Black Friday Strategies: Shopping Smart

This Friday is Black Friday. Well, we could probably call November Black Friday month, since many of the retailers started their discounting efforts last week. There will be an incredible number of deals to be had, based on some of the leaked information from megavendors like Best Buy.

I think that having a strategy and some guidelines on how to shop for them before the feeding frenzy really gets under way would be timely, so I’ll cover that this week.

I’ll close with my product of the week: an offering that initially could mean the beginning of the end for game consoles and eventually for the PC as we know it.

Black Friday Strategies

There are two big times to buy. On the first, Black Friday, every vendor’s goal is to get as much revenue as possible before some other vendor takes its money. The second — between Christmas and New Year’s Day — is when the vendors realize they have too much inventory and want it off their books before year end.

It is generally best to use the first for gifts for others and the second for things you want to buy yourself. After the end of the year is when you might find the best deals in refurbished products that have been returned after Christmas — and even better buys if you don’t mind opened-box values.

Make a List, and Check It Twice

Having said that, start with a list of things you want, because the vendors will want to convince you to buy things that you otherwise might not buy. Think of these as hunting lists. If you are buying gifts, realize that brands are important; if someone wants an iPad and it isn’t on sale (Apple products are rarely discounted by much), don’t get them an Android tablet and figure they’ll appreciate the money you saved.

Just drop down to their next most-desired item that is on sale, or buy them the product they want. Remember — standing in long lines to return things that you bought or that someone bought for you is not a great experience, particularly if the retailer won’t take it back.

Buy High-Demand Products Early

Particularly with regard to high-demand products — like iPads, Xbox Kinect and PlayStation Move — you may want to buy earlier in the week, because there is a chance they will sell out and stay sold out for a while due to demand.

Those appear to be the three products at risk this cycle, and it may already be too late for at least one of them by the time you read this.

TVs: Panasonic Plasma 3D Is Best

Panasonic Viera VT25 Series Full HD 3D 1080p

Panasonic’s Viera VT25 Series Full HD 3D 1080p Plasma TV

TVs are currently in oversupply, which means there should be some great deals. On price, look at Vizio’s products, as they tend to be the value leaders in the LCD segment.

On quality, the best TVs in the market are the new Panasonic Plasma 3D TVs, but they will be toward the top end of the price scale. Personally, I’d buy the Vizio for a gift and the Panasonic for myself.

If you can find a Samsung or Sony for about the same price as a Vizio, then you are doing great and can feel good about the result. Remember, LED LCD sets will likely be the most power-efficient, and TVs — if you watch them a lot — can pull a surprising amount of power.

Go Online and Avoid the Crowds, Check Prices

For the sales, get there early and get out — and remember, the online retailers will have sales as well during this time. Amazon is a good bellwether when it comes to prices.

Make sure they can deliver in time, though, because giving an IOU for Christmas typically doesn’t play out well — I know, because I’ve done that. Also, many vendors will match prices if you can find a product cheaper online, which may give you a better assurance that you’ll have the thing in time.

Buy What Folks Ask For – Don’t Second Guess

With spouses of either sex, the standing recommendation is find out what they really want and get that — regardless of price. Christmas is generally not a great time to disappoint a child or a spouse, and I’ve learned from bad experience that going practical pays no dividends.

And, ah guys, avoid vacuum cleaners for gifts unless you want to experience sleeping on the couch. That should go without saying, but every year some of us don’t get that message.

With kids, brands are really important, depending on the class of product and the child — so listen to what they ask for.

Unless You Are Paying Monthly Fees, Avoid Them

Amazon's New Kindle DX

Amazon’s New Kindle DX

I generally recommend against getting anything for anyone that requires a subscription — like a cellphone — unless you are going to be the one paying for the subscription.

So, you uncles and aunts out there, unless you want to piss off your siblings — stay with things that won’t cost your siblings money.

That means the WiFi iPad is OK, the3G iPad isn’t.

Remember, the Kindle 3G comes with lifetime free wireless, so it’s OK. (I’m a huge Kindle fan and have given a number of them as gifts). Oh, and Best Buy sells Kindles!

Wrapping Up

Generally, pick your window. If you are buying for others, we are already in it, and going sooner rather than later may save you a lot of aggravation. Make sure you start with a list and have the specifics. Remember, gift cards have restrictions, and you may want to use gift checks instead — though I’d avoid sending cash, because it can get lost in the mail.

People want what they want, and it is better to buy fewer things that match those wants then a lot of junk they — or you — will have to return. And price online first, so you know if you are really looking at a bargain, can get a price match — or it it’s just something the retailer wants you to buy.

Product of the Week: OnLive Game Console

Product of the Week

I’ve been playing with OnLive since the service launched last year. This is one of those things that a lot of people said would never work, but it did.

Last week, OnLive launched its console. For about US$100, you get a gaming experience and access to games in line with what you would get on an Xbox or PlayStation — but without the aging hardware and available online.

This is one of the few products out this year that demonstrates the real power of the concept of cloud computing, because it provides near workstation-class performance from hardware that is actually located elsewhere.

This means no big patches, near instant on, low energy use, appliance-like experiences, and — assuming you have good bandwidth and low latency — a great gaming experience.

OnLive Game System

OnLive Game System

This means that unlike typical game consoles, the technology can be updated as needed, and the performance provided on demand. Eventually, we’ll likely see this capability built into cable set-top boxes.

The OnLive console costs $99 and no longer requires a subscription, but you will have to buy the games — so if you buy one as a gift, you may also want to give an extra $50 for the first game. Games come without the PS3 or Xbox subsidy so they are about $10 cheaper on OnLive than they are for the consoles, and there are independent games you may not find on the other two systems.

There are no DVDs to lose or scratch, so this is actually better for younger kids. The controller is very similar to the Xbox controller, so it is easy to pick up for anyone who has an Xbox.

The console is tiny, low power, and silent, which is also a nice change from the consoles. So — cheaper to buy, cheaper to use, cheaper games, what’s not to love? One shortfall is that initially, there aren’t that many games — so make sure there is one your recipient wants to play. You can also play the games on a PC if you don’t want to use the console.

Many of us think that OnLive is the future of personal computing, and this is the closest you are likely to get to that future this year. Wait until you see what is coming next year.

As we get toward the end of the year, I’ll have more and more to say about the future, and the OnLive service is part of that — so its new console is an ideal choice for my product of the week.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

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