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Cyber Monday’s big secret: Why you should pounce on that tempting Black Friday sale


If you see a good Black Friday deal on something you want to buy this week, buy it. Don’t wait for a theoretical “better” sale on Cyber Monday (Nov. 26). I’m not waiting and I don’t think anyone else should wait, either.

To be clear: I’m not suggesting you buy stuff you don’t need. Or that you should feel obligated to buy anything at all — the overwhelming majority of the products on sale out there is stuff you can do without, or junk your kids don’t need. But I know plenty of you are savvy shoppers who have been waiting to stock up on a new TV, laptop, smart speaker, game console and the like at the best prices of the year. If that’s you, well — whip out that credit card anytime this week, if you see a price to your liking. But don’t hesitate to pull the trigger between now and Friday, because — in my opinion — Cyber Monday ain’t worth waiting for.

Here’s why:

‘Cyber Monday sales’ are mostly just ‘Black Friday sales’ with a name change

What’s in a name? Not much, when it comes to the difference between Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Black Friday used to refer to sales that were literally just the day (or weekend) after Thanksgiving. (Whether the term “Black Friday” is based on the belief that the post-Thanksgiving proceeds were enough to put retailers “in the black” for the year, or because Philadelphia cops dreaded working traffic duty that day is an interesting academic debate, but irrelevant to your current shopping dilemmas.) But now, “Black Friday” is effectively code for “November sale prices.” A lot of sales started last weekend, others are well under way. Amazon is letting customers get Black Friday sale prices if they order via voice on Alexa, and Walmart’s online sale starts Wednesday night at 10 p.m. ET. And that doesn’t include the massive PS4 and Xbox One sales that started pretty much everywhere on Sunday. 

And when Black Friday — the actual day after Thanksgiving — has come and gone, these same retailers start advertising “Cyber Monday sales” (or “Cyber Week sales”) online. But the actual prices and items on sale are often exactly the same stuff at the same price. It’s less a new sale, and more an SEO play on a different term.  

“But wait,” you’re saying. “This isn’t true. I’ve gotten some of the best deals ever by waiting for Cyber Monday.” That may well have been true a few years ago, when there was a bright line between “brick-and-mortar stores” (Walmart, Target) and “online retailers” (Amazon, eBay), and the latter were looking to carve out a unique slice of the pie. But look around: Those distinctions are going away, if not gone altogether. Walmart just displaced Apple to become the third biggest online retailer, and Amazon is opening physical stores all over the place — and that’s not even counting Whole Foods. Most of forward-thinking retailers have become adept at two-day shipping right up until Christmas Eve, and the ones that haven’t are dying on the vine — I’m looking at you, Toys R Us and Sears.

Bottom line: Thursday’s “Early Black Friday” 40 percent discount gets rebranded as Sunday’s “pre-Cyber Monday” 40 percent discount. Same sale, different day.

If you wait until Cyber Monday, some great stuff may already be sold out

Speaking of those great $199 deals on PS4 and Xbox One — some of them, at least, are already starting to disappear. The PS4 bundle dropped off of Walmart’s site early on Monday, and has been blinking in and out ever since. It’s been similarly difficult to find online at Best Buy, GameStop and Target. The same thing happened last year with console bundles. And let’s not even talk about the NES Classic and SNES Classic from years past. Those two seem more available this year than ever before — for now — but again, who knows for how long.

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This “Black Friday” deal is already gone — 3 days before Black Friday.


Walmart/Screenshot by CNET

To be clear, it’s possible and even likely that these items and others will get stock replenishments at key intervals during the long weekend, and then again on Monday. But there’s no guarantee some of these key sale items are going to be in stock by Monday. And if it’s going to be the same price anyway — why wait?  

Some of those Cyber Monday ‘deals’ are anything but 

Full disclosure: This Target press release from earlier this week is part of what prompted me to write this. The release notes the following sale items starting Sunday, Nov. 25, which it calls out as “top deals”:

  • Swagtron Metro Hoverboard with LED lights, $150, giving guests $80 in savings (Reg. $230) 
  • Philips Analog 4 qt. Air Fryer, $100, giving guests $100 in savings (Reg. $200)
  • Incredible deals on vacuums, including iRobot Roomba 960, $450 ($250 in savings) and Dyson V8 Absolute, $350 ($150 in savings)
  • Graco DuetConnect LX Swing and Bouncer, $100, giving guests $50 in savings (Reg. $150)
  • 15 percent off all KidKraft dollhouses and kitchens

Those may well be some nice discounts, but take note: Both the Roomba 960 and the Dyson V8 Absolute are available for those prices right now at Target (Roomba, Dyson) and Amazon (Roomba, Amazon). In fact, the Graco DuetConnect appears to be $5 cheaper than the Cyber Monday price at Target — $95 at the time of this writing. (There are several models, so I can’t be sure this is the one in question.) 

I don’t fault Target here — nothing really nefarious is going on. But the point here is that just because something has a big red SALE tag on it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a particularly great deal.

What about December?

Take a breath: I’m not saying that you’re out of luck if you haven’t finished all of your holiday shopping before you’ve even microwaved your first Thanksgiving leftovers. And yes, there will be some fresh offers on Monday. Oh, and we’ll definitely be aggregating all the best Cyber Monday deals, even if they’re just rebranded Black Friday sales. 

And once the dust settles after this crazy shopping week, I’m sure we’ll see more sales into the month of December. Maybe even some better-than-Black Friday deals, too. And if you want to gamble on that as the precious four weekends between Cyber Monday and Christmas fly by, be my guest: I’ll be wrapping the gifts I bought over Thanksgiving weekend while you’re fighting crowds at the mall or paying extra for next-day delivery.

Originally published Nov. 21, 3:30 a.m. PT.


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