What to Buy on Thanksgiving, Black Friday And Cyber Monday

You might shop on Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but there's only one reason to shop on all three: If deals on the gifts you're looking for are spread out over all three days.

Last year, ComScore notes that little more than $5 billion of the $56.4 billion spent online during the holiday season last year was spent on Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Throw in the weekend days in between and that total jumps to $7.2 billion, up a combined 10% from the same period in 2014.

Of the 151 million people that the National Retail Federation (NRF) says went shopping during Thanksgiving weekend last year, more people said they did that weekend's shopping online (103 million) instead of in stores (102 million). While 72.8% of that weekend's store shoppers went out on Black Friday itself and 34% went out on Thanksgiving day. Of those who went shopping at all that weekend, 50.4% said they did so because the deals were too good to pass up, while 25.5% said it was simply a way to fill the hours during the holiday weekend.

That said, ComScore notes that the $1.1 billion in online spending on Thanksgiving Day in 2015 didn't even rank among holiday season's Top 10. As for Black Friday, the $1.65 billion online total came in third to both Cyber Monday ($2.3 billion) and the Tuesday immediately afterward ($1.95 billion). As we've mentioned before, there's little reason to miss Thanksgiving dinner or lose sleep on Black Friday anymore.

Yet those retail holidays still market the start of the holiday shopping season for many U.S. consumers. A survey conducted by the NRF and Prosper Insights in October found that, despite 40.6% of consumers getting a jump on their holiday shopping before November, 56.4% still hold off until November and early December -- especially the prized 18-34 demographic.

"While many holiday shoppers are starting early on their gift lists, Millennials are waiting to catch the best deals for their gifts, with nearly half (46 percent) waiting until November to start shopping," Prosper Insights Principal Analyst Pam Goodfellow said. "Younger consumers are likely to be looking forward to the Thanksgiving/Black Friday shopping 'experience' — and know that retailers will be offering great promotions that weekend."

But exactly what they'll be offering promotions on varies from day to day. The folks at retail analysis site DealNews note that, in 2015, Thanksgiving Day offered a higher percentage of standout sales (38%) than either Black Friday (31%) or Cyber Monday (36%). In fact, they broke down last year's sales while making predictions of 2016's Thanksgiving-through-Cyber Monday offerings.

Thanksgiving

Yes, Target, Walmart and Best Buy will still be open that day, but a lot of brick-and-mortar stores are checking out. Last year, Nordstrom, Home Depot, Lowe's, Costco, Barnes & Noble, BJ's Wholesale Club, GameStop, H&M, the TJX stores (Marshall's, Home Goods, T.J. Maxx), REI and DSW were among the retailers that closed on Thanksgiving Day. This year, The Mall of America and mall operator CBL & Associates (which runs 89 malls around the country) have opted to shut it down as well.

However, that doesn't mean there aren't a ton of deals to be found: Especially on electronics. Cameras (look for bundled deals), iPhones ($200 off the 6, $100 for the 7), speakers (Best Buy for brick-and-mortar, Newegg online), TVs (midsize 4K for $500, gift cards with bigger sets) and tablets (non-iPads will drop 20% or more) are all worth checking out in between the parade and football or after dinner.

Black Friday

Market research firm ShopperTrak notes that Black Friday sales at brick-and-mortar stores dropped 12% last year from 2014. There's a reason for that: Getting up early in the morning to get elbowed in the face over a TV brand you've never heard of is nobody's idea of a good time.

Fortunately, the best deals on Black Friday boil down to just three items: headphones, tools and toys. Parents have long known that this is the best-only time to hit Toys R Us for deep "Block Friday" discounts on Lego sets and other exclusives. Granted, even Target jumped in on the Star Wars action last year, but DealNews suggest Amazon is the place to go if you'd like to avoid the masses at any of the above.

Headphone discounts of 75% or more will be available anywhere, but the big home and garden chain didn't do any favors for folks looking for $10 power tools. Being closed on Thanksgiving means just about everyone will be in the store for Black Friday or the ensuing weekend sales. Our advice, drop in midday on a Saturday, which is when we picked up a shop vacuum for at a $35 Black Friday price. The place won't be dead, but the crowds won't be unwieldy, either.

Cyber Monday

This day's entire advantage was the ability to shop and not deal with giant masses of people. Now that you can basically do that any day of Thanksgiving week and get a deal, why wait until you're back at work?

Because that's when a whole lot of items just plummet in price. Laptops from companies you actually know sell for less than $300. The price of Google Android phones drops dramatically. Newegg will have hard drives and thumb drives for a fraction of the cost. Clothing, especially coats and jackets, gets discounts of up to 50%. Amazon basically cleans out its beauty supply section. Most importantly, however, you can get that $10 hotel room in Vegas if you take advantage of the day's travel deals.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

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