'Tis the season for turkey, stuffing—and serious sales. Whether you're trying to knock holiday shopping off your to-do list or you're in the market for a new TV, Black Friday and Cyber Monday seem to offer opportunities for big price cuts. But is one retail holiday better than the other, and do you have to shop on either one to snag the best deals? We talked to the experts to map out the pros and cons of Black Friday versus Cyber Monday—and to see if it's better to hold off altogether.
More than 60 percent of shoppers prefer to shop in-store, according to one survey. For some, Black Friday is a tradition of early rising and massive sales. Others use the retail holiday to get ahead in their holiday shopping. No matter the reason for battling the lines, shoppers are there to spend. The spending median is $200, and the average? Nearly $400 per person. But are the crowds really worth the deals?
- Black Friday offers serious savings on items like computers and other electronics, says Matthew Ong, senior retail analyst at NerdWallet. It's also a good time to see big savings on home goods, says Regina Novickis, Consumer Expert with Slickdeals.
- Black Friday offers the opportunity that any in-person shopping experience does: trying on clothes, and seeing products in person before purchasing them.
- You won't have to worry about canceled orders. "The biggest pro about shopping in-store is that if you have the item in your cart and you check out, that item is yours," says Michael Brim, founder of BFAds.net.
- Shipping fees? Not if you shop in-store.
- "Exclusive deals. Some super-low Black Friday sales are unavailable online or unadvertised surprises," Ong says. "Be there in person to take advantage of deals that Cyber Monday may not be able to match."
- Waking up at 4 a.m. definitely isn't for everyone. Plus, some stores now open on Thanksgiving, meaning shopping may cut into family time.
- The main con is obviously the cold, crowds and chaos. But just because Black Friday traditionally means in-store shopping, doesn't mean that many retailers won't offer sales online. Last year, online sales hit nearly $2 billion over Thanksgiving and Black Friday. So if you don't want to wake up in the middle of the night to battle crowds and wait in long lines, check with your favorite stores to see if you can do it all from the comfort of your home.
For those who'd rather shop from the convenience of their computer, Cyber Monday offers a cozy alternative to waiting in line before dawn. Last year, the day raked in more than $2 billion for online retailers, 16 percent more than the previous year. But is Cyber Monday actually better than Black Friday?
- It's faster. Only 25 percent of shoppers spend more time than intended buying items online, as opposed to 40 percent of in-store shoppers.
- Cyber Monday generally means more retailer-wide discounts, rather than product-specific ones that pop up on Black Friday, says Novickis. But occasionally, the specific products that do get marked down on Cyber Monday are serious steals. "If a merchant stocked up on a product for Black Friday and then it didn’t sell as well as expected, there could be a deeper discount on Cyber Monday," she says.
- Just like any day, shopping online tends to be more convenient than traveling to the store itself. You can do it anywhere, even from work, says Brim.
- Most of the deals hit stores, or even online, on Black Friday, meaning by the time Cyber Monday rolls around, some of the best savings have already been sold out. "Cyber Monday is more of an extension of Black Friday than it's own separate holiday," says Brim.
- As with any online shopping, you miss out on the opportunity to see a product before swiping your card. If you're worried about return policies, be sure to check out our Black Friday return policy roundup.
- Cyber Monday allows you to visit multiple stores at once by switching between various tabs on your computer.
- When you shop online, you're competing for items against a nationwide (or even worldwide) audience, Brim says. That could mean that products sell out before you check-out, or even canceled orders in some situations.
The Bottom Line
If you're into the adventure and hustle of finding a fast deal, Black Friday is right up your alley, but if you'd rather cook 10 turkey dinners solo than battle those crowds, Cyber Monday is more up your alley. "Black Friday has the best product-level discounts, but Cyber Monday has some great store-wide discounts on major categories like clothing," says Ong.
Of course, you don't have to to swipe your card on Friday or Monday to save. Retailers continue to offer sales before and after the two big days. If the stress of impulse buys is just too much, shop at your leisure before the big sales hit, or wait for the pre-holiday sales to start. It's always smart to hold off on go-to gift items like toys, says Novickis. While they may be on sale during Black Friday or Cyber Monday, there will likely be even larger sales on potential presents during the holiday shopping season.
Expert Tips for Saving the Most This Season
- "As is true with any gift you buy online, keep an eye out for shipping dates to ensure an on-time holiday delivery," says Elizabeth Hebda, shopping expert at LivingSocial.
- Before you head out to shop, make sure to research the timing of the sales you're after. Some items may go on sale right at 4 a.m. on Black Friday, while other retailers may save some specials for Cyber Monday. "Even Black Friday is not a one-size fits all event anymore," Novickis says.
- Don't forget to follow your favorite retailers on social media. Seventeen percent of consumers scan the Facebook pages of brands, hunting for specials on the sale weekend.
- If you are looking to do your shopping exclusively online, bookmark the pages with the deals you're interested in so that you can open them instantly, suggests Novickis.
- Take the day of the week into consideration, especially if you're waiting until after Black Friday and Cyber Monday to shop. Generally speaking, Monday is the best day to buy electronics, Wednesday will save you the most on jewelry, Saturday is the best day for books, and Sunday for appliances.
- For both Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it's a waiting game, says Brim. "Either being in front of the line or arriving to the website once the sale starts represents your best chance of getting those highly sought-after Black Friday items."
- But don't get caught up in the excitement. Spend within your limits and take your budget and shopping list into account. "Remember, it’s not a deal if you have to charge it and then pay interest on your credit card later," Novickis says.