When’s the Best Time to Buy? Thanksgiving vs. Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday

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Some days during the long Thanksgiving weekend have better deals than others, depending on what you're buying. Here's what you need to know to find the best price.

This post comes from Marcie Bonebright at partner site DealNews.com.

Sometimes shopping on Black Friday can feel like betting on a prize fight. You plunk down all your money on a great pair of shoes, only to see their price get knocked down during a Cyber Monday blowout.

But how can a shopper know what kinds of unadvertised, winning sales are just around the corner? On everyone’s mind this season is the question of whether Thanksgiving, Black Friday or Cyber Monday — or the span of time in between — will be the best time to shop for the specific items they want.

If you’re tired of feeling like you’ve got long odds for finding the best Black Friday deals, then look no further. We studied the DealNews archives for the past two Black Friday seasons and found the best items to buy on each day throughout the shopping weekend. Use these rules of thumb while crafting your perfect, personalized Black Friday shopping game plan.

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that we only noted the categories that are strongly tied to particular days during Black Friday week. If a category isn’t mentioned below, that doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be good offers this year; it just means there weren’t noteworthy spikes on a specific day. For an extensive look at the discounts we expect to see this year, check out our 2013 Black Friday Predictions piece.

Best things to buy on Thanksgiving

Smartphones. Thanksgiving has the edge when it comes to sales on phones, apps and accessories. In fact, based on sales from last year, we could see smartphone deals that yield a profit (via gift cards) as early as the Wednesday before Black Friday. Although on average we list the same total number of phone deals on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, we recommend that you do your smartphone shopping on Thanksgiving.

Forty-two percent of all the phone deals that day in 2012 were sweet enough to be marked Editors’ Choice, as opposed to just 31 percent of those listed on Black Friday. Moreover, we found 50 percent more Android phone deals on Thanksgiving. However, if you’re looking for that elusive iPhone deal, then you’re better off on Black Friday proper (see below).

HDTVs. Our research shows that HDTV deals are excellent on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday, but Turkey Day TV deals stood out in the last few years for two reasons. First of all, we tend to see more Editors’ Choice TV deals on Thanksgiving; about 61 percent of our deals were marked as such. Secondly, these Editors’ Choice TV deals are much better on Thanksgiving.

On Black Friday, for example, we typically see TVs that are at all-time price lows for their model (i.e., the lowest total price we’ve seen on a specific Samsung 46-inch HDTV). Yet over the past two Thanksgivings, we’ve seen TVs at the very best price in their entire category (like the best-ever price for any Samsung 46-inch HDTV).

Gaming Items. When it comes to deals on video games, there’s just no beating Thanksgiving. We saw 70 percent more gaming deals during the last two Thanksgivings than on Black Friday. The difference is even more astounding when it comes to Cyber Monday. On average, there were 229 percent more gaming deals on Thanksgiving than on Cyber Monday. Plus, about 67 percent of the video game deals we saw on the last two Thanksgivings were awesome enough to be marked Editors’ Choice.

However, don’t expect any significant price lows on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One games or consoles. It’s beyond rare to find discounts on new consoles during their first Black Friday.

Best things to buy on Black Friday

Laptops and computers. For deals on computers, especially laptops, Black Friday stands out. On average, we saw a few more laptop deals on Thanksgiving, but we found a far bigger quantity of Editors’ Choice laptop deals during the past two Black Fridays. In fact, in both 2011 and 2012, we listed more Editors’ Choice laptop deals on Black Friday than non-Editors’ Choice deals. In 2011, about 62 percent of the deals we listed were hot enough to be marked as such. So if you’re on the lookout for that predicted 15-inch dual-core laptop for $170, Black Friday is definitely your best chance to find it.

Storage. Running low on data storage? Black Friday is also the perfect time to take advantage of great hard drive, USB flash drive and memory card deals. While you’ll see a huge number of Editors’ Choice-quality deals on all three days of the Black Friday season, day-of Black Friday deals themselves were the most prevalent. On average, Black Friday boasted 33 percent more storage deals than Thanksgiving and nearly 85 percent more storage deals than Cyber Monday.

And since quantities tend to sell out fast during these shopping holidays, knowing there are more deals to choose from can increase your chances of finding something in stock at an outstanding price.

iPhones (maaaaaybe). Apple iPhone deals have been difficult to come by during the past two Black Friday seasons, but we predicted that this could be the year that changes all that. However, unlike the trends for smartphones in general, if you’re looking to score an iPhone deal, our research shows that you should wait until Black Friday; all past iPhone deals during this time have shown up on Black Friday proper.

Kitchenware. For those who are all set on tech, Black Friday sales can also offer an excellent selection of kitchenware deals. Not only did the past two Black Fridays offer more deals for small appliances, cutlery and kitchen gadgets on average than Thanksgiving or Cyber Monday, but about 54 percent of the kitchen deals we listed were marked Editors’ Choice.

Best things to buy on Cyber Monday

Clothing and shoes. Although Cyber Monday tends to offer significantly fewer tech deals, it’s the undefeated heavyweight champion when it comes to clothing and shoe deals. On the past two Cyber Mondays, we saw an average of 45 percent more clothing deals than on Black Friday and about 53 percent more deals than on Thanksgiving. We also saw about 50 percent more shoe deals on Cyber Monday than on Black Friday or Thanksgiving.

What’s more, last year we saw an even greater number of Editors’ Choice clothing and shoe deals on Cyber Monday — 32 percent of apparel deals were marked Editors’ Choice during Cyber Monday 2012 alone. As we mentioned in our Black Friday clothing predictions, many clothing and shoe retailers will offer their best stacking coupons of the year during this time, so waiting until Cyber Monday to make your fashion purchases could yield some serious savings.

Best things to buy during Black Friday weekend

While it tends to be overshadowed by more popular bookend shopping days, the weekend of Black Friday before Cyber Monday features a number of quality, multiple-day sales. More sale days mean more chances to fill your cart with bargain-priced goodies and fewer worries about time-sensitive deals expiring all the time. But the tradeoff is that Black Friday weekend deals aren’t always the best we’ve seen all year. However, there are two categories where Black Friday weekend sales do stand out: tools and appliance deals.

Tools. While we tend to see the same average number of tool deals on any given day of the Black Friday season, we tend to see a significant increase in the number of Editors’ Choice deals over Black Friday weekend. Therefore, if you’re looking for that perfect gift for the handyman or woman in your life, it’s more expedient to check out the weekend tool sales. After all, as we previously mentioned, this is the best time all year to buy tools and hardware, so why not grab the sweetest deal you can?

Appliances. Finding a jaw-dropping deal on a large appliance isn’t hard during the Black Friday season. In 2012 alone, 42 percent of the appliance deals we saw at this time were marked Editors’ Choice. But during the Black Friday weekend sales last year, we saw a larger concentration of appliance deals, 46 percent of which were marked Editors’ Choice.

So readers, what’s your Black Friday game plan? Do you look for specific items on specific days, or do you make impulse buys throughout the Black Friday season?

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