It’s Thanksgiving in the States and tomorrow is the biggest shopping day of the year. In fact stores will be open tonight so you can elbow your way into a scrum of bargain hunters and frotteurists. I’m here to tell you it’s a sucker’s game, at least when it comes to consumer electronics and computer hardware.
This is not to say you shouldn’t go out tomorrow. Are you looking for toys, scarves, and underwear for the family? By all means hit the malls. Those “soft goods” are so cheap wholesale that stores can afford to discount them drastically in hopes that you’ll make up for loss in profit with sheer volume. See a Lego door buster you’ve got to have? You better get in there.
But computer hardware is a far different matter. Consumer electronics margins are so low right now that manufacturers make pennies per device. Deep discounts usually happen to items that are on their way out anyway. I checked out Best Buy’s Black Friday page. The iPad 2 is on sale there for $299 – it’s normally $399 – but it’s the Wi-Fi only 16GB model, pretty much the entriest of the entry level. You can grab a 64GB model refurbished for $469 on Apple’s website. “But this is for mom,” you say. “She wants to read and maybe Skype us.” Get her the Kindle Fire HDX for fifty less, no mall visit needed.
What about those $300 laptops (BB has a Toshiba model)? Well, the laptops on sale aren’t going to be on the market for much longer and Black Friday is a great way to clear out old stock. CES is right around the corner and we can expect Intel’s Broadwell chip to launch in a quarter or so. Therefore you’re buying obsolescence on sale.
Don’t expect to get a deal on an Xbox One or PS4, either. You won’t even see one in stores, let alone get a discount on one.
Going for the TVs? BB is selling their Insignia brand 39-inched for $169. This is an in-store deal which means you probably won’t get one. Do you want one? Eh, sure, if you’re looking for a 39-inch monitor without many frills. Is it worth stabbing a grandmother over in order to score the last box? No.
In the end Black Friday is an exercise in pure commerce. Stores want you to come in because it means they can clear out all their stock in a few short hours. It gives them a cushion for the slow post-holiday season and it makes shopping look like an event. While I’m all for expansion of the commercial spirit, I think Black Friday is such a cynical and scammy experience that it’s hardly worth rolling off the couch to partake in. Make some real nerds happy – hit the small guys online, pick up some ThinkGeek stuff or some cool board games or Estes rockets from a smaller hobby shop and let somebody else fight over a $12 Blu-Ray player.