I despise Black Friday. I absolutely detest the weird retail culture it perpetuates and every time I see a day-after-Thanksgiving news story explaining how a pregnant mother or small child was trampled during a store opening I hate it a little bit more. I do, however, love to save cash, which makes Cyber Monday much more agreeable to me.
I’ve spent the Monday following Black Friday scrounging for sales since 2008 or so, and in that time I’ve learned a lot, so have a seat and I’ll explain everything you need to know about scoring great deals without tackling the retail mob.
1) It’s not all about Amazon
Listen, Amazon is amazing for Cyber Monday deals, but if you’re spending your entire day waiting for the next Lightning Deal to hit you’re going to miss out on a lot. These days a store refusing to participate in Cyber Monday is the exception rather than the rule, so any retailer you trust is fair game. That includes brick-and-mortar stores that you wouldn’t normally order from online, like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy. Here are some places to be sure to check depending on what you’re looking for:
2) Start early
Everyone associates Black Friday with early mornings, but then slack off when they’re trying to score some Cyber Monday deals—don’t be that person! All-day sale prices and short-lived flash deals start going live on many sites before the sun rises, so set your alarm early and get a pot of coffee going because it’s going to be a long day.
If you roll out of bed whenever you feel like it, there’s a great chance you not only missed some temporary sale prices earlier in the day, but some of the all-day sales will probably already be completely sold out.
3) Know what you want ahead of time
Going into Cyber Monday with a blank slate is bad news. If you don’t have an idea of what you want before you start your digital shopping trip you’re bound to jump for something that looks good in pictures but will thoroughly underwhelm you—and the person you’re buying it for—when it arrives. That $7 chrome-plated toaster isn’t a good gift, even if it’s super shiny and you’re saving a bunch of cash on it.
Your first step should be to make a list of things you’re specifically looking for: A bargain-priced Blu-ray player, a quality pair of boots, a set of power tools, or whatever else you have in mind. Hit up Amazon, search for whatever items are on your list, and learn which brands are associated with five-star reviews and which ones have consistently disappointed buyers in the past. You don’t need to pick out a specific model of TV or style of coat—chances are that exact item won’t end up going on sale anyway—but knowing which manufacturers to steer clear of will help you make quick decisions when it matters.
4) Don’t panic
I know how disappointing it is to realize you just missed a temporary sale price or flash deal, trust me. What these sites don’t often tell you is that when that short-lived bargain price comes to an end, that might not be the last time you see it.
Sales are often recycled throughout the day—or several days, as some stores hold online sales over several days surrounding Cyber Monday—and you’re likely to see an item go on sale multiple times. Amazon is particularly notorious for pulling this little trick, along with putting products up during an all-day sale at a moderate discount and then holding a flash sale for the same items the next day for a massive discount. In short, don’t let a missed sale get you down, because it’ll probably pop up again.
5) Don’t get burned by shipping
Almost all of the places I’ve listed above have either free or very low-cost shipping, but not all retailers are created equal. Don’t assume shipping costs will be reasonable without seeing the final figure. Speed is everything on Cyber Monday, but this is one instance where you need to slow down and be sure to read everything on the checkout screen before tapping that “Buy” button.
6) Snag your receipts
Every order you place online will come with some type of confirmation, be it an email or a number that appears on your screen after you complete the purchase. I know it’s tempting to just skip right over them, but you need to keep these handy in case your purchase doesn’t arrive as intended. Getting a speedy resolution to any problems you might have with your order depends on you keeping all of the documentation in order so jot down those confirmation numbers and print the emails so you don’t accidentally purge them from your safekeeping.
7) Price check, and check again
If you follow a basic Cyber Monday plan of attack you should have no problem finding the lowest prices possible, but if you want to double-check there are a couple of ways to go about it.
PriceBlink: This browser add-on is a great Cyber Monday ally, and it will bring up the current prices around the web for whatever products you happen to highlight. It’s a nice reality check tool, and you can delete it after your holiday shopping spree with just a couple of clicks.
Amazon: If you’re not already shopping on Amazon, you can use either the website or the Amazon app to price check against a number of different third party sellers. If you found a price lower than Amazon is offering, you have officially won the shopping war.
8) Push notifications are your friend
Usually, they aren’t, but in the prep for Cyber Monday, they absolutely are. There are a helping of IFTTT recipes that will make sure you stay up to date on all the upcoming Monday savings. These alerts can come from virtually any corner of the Internet you want, and you can have them sent to your email, tweeted at you, or sent via SMS. If you want IFTTT recipes for online shopping in general, well that also exists.
9) There’s always next year
Cyber Monday becomes a bigger and bigger event every year, so if you don’t feel like you were on top of your game this time around, you’ll definitely get another shot. If you want to feel like a deal-snagging master of the universe, compare the prices you paid during your Cyber Monday spree with the price for the same products in January, and you’ll likely realize that you did better than you imagined. Chin up, Cyber Monday warrior. It’s only the beginning of the holiday shopping season.
Photo via Mike McCune/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)