Last year, we took to this page to warn tech buyers that they shouldn’t wait until Cyber Monday to catch the best deals, as Cyber Monday was an artifact of the past and would yield nothing but the dregs left over from the extended Black Friday bonanza. Well, it didn’t take long for Cyber Monday to get its revenge, as this Black Friday proved that designated “shopping days” are an anachronism in the age of a constant wave of coupons, price matching, and deals on demand.
Let us count the ways that Black Friday failed us:
(1) First, brick-and-mortar retailers simply have no idea what to do in the age of the Internet, despite having years to perfect a counter-strategy. Should they open early, close late, start the shopping festivities at 6PM on Thursday (in the middle of a national holiday, of course), sell their wares through their websites, not sell their wares through their websites, or just give up and pretend Black Friday doesn’t exist? We saw it all. Stores like Lowes and Wal-Mart were practically empty on Black Friday, Office Depot ran website deals early on Thanksgiving day that they wouldn’t honor in stores until smack dab in the middle of the Thanksgiving feast, and tech retailing stalwart Best Buy released its huge list of Black Friday deals nearly two weeks before the event, virtually guaranteeing that they’d sell almost nothing in the intervening period.
(2) Newegg, the master of Internet deal-mongering, experienced a near-total collapse of its website during the peak shopping hours of Black Friday, making browsing impossible, ironically despite the fact that it released almost all of its legitimate Black Friday deals on Wednesday. Perhaps even more astonishing was that most of its best Friday-only deals were locked behind e-mail coupon codes, making the casual shopper’s visit to Newegg’s Black Friday event an epic letdown. And in truly astonishing fashion, it actually posted prices at midnight on Black Friday that it lowered later in the day, as if to acknowledge that its first attempts weren’t quite good enough.
(3) Amazon, which had run amazing “Lightning Deals” during past Black Friday events, abandoned price-cutting almost entirely this year, offering up its best deals on Amazon-branded tablet and streaming products (which are sold at a loss every day just to drum up business for Amazon Prime video). We were shocked to find, for instance, that it didn’t offer a single discount on recently-released PC games, an area that it had focused on significantly last year, and only matched other retailers in other categories, with few that it tried hard to corner.
(4) TigerDirect continued its tradition of completely ignoring Black Friday, trotting out a short list of tepid deals no better than what you’d find on its site any day of the week, any week of the year.
(5) The Microsoft Store posted some mind-blowing deals at midnight on BF, which sold out within hours (i.e., in the middle of the night), proving that even in the age of Internet shopping, the deal-hungry shopper still has to bend over backwards to grab the very best deals. No, it’s not quite as bad as pitching a tent in front of a brick-and-mortar store to grab one of the few sale-priced TVs they have in stock when the store opens at 6am, but it still takes a bit of work. We’re proud to say that we actually nabbed one of these for $69 at 2am, which has to go down in history as one of the greatest tech deals there ever was!
We’d be remiss if we didn’t recount the deals that were and weren’t this year, just as we did last year. Through our Do-It-Yourself PC Build Guides, along with the rest of our technology Buyer’s Guides, we track prices all year long, on around 500 different products, so we have a pretty good sense of pricing trends. Based on this, we can give you the straight dope on what really went down during Black Friday sales. Unlike last year, it wasn’t so much entire categories of products that were discounted, but rather a very different trend. Here’s what we observed:
(1) Sales were manufacturer-specific. rather than being unique to certain retailers. That means that no matter where you shopped, the deals were all the same. And each manufacturer had a unique approach to selecting products to be discounted. Logitech slashed products on almost its entire product line by 50%, Corsair offered 30% off on its most popular peripherals, power supplies, and cases, as well on a few choice RAM kits, and Samsung mounted a furious attack on its competitors in the SSD and HDTV arena, blasting them all out of the water with prices that very likely left little margin for either it or retailers. But even Samsung wasn’t universally magnanimous, raising prices on its coveted 1TB SSDs by about 5% above what they’d be selling for over the last 3 months.
Similarly, tech giant Intel offered up attractive discounts on several of this year’s new NUC models (which are scheduled to be replaced in short order), as well as a few older CPUs (which have already been replaced, and which were offered for the same or less during last year’s Black Friday sales). And then astonishingly, Intel raised prices almost across the board on its most in-demand CPUs, based on the Skylake platform. EVGA offered up tantalizingly-good deals on its respected line of power supplies, but didn’t budge a cent on most of its top-selling Nvidia-based video cards. And finally, G.Skill, a feisty competitor in the RAM market and more recently in the peripherals market, offered up steep discounts on its best products, but alas, due to a near-exclusive arrangement with Newegg, these deals weren’t widely available.
(2) For the most part, discounts were slim to non-existent. This is the cruel but not-so-secret irony of Black Friday. Everyone’s heard of the loss leader, the ridiculously low-priced product advertised to draw shoppers in, with the hope of enticing them to buy anything but that product. We certainly saw some of that this year, and we always will, as long as “Black Friday” is a thing, because it’s what makes the day an event. But the vast majority of products are actually sold at standard retail prices on Black Friday, and these are the products that make up the bulk of retailers’ sales. In some cases, there are legitimate sale prices on offer that aren’t so crazy-low that they sell out immediately, representing discounts in the range of 5% to 10%. That can certainly add up if you’re making a lot of purchases, but whether it makes it worth waiting all year to buy highly-coveted products is another matter all together.
So what’s a consumer to make of all of this? Well, if there’s a product that you’re casually interested in but don’t really need at any specific time, it may pay to wait until Black Friday to see if its one of the select products that drops significantly in price. This is particularly true in big-buck categories like TVs and major appliances, which honestly drop in price a lot during Black Friday events.
But for our readers focused on building top-notch custom PCs, we’d say that Black Friday really isn’t the right time to do it. Part of the problem is that many of the most popular components actually sell out, making building the rig of your dreams difficult, because there sometimes are no reasonable substitutes. And because some products actually go up in price during Black Friday, we’d say that on the whole, it’s best to buy your PC components whenever you’re ready to build, and then considering selected optional upgrades to your systems on Black Friday.
And one last reminder…please don’t wait until Cyber Monday to do your tech shopping. All you’ll find then are the slow-selling products offered at the same prices that retailers tried to unload them at during the real sales event the previous week.
Until next year, happy shopping!