Is Black Friday shopping really worth it?

Sarah Mitroff | November 21, 2013

Black Friday looms like a dark cloud over the malls. The US (and UK) shopping holiday is a cash cow for retailers, a sporting event for deal hunters, and a stressful day for most shoppers. What was once the start of the holiday shopping season has become a mess of traffic jams, long lines, and ravaged stores. Every year, it's looking better to just stay at home, and that might be the smartest move.

Let's take a look at the arguments for not heading to the stores on Black Friday.

#1 Stores offer the same sales online

Though Black Friday started as a brick-and-mortar store shopping holiday, many stores now offer the same sales online. You can do all of your shopping in your pajamas and not miss out on the sales.

Mobile shopping is also getting more popular as an alternative to going out. The catch is that not all items are available online, so you'll need to do your homework first to plot out what you want to buy and where you can get it.

Here are some predictions of this years' Black Friday online sale starts at some of the biggest US retailers (based on last year's data):

  • Staples' Black Friday deals are available online starting 12:00 AM Thanksgiving
  • Best Buy's Black Friday deals are available online starting Thanksgiving and will reveal exclusive doorbusters on Thanksgiving
  • Target will offer its Black Friday deals online (starting 11/21 at 12 AM), and there's free shipping with no required minimum purchase through December 25
  • Walmart's Black Friday sales begin online on Thanksgiving at 3:01 a.m. ET, 12:01 a.m. PT, and there's free shipping with a $50 purchase
  • GameStop's sales are available online on Black Friday through Sunday, November 27
  • Kohl's is starting its Black Friday deals early online on Monday, November 21
  • Macy's Black Friday sale starts online on Thanksgiving, and there's free shipping with a $50 purchase

*Note: these are predictions and are not set in stone. For an updated list, please visit

#2 Black Friday shopping is madness (and possibly dangerous)

Getting up early or not going to bed at all; lining up outside waiting for a store to open; fighting other shoppers for the last Xbox bundle. Black Friday might save you some money, but you lose in the process.

First, going out to shop is inefficient, because you have to go from store to store, braving packed parking lots, traffic and overcrowded malls.

Second, despite stores' best safety efforts, people still get hurt during Black Friday fights -- just search for "Black Friday fights" in your favorite search engine to get a taste. People have also been shot, stabbed and trampled to death, all in the name of a deal. Yes, the odds of something bad happening to you are low, but the day has ended badly for some individuals in years past.

At best, Black Friday is a stressful day of mobs of people and headaches; at worst, it could land you in the ER. Staying at home keeps you away from it all.

#3 It's no longer a one-day affair

Thanksgiving shopping is not just confined to Black Friday anymore, as more retailers are offering deals in the week leading up to Turkey Day and the week following. As you can see above, some stores are starting their sales on Thanksgiving or earlier. While you can sometimes get a great deal on Black Friday, you can also start shopping now and still snag a sale.

You might also want to wait for Cyber Monday, where retailers offer online exclusive sales. It's becoming one of the biggest shopping days of the year, and you don't even have to wait in a line. The bottom line is that Black Friday is less important than it's been in years past, so don't feel the pressure to get your shopping done on that one day.

#4 Deals aren't always the best you can buy

Don't fall prey to enticing low prices on stuff you wouldn't otherwise buy. Many big-ticket doorbusters are for subpar products that you'd overlook any other day. TVs are notorious for this, for example, Target's TV doorbusters include several low-end TVs from Westinghouse and Element. They are cheap in price and quality, so you're better off saving your money for a much better model that's not on sale during Black Friday.

Also, look out for items that are bundled with a gift card but aren't actually on sale. If you aren't already in the market to buy the item that comes with a gift card, don't let the extra sway you into spending money on something that's not really a deal.

Lori Grunin explains why not all deals are worth it, especially since retailers like to compare the discount to the MSRP, even when the item sells for less than that price regularly. Do your homework before you go out to the store to see if the sale on that camera or Blu-ray player is actually worth it, or if you can get it cheaper elsewhere.

#5 Even doorbusters are a mixed bag

Doorbusters -- low-priced items with a limited quantity -- are sometimes worth heading out for if -- and only if -- you are both ready to wait in long lines and you accept that you may not get what you want. Even then, these items aren't always the best deals around, and you can get something better online.

For example, last year, Target was offering an Xbox One bundle with Gears of War for $299, plus a $60 gift card, but at the same time, over on Dell's website, you could've gotten a similar bundle with an Xbox One, Gears of War, Fallout 4, plus an extra Xbox controller for $299.  Best Buy was offering several good doorbusters, such as up to $125 off certain models of the Apple iPad Air 2, and two Chromecasts for $50, but these sales were available online on Thanksgiving, and you didn't even have to leave your couch.

Save yourself some time and effort and do your homework before-hand. Compare online ads to in-store ads to see if sales are even worth waiting outside in line for hours.

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