In the run-up to Christmas we all want to cut costs, and Black Friday and Cyber Monday have been marketed as the best days to pick up discounted gifts for the festive season. But how good are these discounts? And how do you know whether you’ve bagged a bargain?
We didn’t see the rampaging mobs pushing and shoving to pick up super low-priced items last year, but consumers still spent a vast amount of money over these two day sales. Analyst IMRG estimated £1.23 billion was spent online on Black Friday alone last year.
It really is big business. In fact, it’s now more than just a weekend. Last year, some retailers offered Black Friday and Cyber Monday savings for much of November, with Amazon and Argos both running close to two weeks of offers.
This year Black Friday falls on 24 November and Cyber Monday is on 27 November.
What are Black Friday and Cyber Monday?
Black Friday – and the sales we associate with it – started across the Atlantic. The American holiday Thanksgiving takes place on the fourth Thursday of November, and it’s the following day when their big annual sales traditionally start.
It all changed for us in 2013, when Walmart-owned Asda decided to run a Black Friday sale in the UK. It was a hit – despite some people fighting in the aisles over cut-price TVs. Since then, the hype around the day has got bigger each year, with more retailers getting involved.
Cyber Monday was a marketing term coined in 2005 (by Americans once again) to encourage more online shopping. It has since been eclipsed by Black Friday and merged into a whole weekend of sales promising the lowest prices of the year.
How good are the discounts?
You’ll see a variety of offers – some retailers such as Amazon, Argos, eBay, and John Lewis will have selected products at discounted prices, such as money off a TV or sofa.
Others will simply offer a site-wide discount – last year, Asos, Gap and H&M provided codes worth between 20% and 50% off.
We don’t know how good the deals will be this year, but we’ve analysed six of the top big-brand discounts from last year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales to see if the discounts were any good.
As the table above shows, last year’s Black Friday prices were generally pretty fair for the products we looked at. All were at the lowest, or close to the lowest, they’d ever been, and only the Dyson deal has been beaten in the months since. So if you picked up one, you probably got yourself a bargain.
However, with most of the products you could get a similar price at many other times in the year, so you really shouldn’t listen to the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) voice in your head if you can’t easily afford something right now.
There might also have been alternatives that were just as good and at similar or lower prices.
How to make sure you get the best Black Friday/Cyber Monday deal
Many of the sales begin at midnight on the Thursday before Black Friday, or even earlier with some retailers.
Take the pre-sale price with a pinch of salt
Often the recommended retail price (RRP) isn’t what the item has been selling for.
In our research, we found Amazon promoting a £167 saving on an Oral B toothbrush. Yet while the sale price was the lowest price the toothbrush had been sold at, the highest previous price was £125 rather than the RRP of £229. And even then, the most recent price before Black Friday price was £95. So the real discount was 33% rather than 73%.
Ultimately, you need to decide if you’re happy to pay the price on offer, rather than buy something just because of the supposed size of the saving.
Research your purchase
If you’re spending a lot of money on a Black Friday special, it’s worth finding out if you’re getting value for money.
The infamous £89 TV Asda sold in 2014 hit the headlines following the chaos seen when stores opened. But although the price was low, buyers really were getting what they paid for. Reviews were poor.
It’s also worth looking to see if a new model has recently been released or is about to hit the shelves. Black Friday often sees heavy discounts to clear stock – though you could still be picking up a bargain.
Watch for price changes
Last year, many retailers aggressively cut prices on Black Friday and Cyber Monday as they tried to beat other shops. This meant a discounted product you purchased at the start of the day or earlier in the week could be cheaper come the afternoon. And it could fall again as the weekend moves on.
As a result, it’s worth keeping an eye on prices after you do buy something. You might be able to call up and get the difference refunded, or you could cancel your original order and buy it again at the lower price (check the terms and conditions fi rst, of course).
Find deals on almost everything
Black Friday isn’t just about white goods, gadgets and clothes. A huge variety of retailers will try to muscle in on the fun – and make sure they aren’t forgotten when so much money is being spent.
Last year, you could get Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals on broadband, train trips, cinema tickets and air fares. Many pubs and restaurants joined in too.
Yes, the discounts on offer can be good, and may even be the lowest prices of the year, but remember that sales do happen at other times. Think about what you might need and how much you can afford.
The essential rules when shopping online
Use websites and apps, such as MegaShopBot.com, to compare prices to other retailers before buying.
Better still, you can also check out the price history of a product to get a sense of whether it’s a real deal or a regular discount, just as we did for our investigation.
We recommend UK.camelcamelcamel.com for Amazon products, and both Idealo.co.uk and PriceSpy.co.uk for other retailers.
As we shared in May 2017’s Moneywise, you should be shopping via cashback sites, such as Quidco and TopCashback, when buying online. Most of the major retailers (Amazon and John Lewis are the major exceptions) will give you money back on your purchases if you do it via these sites.
You can also double up the free money by using a cashback credit card – just make sure you clear the debt every month otherwise the interest you pay will cancel out any money made.
Reduce delivery costs
Look for options to collect in store for free to avoid adding to the cost of your purchase with delivery charges.
Know your rights
Unlike high street shopping, you have a legal right to return online purchases within 14 days – no questions asked. However, you may have to pay for return delivery and the rules don’t count if you’ve customised the product in any way.
Amazon Prime Day in July is as big, if not bigger than Black Friday, while you can often save with codes and coupons throughout the year.
Andy Webb is a personal finance journalist who has previously worked for BBC Two’s Money Programme. He regularly contributes to BBC One’s Rip Off Britain and Right On The Money Live, and he blogs on his award-nominated website, Be Clever With Your Cash.