How To

Finding the Real Deals on Black Friday

Take a laptop or smartphone in addition to blankets and chairs if you’re looking for aspot in the tent cities springing up outside your local big box store this week. Smartphone-driven on-the-fly research is proving to make it easier this year to find Black Friday deals on TVs, tabletsand other merchandise.

Whipping out one of our 110 million smartphones over Thanksgiving dinner may not bea bad idea either — if a bit antisocial.

Here’s a rundown of some of the best ways to find bargains this Black Friday and CyberMonday:

Step 1: Check the Online Majors

Major online retailers like Amazon have been doing online black weeks for a while nowand have become pretty good at it. Amazon’s flash sales, which it calls “lightning” sales, goon all week.

On the afternoon I was Web browsing, I saw a D-Link DES-1008E 8-port 10/100 speednetworking switch on sale for US$16.99. I’ve never seen a switch for under $20 before — even if this is slightly older tech. Gigabit speed is the current gold standard.

Auctioneer eBay also has one-day, instant purchase deals.

Step 2: Get the Apps

Black Friday-specific apps can let you search by store, price and item. Plus they add geofunctions and push.

Highly rated examples include Black Friday Deal Finder from FatWallet for iOS, whichincludes push notifications, and Black Friday App from Dealnews.com for Android, withleaked ads, and comparisons of in-store product prices with online prices.

Step 3: Keep Gathering Intelligence

Maintain your vigilance when out and about. Use barcode scanning look-up apps likeBarcode Scanner for Android, and ShopSavvy for iOS and Android to scan items you areconsidering purchasing.

This is particularly important if you’re a leisurely shopper and aren’t participating in TentCity, because what happens is that the super-discounted deals, say cheap laptops, sell outearly in the long weekend, and you end up perusing a bunch of laptops left over — notmentioned in the Black Friday pitches.

Use the barcode-lookup app to find out if those outcasts are a good deal or not. You mayfind that you can beat the price through regular channels. Or likely, that the electronicsleft over are the higher-powered, later model, more expensive devices — and better suitedto your purposes anyway than the cheap junk the retailer was trying to get you to buy inthe first place.

Likely cheap deals this year will be for base-level smartphones, not the newest devices;low power laptops good for kids, but not necessarily for you; and GPS devices — manypeople use smartphones these days, not dedicated devices.

Likely in-demand products this year are sub-$500 TVs and tablets.

Step 4: Research Online

Never forget that one of the principal purposes of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is forretailers to get rid of flat-selling, slightly older stock to make room for the latest gear.Remember netbooks?

Be aware that there may well be a reason that a particular TV or tablet ischeap — it’s old tech. A Doorbuster TV won’t have gesture recognition — the latest TVfeature, for example.

Beware of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Use your time wisely, keep googling whileyou’re standing in line, prospective purchase in hand, and never be afraid to walk away,even if a salesperson has written up the ticket.

Step 5: Caveat Emptor

Also, don’t forget that a secondary purpose of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is forthe retailer to get you in the store, or the seller to get you onto his website. Don’t buyanything you haven’t determined has value.

Buying something for the sake of it, because what you wanted was sold out, is a mug’sgame. In the case of brick-and-mortar, go home, get on the Internet, and buy somethingwith value. Happy Holidays.

Want to Ask a Tech Question?

Is there a piece of tech you’d like to know how to operate properly? Is there a gadget that’s got you confounded? Please send your tech questions to me, and I’ll try to answer as many as possible in this column.

And use the Talkback feature below to add your comments!

Patrick Nelson has been a professional writer since 1992. He was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson studied design at Hornsey Art School and wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism. His introduction to technology was as a nomadic talent scout in the eighties, where regular scrabbling around under hotel room beds was necessary to connect modems with alligator clips to hotel telephone wiring to get a fax out. He tasted down and dirty technology, and never looked back.

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