How to tell if that Black Friday deal is really a deal

OK, maybe Black Friday hype isn’t that extreme, but this is the time of year when stores fall all over themselves to whip customers into a buying frenzy. This includes not only leaking Black Friday ads well in advance but also running hyperbolic sales in the weeks leading up to the big day. (“Black-November Sale!” “Cyber-Saturday Sale!” “Please-For-One-Day-Shop-Somewhere-Besides-Amazon Sale!”)

But how can you separate the hype from reality? How you can you make sure that any Black Friday deal — either on the day or leading up to it — is really a deal? Start by asking yourself these four questions:

Is it something you really want?

The LOWEST PRICE EVER on a Flangie Whip Spinner?! Hot dog!

Wait, what the heck is a Flangie Whip Spinner? You’ve only just now heard of it, and although you weren’t really shopping for one, look at that price! You’d be crazy not to buy one!

Stop — deep breath. Many stores slash prices on obscure products just to get you in the door. These so-called loss leaders may be great bargains, but it’s still money you probably wouldn’t have spent otherwise.

Bottom line: Don’t buy something just because it’s a good deal. Buy it because it’s something you need or want.

Is it a current model?

I’m a big proponent of buying last year’s TV, last year’s laptop, last year’s phone — because you’ll typically save big over the latest model without sacrificing much.

Ah, but on Black Friday, some stores trot out older models at lower prices while positioning them as hot new products. That’s fine, so long as you do your homework. Make sure, for example, that the TV you’re looking at isn’t a couple of years out of date, with fewer streaming apps or lesser speakers than its newer counterparts.

Bottom line: Research different models so you’re sure you’re getting the one you want — or at least one you can live with.

Is it on sale anywhere else?

The store with the biggest, splashiest ad may not be the one with the lowest price. As always, it pays to shop around: Hit up Google or your preferred shopping-search engine and see if you can find a deal that’s as good or better.

Remember, too, that sometimes prices are set by manufacturers, and therefore don’t vary from one store to another — Apple products are a good example — but some stores will add bonus items to the mix: a case, a gift card and so on.

Bottom line: Don’t assume anyone store has the best deal, regardless of what its ad says.

What’s the price history?

Probably the single best way to tell if a deal is really a deal is to check its price history. For example, if you see a Fitbit Surge on sale for $169, you might think that’s a pretty good saving, given that it lists for $200. But guess what? At one point it was selling for $149 — and probably will be again.

How can you investigate a product’s price history? It used to be easier, but for various reasons, many price-tracking tools have shut down in the past year — most notably the one offered by Slickdeals, which tracked prices across dozens of stores, making it a very handy tool for shoppers.

Alas, now we’re left with CamelCamelCamel, a great tool in its own right, but one that’s limited to Amazon. (Same goes for Honey, which can also notify you of Amazon price drops.) Just type in a product name or paste in an Amazon URL and CamelCamelCamel will give you a complete price history — including any given product’s all-time low.

That’s helpful when shopping at other stores as well. At the very least you can see how Amazon’s pricing compares and whether the item has ever been cheaper. Use CamelCamelCamel, then, for baseline comparison.

Bottom line: Don’t assume that Black Friday prices are the lowest prices. Marketing claims notwithstanding, many stores offer better deals at other times of the year.

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