Argos store in London prepares for Black Friday.
Consumers spent $626.1 billion during the 2015 holiday season, snatching up Black Friday bargains and Cyber Monday goodies. Most shoppers on the day after Thanksgiving Day likely believed that it was worth getting up early, fighting crowds and waiting in long lines for the sales.
But are Black Friday sales really such a bargain? Use these tactics to find out.
This looks familiar
Most retailers get up to 30% of their annual revenues in the months of November and December, so they need to make you believe that you’re getting a good deal during the holidays. A 2016 NerdWallet study of Black Friday advertisements found that at least 32 retailers listed at least one product for the same price as in their 2015 ads. So if a sale price looks familiar, don’t buy the item without doing some research.
Question the MSRP
So how do you determine whether that big sale will save you money? The first thing is to be skeptical of that MSRP number, or the manufacturer’s suggested retail price.
Despite its name, the MSRP is set by the retailer, and so it can vary from store to store. And there’s little to stop a store from inflating that number to make a good deal look like a great one.
Instead of getting carried away when you see something marked down by half, do comparison shopping online to make sure the discount is real.
Track the price
If you’re looking for a specific gift, track its price, especially if it’s expensive. A simple online search for an item could yield lots of results with the price of different models, so you need to be a precision shopper. Narrow down your search to the specific model and SKU number of the item. Then use price-tracking sites such as CamelCamelCamel that archive information from Amazon and other retailers.
Check the month
Black Friday gets all the glory for sales, but it’s not the best time to buy everything on your list. Some months are better than others for specific items. For example, the best discounts on golf clubs typically are available around March, whereas you’re more likely to score on rings and necklaces if you avoid any “jewelry holiday” such as Valentine’s Day or Christmas.
Black Friday can be a great time of year to buy PC laptops, but you won’t get bargain pricing on Apple products from the company until it rolls out new models — which can be tracked on sites such as MacRumors. And you’re most likely to find better prices on such products elsewhere instead of at Apple Stores.
Determine the value
One of the dirty little secrets of the retail industry is that much of the merchandise in outlets often is made specifically — and more cheaply — for outlets. The same goes for some hugely marked-down stock around the holidays. Called “derivatives,” these items (usually electronics) look like the brand’s normal product but are made with lower-quality components or have fewer features. This allows a store to artificially inflate the price and, consequently, the discount.
If that markdown on a TV seems too good to be true, check its SKU number and make certain it’s the exact item you want. Buying a derivative doesn’t mean you’re getting ripped off, but you may not be getting the best value for your money.
Figure out the wait
More retailers are rolling out the sales earlier, so begin checking their websites or Black Friday ad leaks to see which stores have the best early Black Friday sales. Then be realistic: If waiting until Black Friday will save you just a dollar or two, it may be better to buy it now instead of worrying and missing out.
If you’ve ever waited and watched … anxiously monitoring for an item’s price to keep dropping, you know the frustration of waiting too long and seeing the decline reverse itself. So arm yourself and your mobile devices with coupons, price trackers and code-hunting software such as Honey.
Using a credit card that offers price protection can ensure that you don’t lose out on a sale. If you see your purchase offered at a cheaper price within 30 or so days (depending on your card’s conditions), you could ask your credit card issuer to refund the difference, minus any tax, shipping or other charges.
This article originally published at NerdWallet here