That’s when all the deals will come into play when retailers want to sell,” she said. But in the last couple of shopping days “people are then in a scramble and the demand gets super, super high [with] all the people who run around on the 23rd, looking for presents, you’re not going to find that deal.”

Waiting, however, also could mean missing out on the toys you want, particularly with the hottest “must-have” products of each individual year, such as Tickle Me Elmo or the Cabbage-Patch Kids in years past.

“Toys also happen to be one of the items that go the fastest,” Ms. Grannis said. “Getting into December, we’ll continue to see discounts, but the problem is that the discounts on popular products won’t be around anymore. So it is a bit of a game of chicken. If you don’t commit to what you want on Black Friday, and you wait until mid-December, then you may not get what you’re looking for.”

Watches and other jewelry are also bad buys during the Christmas season and Valentine’s Day.

“Stay away from them during those seasons,” Ms. Patel advised, saying consumers should buy those items in spring or summer. “There’s no reason for the stores to discount the costs, [around Christmas] because they know people will buy them no matter what. You can pick up a better deal when people aren’t as interested in buying jewelry.”

She also cautioned that luxury items, in general, have such high price tags that even large-looking discounts don’t really make much of a difference.

“They have deals, but because they’re offering expensive luxury items, they won’t be that great,” Ms. Patel said. “It will be a discount, but I wouldn’t call it a deal or a steal where you have to wake up early and get a magical deal that you can’t pass up.”