Long ago, Black Friday was a single day of shopping excess. People woke up early the day after Thanksgiving, headed to malls, and fought over deeply discounted sweaters and TVs. If you looked hard, you could find amazing deep discounts amid piles of questionable “bargains.” A while later online retailers cooked up Cyber Monday in a bid for some of that freeflowing cash.
Over time, Black Friday and Cyber Monday blended together to form one long, holiday weekend of sales. Then that four-day period gradually morphed into sales throughout November. Recently they even began leaking into October, and that looks to be the case again this year.
But big unknown factor for 2021 isn’t when Black Friday starts. It’s how shipping delays and backups at major ports will affect product availability—and prices. If everything’s selling as fast as it goes on shelves, major price reductions could fail to appear.
The advice this year is to buy early, but even then, you can still shop smart. Our tips simplify deal hunting and make it easier to spot a juicy deal. Let’s dig in!
When is Black Friday this year?
Technically Black Friday is always the fourth Friday of November—the day after Thanksgiving. For 2021, that’s November 26. It’ll be followed by Cyber Monday on November 29.
But the real answer to the question is that Black Friday discounts could begin as soon as late October. Some are worth your attention, too. Retailers now like to sprinkle a few killer deals throughout the lead up to Black Friday week. You may be able to grab items on your list for great prices well ahead of late November.
How to get the best Black Friday tech deals
Option 1: Let us do the work
The easiest way to score rock-bottom prices is to let us find them for you. As they begin, check back here for links to the top deals we’ve found.
Option 2: Wade into the fray with our help
The other option is to strike out on your own. It’s not hard if you’re prepared—you just need to set aside time for it. Even then, you can zip pretty fast through all websites, circulars, forum posts, and email newsletters if you follow these tips.
Make a plan (and a budget)
To actually save money—and not blow that cash on just more stuff—you need to make a plan. Whether it’s in your head or written out concretely, know in advance what you plan to shop for, the price you prefer to pay, and the max price you’re willing to pay.
This list will look different for everyone. For me, the price I prefer to pay usually involves a hefty discount, and my max price usually isn’t too much higher. I also make note of products I use regularly and should stock up on, items I might need to replace soon, and stuff I’ve considered buying if deeply discounted.
Bargain hunting doesn’t always go predictably, of course. Some years, you’ll nail nearly every major thing on your list. During others you’ll find a deal on just a few things, but also unexpectedly snag five stackable 1-year licenses for Microsoft Office 365 Personal for $15 each. (Please bring that one back, Newegg.) But having a plan means you’ll know exactly what to keep an eye out for, and what’s worth zeroing in on.
Research prices in advance
Not all deals that crop up during Black Friday are good discounts. Many are mediocre and designed to lure you spending money because you think you’re getting a bargain.
Doing research on the products you want to buy can save you some serious cash, whether or not you make a spending plan. A few different sites can help provide the background knowledge you’ll need:
Camelcamelcamel.com or Keepa.com: These sites show historical price information for products on Amazon. Because there’s a graph showing the trend over time, you can tell how often a product goes on sale, what the most common sale prices are, and what the lowest price was.
BlackFriday.com: More retailers have begun releasing their circulars early, but for those that haven’t, sites like BlackFriday.com publish scans of leaked Black Friday ads for major retailers (Best Buy, Target, Newegg, Fry’s, Micro Center, etc.). While none of these prices are guaranteed to go live, these scans provide early reconnaissance on which retailers will have which products on sale, and roughly what the prices will be.
Slickdeals.net: This set of forums crowdsources deal-hunting. Frontpage deals are supposed to be the absolute crème de la crème of the bunch, while a fire hose of daily deals lives in the Hot Deals forum. Search for a product name or model number to see any posts related to it. Not all products will have results (or relevant results), but sometimes you can find the last best price on a product and when that was. Keep your search term as simple as possible (just one or two keywords specific to the item) to improve your results.
If you plan to take advantage of Amazon’s Lightning deals, which don’t reveal the sale price until the deal starts, doing this research in advance is particularly useful. When a Lightning deal goes live, you’ll know immediately if it’s worth your time.
Set deal alerts on Slickdeals and Amazon
If you sign up for a free account on Slickdeals, you can set up to 200 different deal alerts that can ping you via email, the Slickdeals mobile app, private message through the site, and/or desktop browser notifications. (You’ll receive a notice whenever a member posts a deal that matches your keywords.) These alerts can be customized based on popularity and forum.
Amazon offers a similar service for its Lightning deals, which are available for only a limited time on the site. (They expire at a certain time or when the allotted inventory runs out, whichever comes first.) If you use the Amazon app on your phone or tablet, you can get alerts when the deal starts by “watching” the deal.
You can also set deal alerts through Camelcamelcamel.com and Keepa.com for Amazon deals, but they don’t always get sent in time to act on the deal. Still, setting them up doesn’t hurt.
Sign up for email newsletters at specific stores
Email newsletters can be a good source of deals, for a few reasons.
Some deals are only available if you’re already on the store’s email list. Newegg, for example, often creates coupon codes that only work for email subscribers.
Other sites offer codes for discounts and free shipping through their email newsletters that don’t always show up on deal and coupon sites.
Then there are the places with niche items that rarely go on sale (like Apple products). Even if the product still stays at normal price during Black Friday, some vendors will at least provide a gift with purchase.
Note: If inbox clutter is a concern, you can use either a filter or a junk email address to collect all the email in one spot. You usually don’t need to use the same email address at checkout for the code to work.
Keep an eye out for bundle deals
Shopping for PC parts? Pay attention to the retailers that favor bundle and combo deals. That’s typically Newegg and Micro Center, but on occasion other stores offer them as well.
You can save quite a bit this way—for example, Micro Center often offers a combo discount for buying a CPU and a motherboard at the same time. That’s in addition to already-reduced prices on both components.
(You can see how we made the most of these deals in our Cheapest Black Friday PC Build articles from 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016.)
Where to find good Black Friday tech deals
Curious to know which stores we frequent the most? These are the places we make our own personal purchases at:
(*We only buy from established retailers with eBay storefronts, like Adorama and Best Buy)
How to get free shipping during Black Friday
Over the last few years, free shipping has become more of a given—and before the pandemic, next-day and 2-day shipping were even dangled as an incentive. While free expedited shipping isn’t likely in 2021, we still expect to see free standard shipping and free curbside pick-up for purchases made at major retailers (as applicable). We recommend signing up for newsletters now, so that you’ll get notified of any free shipping promotions between now and the end of December. You can unsubscribe after you’re done with your shopping.
How to return Black Friday purchases
Return policies vary across stores, but most U.S. retailers extend their windows for returns and exchanges for items purchased in November and most of December. Be sure to read the return policy for each site you shop at. One particularly novel promotion last year was Newegg’s price-match guarantee: If you purchased an eligible item between November 1 through November 22 and it dropped in price on or before November 30, you were automatically refunded the difference.
Also, before making a purchase, check to see if it’s easy to return the item and if it will cost you anything (like a restocking fee or shipping). If you’re not careful, you could lose money on the purchase should you end up not needing it.
Our picks for Black Friday deals
We’ll have several curated lists for Black Friday tech deals, which we’ll release as the deals reach critical mass. (We’ll add the links below as they go live.) You can expect to see our picks for the best early deals first. Here’s to hoping for a year of decent bargains.