Black Friday Doorbusters Are For Suckers

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Holiday electronics sales can be as good for scoring new business gear as for loading up the kids' stockings. But smart buyers should be wary of doorbuster tactics.

It's generally regarded as fact that Black Friday is the hottest shopping day of the year, with deal seekers lining up as early as 3:00 AM outside tech superstores nationwide. But pre-dawn sales aren't all they're cracked up to be. In reality, doorbuster deals are laden with fine-print gotchas that can turn holiday zeal into buyer's remorse. Whether you're shopping for business or pleasure, here's why you'd do well to sleep in on Friday morning.

Quantities Limited

As my colleague Denny Arar points out in her story Top 5 Black Friday Gotchas, retailers typically lure shoppers in early with the promise of extraordinary bargains that look too good to be true. One of the most common tricks is the big, splashy half-page ad offering a high-end HDTV for an outrageously low price. What's easy to miss here is the fine print stating that only a few units are actually available at any given store. When they're gone, they're gone, and they go fast.

It's reasonable to say that if you're not one of the first 20 people in line outside your local electronics store on Friday morning, you'll have absolutely no chance of snagging any of those front-page superdeals that you saw in the circular. In the interest of fairness--and presumably to avoid riots--retailers often send employees out to issue coupons for those hot items, ensuring that the people who lined up earliest have the first shot at the deals they came for. Of course, they seldom get far down the line before the coupons are gone. If you don't get one, and you refuse to admit defeat, you'll be stuck moping around the store picking over page-two "bargains" that are likely no better than any other sale you'll see this season.

The limited-quantities trick is an effective gimmick for retailers, because it preys on shoppers' psychological weaknesses. Once those few half-price HDTVs are gone, there'll still be hundreds of disappointed shoppers strolling around the aisles. Nobody wants to go home empty-handed after waking up in the middle of the night to drive to the mall. And at that hour, shoppers are likely to be tired and frustrated, which hampers critical thinking. So rather than do the smart thing, which would be to go home, most will settle for lackluster offerings.

"Gee, honey. That $800 50-inch HDTV sold out before I got in the door, but I did get $200 off on this $1800 set."

Don't fall for it.

Better Deals, Other Days

This may seem obvious, but Black Friday is only the beginning of the holiday shopping season. And it now begins on Thursday for many retailers. Best Buy, for example, has already started selling offering its doorbuster deals online. And you'd be wise to check that out now, rather than waste tomorrow morning taking your chances in the crowded store aisles.

Just like in-store doorbusters, these online deals are limited in quantity. But here you have the advantage, because you'll be better able to resist lesser bargains when you're sitting comfortably in your living room. Better still, many of these deals come with free shipping, so you're not spending extra to get them to your door.

And the deals just keep coming. Cyber Monday, the less hyped effect of online shoppers taking advantage of post-Black Friday bargains, has become a major shopping day in its own right. Most big online retailers now offer special Cyber Monday deals to keep the stream of sales moving along through the holiday season. And if you miss that, there'll still be about 25 more big shopping days before Christmas, all of which will come with their fair share of legitimate deals that don't involve jostling your way through a pack of angry, sleep-deprived early birds only to find out you can't get what you came for.

Happy Holiday Shopping

The holidays are a stressful time, and competing with other shoppers to find bargains is a sure way to increase that stress. If you get taken in by what amounts to near bait-and-switch tactics on expensive electronics gear, it'll only make things worse. Whatever you do to find deals this season, take your time and shop smart.

PC World has compiled a variety of holiday shopping articles to help guide you through the increasingly complex array of tech shopping options and sort the deals from the delusions. Check them out.

Skeptical Shopper: Get the Most Out of Black Friday Bargains

10 Fascinating Facts about Black Friday

Top 5 Black Friday Gotchas

Top 10 Black Friday Websites

Skip the Crowds: Online Shopping Tips for Black Friday

Robert Strohmeyer is a senior editor at PC World. He tweets as @rstrohmeyer.

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