November 19, 2012
I regret to inform you that I shall not be joining the 18 billion of you taking place in the post-Thanksgiving shopping bonanza known as Black Friday this year. I'm broke, I hate crowds and I think I'll just end up with a pre-emptive strike against the turkey.
But the times I have gone in the past, I have found a lot of use knowing the deals in advance. If you subscribe to the GDP, you'll get the full rundown in your newspaper delivered on Thanksgiving Day. But what you can do right now is get online.
Clark Howard introduced me to the site gottadeal.com. I don't use it much, but I do use it to track Black Friday ads. It's been a great help in the past.
A couple of years ago, I bought an Xbox 360 in the summer. I really enjoyed playing it, but I got just a bit frustrated that it didn't have built-in WiFi. I saw a Target Black Friday ad advertising the new model with built-in WiFi, plus it was "Kinect-ready," for $200. Then you got $50 off instantly. You got another $20 off with some coupon. I got another $10 gift card for something else. And you got 5 percent off for using a Target credit card. I had sold my original unit to a friend who needed a new machine after hers died. Since she nicely let me keep the controller that came with the first one, I pretty much ended up coming out with a brand new machine and a second controller for about $15.
Yes, you can find deals. I also ended up getting some other stuff for my parents and nephews.
But as with all deal-finding, research is key. It's good to scan all the deals early so you know what you want. This will especially help you with TVs and other electronics.
Target has a 32-inch Samsung LED HDTV listed at $247.99 in the ad for Black Friday. That's definitely not bottom-of-the-barrel specs, but you always have to check. It is 720p, not 1080p. It's also only 60Hz, not 120Hz. It may or may not have the ability to download apps. It probably has no built-in WiFi connection. It has only 2 HDMI inputs.
All of those specs may or may not be right for you. I think 720p is OK for a 32-inch TV, but you will be able to notice a difference as you get farther away from it. 1080p starts to be a must-have on 40-inch sets and larger. Most low-end TVs are 60Hz, but you will find a much smoother picture with 120Hz or even 240Hz. Built-in WiFi is extremely important if you want to download any apps -- I don't think this model can do that -- or to easily get firmware updates.
Basically you're figuring out if what you're getting is worth the price. This is basically the TV I have in my bedroom except it has LED backlighting. I paid $500 for mine about four years ago. The 32-inch HDTVs have started to drop below $300 with big brands, so this is a decent deal.
I won't even get to the complexity of shopping for a computer, especially the Windows variety. Windows-based computers are notorious for throwing the flashy numbers at you -- processor speed, RAM capacity, storage capacity -- and hiding things that WILL affect your computer. What do I mean by this?
1) Your processor will likely have Intel, a model number and a clock speed in gigahertz. But how many cores does it have? Does it have L2 cache, which speeds up processing but costs more money? 2) You will usually see RAM in gigabytes, maybe with DDR2/DDR3 with it. But how fast is that memory? If it's fast, does the logic board run at the same speed or is the faster RAM just in there for show? 3) Storage is still semi-easy. You will get storage capacity in gigabytes. But at what speed does the internal hard disk run? If it's a higher-end computer, does it have much faster but much pricier flash storage? 4) Displays. These are very tricky. I have a Windows-based notebook with a 15.4-inch display. It is LED backlit, but it's nowhere as bright as my LED-backlight iMac. The resolution maxes out way lower than some more expensive models from Apple and Sony. If you spent $250 like I did, you understand the tradeoff. But it's better to be informed.
I would also suggest trying to find the good deals available online. Why battle a crowd if you can buy your kid the hot toy online at Amazon and get it shipped to you in a couple of days? A lot of big physical stores are offering these deals online, but it will vary by store as will shipping charges. You might also want to check those big electronic items' prices on Amazon first. It wasn't Black Friday, but I saved my dad about $100 for the same TV on Amazon last year versus the lowest price I could find at Best Buy, hhgregg, Target, etc. on that model. And he got free shipping.
As with many things in life, the best policy is to just do your research. Be prepared, be informed. Don't get blinded by seeing a regular price and then a sale price that seems much lower. Some stores will show you their "retail" prices at which you would never ever actually find the product.
The last bit of advice I have for you relates to movies and TV shows. You have got to pay attention to what you're buying. Many things will be available in sets that include one, two or all of these: DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, digital copy from iTunes/Windows Media, UltraViolet Digital Copy.
If you just have a DVD player, you just need the DVD version. If you have a Blu-ray Disc player, you do not need the pack with the 3D version unless your TV and BD player are both 3D-capable. Most of them are not, and you don't need to spend an extra $5 on a useless disc. As for digital copies, you'll have to make your own mind up on your preferred method. Usually you get one or the other, but on a few sets I have seen both offered.
So if you're going to brave the shopping, just be safe. Don't be in too much of a rush. Try to be polite and ignore the few people you WILL run into who act like rabid dogs. If you're shopping for Christmas presents, do you really want to start off the season as the person in jail for fighting over a $20 deal? For Christmas? Be smart, and have a good time.
Michael Buckelew is a contributing writer for the Gwinnett Daily Post.