What’s Hot (and What’s Not) This Black Friday

It’s that time of the year again when retailers bombard you with ads promoting Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

By now, you have probably realized that the vast majority of Black Friday deals are duds. Many so-called bargains are undesirable products that have been marked down to help stores clear out inventory, or have discounts that aren’t any better than sales that happened earlier in the year.

Yet there is a silver lining: This is the best time to buy a few items, like video game consoles, televisions and smart home accessories, which plummet to their lowest prices. If you know ahead of time what to focus on, you might score a few good deals.

“Come into Black Friday with a list,” said Alex Roth, a commerce editor for Wirecutter, a New York Times product review site that tracks deals year round. “Don’t just buy things and figure you can return them later, because the holiday return lines are horrible.”

To help narrow your search for good buys on Black Friday, I teamed up with Wirecutter to round up the products that are worth following — and the ones you can skip.

If you’ve been planning to treat yourself or a loved one to a new video game console, this may be the best time of year to grab one. Some Black Friday ads for Best Buy and Walmart show that prices for some consoles will drop to their lowest all year, said Adam Burakowski, the deals editor for Wirecutter.

“This year in particular, the consoles are pretty much the best prices we’ve seen,” he said.

For example, both Walmart and Best Buy plan to sell Sony’s PlayStation 4 bundled with the new Spider-Man game for $200, down from the retail price of $300 for the console alone. In addition, Nintendo’s Switch console will cost about $300 together with a Super Mario Kart game — normally, the system costs that much without a game included.

Black Friday tends to be one of the best times to buy a great television for a significant discount. But there are caveats.

For one, don’t be fooled by ads for so-called doorbusters — like jaw-droppingly cheap TVs — at retailers like Best Buy, Mr. Burakowski said. Those tend to be mediocre TV sets, or they sell out extremely quickly. For another, during Black Friday, manufacturers sometimes sell subpar televisions with model numbers that are nearly identical to popular, high-quality sets, he added.

The smartest way to buy a TV is to do research ahead of time and pick out a great set you want, then jot down the model number and periodically check retailers’ websites throughout the week to see if the price has dropped. (Price-tracking web tools like Camel Camel Camel can help automate this process.)

There are early signs that some great TVs will get good discounts in the coming week. As of this writing, Amazon is selling a premium 65-inch LG television set for about $2,700, down from its $3,200 retail price.

If you need help deciding which television is right for you, consult the chart below for and read my TV buying guide. (Wirecutter’s top picks are in bold; the descriptions accompanying some models illustrate how widely the products can vary from one another.)

This year, tech companies really want you to stuff your family’s stockings with a smart home product, like a smart speaker, a Wi-Fi-connected light bulb or an internet security camera. The companies plan to aggressively slash prices for smart home products next week, Mr. Roth said.

Google, for one, plans to offer its miniature smart speaker, Google Home Mini, for $25, down from $49, and its Nest smart thermostat will drop to $179 from $249. Similarly, Target plans to sell Amazon’s compact smart speaker, Echo Dot, for $24, down from about $50.

Black Friday also tends to be the best time to buy smart kitchen appliances, like sous vide wands or the internet-famous Instant Pot pressure cooker.

Wirecutter also anticipates that audio gear like headphones will drop to their lowest prices all year. During Black Friday last year, Bose’s premium noise-canceling headphones, QuietComfort 25, were priced at $180, down from $280.

Mr. Burakowski said he expected similar deals for high-quality headphones next week. Be on the lookout for deals on Apple’s AirPods, which retail for about $160, and Bose’s QuietComfort 35, which normally cost about $350.

Throughout the week of Thanksgiving, retailers offer deals on phones, but these offers tend to be just O.K., Mr. Burakowski said.

Retailers typically offer discounts or gift cards on smartphones only if you agree to activate a new phone line. Target plans to offer a $250 gift card if you buy an iPhone XR and sign up for a line on Verizon, AT&T or Sprint, for instance. If you were already planning to switch to one of those carriers, this is a nice perk, but otherwise it is a hassle.

Retailers will also mark down tablets, though these are often older models. For example, Best Buy plans to sell Apple’s iPad Mini 4, which was introduced in 2015, for $250, down from about $400.

There are some types of products that you can ignore altogether during Black Friday, according to Wirecutter. These include:

  • outdoor gear

  • laptops

  • large kitchen appliances

  • office supplies

Here’s why: Outdoor gear usually goes on sale in the weeks before Black Friday, and well-reviewed laptops get better discounts during back-to-school season in the fall. Office supplies and large kitchen appliances like refrigerators sporadically go on sale throughout the year and are not tied to a particular season.

There’s one more thing you can skip altogether: lining up to stampede into stores at the crack of dawn.

The overwhelming majority of good Black Friday deals are obtainable online, Mr. Burakowski said. So after filling up on turkey, you can stick with your friends and family and occasionally peek at your phone to see if the item you wanted went on sale. No early-morning waking up required.

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