We've got all the expert tips and tricks you need to know to the save the most during Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2018. 

By Abigail Wise
October 15, 2018
Asia Pietrzyk

When it comes to which shopping holiday will save you more—Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday—for years, Black Friday dominated, a tried and true tradition for many deal-saavy families. However, as retailers have rolled out sales on Thanksgiving (and even earlier) and more people have gravitated to online shopping, Cyber Monday has become a big draw for those who want to forgo the early wake-up call and long lines, and shop from the comfort of their couch.

As we become more and more reliant on digital tools and retailers drop prices to compete with one another, the line between the holidays is beginning to blur.

But one of the biggest differences between Cyber Monday and Black Friday remains: the style of shopping, says Vice President of PR and Events at Slickdeals, Regina Conway. “For example, we see more sitewide discounts or category-wide discounts on Cyber Monday, whereas Black Friday will often have very specific products such as electronics and home goods at deep, deep discounts,” she says. “However, more merchants have started advertising specific product deals on Cyber Monday and vice versa, so the holidays are starting to have more crossover.”

Wondering whether you should hit the aisles on Black Friday or browse the web from home on Cyber Monday? Five retail experts reveal how to to make the most of each holiday (and beyond!).

Black Friday 2018 

Save the date: November 23, 2018

Last year, retailers raked in $7.9 billion on Black Friday, up 18 percent year-over-year. Sixty-six million people shopped online, and a whopping 77 million consumers did their buying in-store.

That’s a lot of people to compete with, but it can pay off. While smaller items like clothing, consumables, and books won’t see that large of a price cut, Black Friday is still worth the pre-dawn alarm if you’re after deals on big-ticket items. Think: Household appliances, grills, TVs, and other electronics. “Stores use the doorbusters to whip you into a bargain-shopping frenzy in hopes that you'll buy more than the advertised bargains,” says Lisa Lee Freeman, co-host of the Hot Shopping Tips podcast. “The stores often barely break even or even lose money on doorbuster specials, but they make it back when shoppers stick around and buy other items that may not be such great deals.”

Here's how to make the most of Black Friday, according to experts:

  • Make a shopping list. Freeman suggests you start with a list and closely track prices ahead of the sales so you’re ready to pounce on those quick-to-go items and are less likely to overspend and waste money.
     
  • Map out your route. Kimberly Palmer, personal finance expert at Nerdwallet, recommends not only plotting out the items you’re after, but also your plan of attack when it comes to which retailer to visit first. “Some stores also release store maps so you know exactly where to go to find the products you want to buy,” she says.
     
  • Opt for the second-best deal to stay a step ahead of the madness. “A few years ago, my husband needed a new iPad and we decided to brave the Black Friday crowds,” says Slickdeals’ Conway. “We went to two different Target locations, both of which were sold out on the specific product, even though we were there within an hour of the sale start time. We ended up purchasing the iPad at Best Buy, which had it listed for about five dollars more, but had more inventory available. It was still a great deal and easier to access.”
     
  • Don’t get duped. It’s easy to get caught up in the shopping frenzy. Watch out for derivative products that are cheaper versions of the real thing, Palmer warns. “The cheaper items might be missing key features,” she says.
     
  • Go digital. Even though you’re not shopping online, embracing technology can help you save. “Sign up for email alerts from your favorite retailers and follow them on Facebook and Instagram for exclusive offers,” says Freeman. Last year, for example, Walmart promoted hourly manager specials to their Facebook fans, points out Andrea Woroch, a consumer and money saving expert.   
     
  • Rely on your phone. Cash-back apps like eBates and Retailmenot can help you maximize your savings while you spend. Freeman also recommends keeping your phone on hand to quickly search price comparisons in real time.
     
  • Shop with friends and split costs. Woroch suggests dividing and conquering or splitting bundle deals. “To make this even easier, use a money-transfer app like Zelle,” she says. “Money is available within minutes as long as both people are enrolled.”
     
  • Nail your timing. While it can be valuable to be one of the first in line for limited-quantity products, if you’re going to shop online on Black Friday, timing may not actually matter all that much. According to data from deal-finding browser extension Honey, online purchases spike well after sunrise. “On Black Friday, spending peaked at 11 a.m. PST in Los Angeles and at 12 p.m. EST in New York City,” says Kelly Parisi, Vice President of Communications at Honey.

Black Friday Pros:

  • 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."

Black Friday Cons:

  • 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 19.62 billion over the five-day period from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday. 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.

Cyber Monday 2018

Save the date: November 26, 2018 

Though more people shopped in-store and online on Black Friday 2017, Cyber Monday continues to beat Black Friday’s online sales. Last year, 81 million consumers shopped on Cyber Monday, bringing in $6.59 billion for retailers. 2017 marked a year-over-year increase of nearly 17 percent and set an all-time record of the most ever spent on the digital holiday.

Like on Black Friday, for online Cyber Monday shoppers, there’s no need to wake before the rooster crows. Honey’s Parsi says that for their users, spending peaked at 4 p.m. PST in Los Angeles and 11 p.m. EST in New York City last year. “On Cyber Monday, there is less pressure to get an early start because retailers are often better stocked online, where they store items in large warehouses—not on shop shelves with limited space—and can ship items from different locations to make up for shortfalls,” Palmer agrees. “Plus, many Cyber Monday sales actually start on Sunday.”

Here's how to shop smart on Cyber Monday, according to the pros:

  • Aim for smaller products and travel deals. Some of the best buys on Cyber Monday will surprise you, from apparel to shoes to beauty products, says consumer and money saving expert Woroch. “It’s also a great day to shop for travel deals, specifically airfare sales,” she says. “Apple products and other electronics will be a good deal on this day too.”
     
  • Embrace digital tools. They can further your Cyber Monday savings. Ayala thinks CamelCamelCamel.com is a great website if you’re shopping on Amazon, because it tracks prices on items you’re following and will send you alerts when prices go down.
  • Don’t get fooled by discount signs. Freeman of Hot Shopping Tips suggests browsing the web to compare prices on on-sale items to make sure you’re really getting the biggest bang for your buck.
  • Use Cyber Monday to do shopping you would have otherwise done. One big benefit to Cyber Monday is that stores usually offer percent-off deals that apply across multiple product categories, so you can potentially get a discount on a wider array of items, says Palmer. “In addition to double digit discounts, it’s easy to find free shipping offers,” she adds.
     
  • Let others do the work for you. Deal-specific sites like Wirecutter break down the best savings on products you actually want. Tune into the publication’s helpful Twitter feed to see what they’re excited about on Cyber Monday.
     
  • Read return policies. Before you click "purchase," be sure to review return policies so you know what you're in for if the product doesn't work out, says Woroch. “Is there an extended return window? Will you be charged restocking fees? Do you need to keep the original shipping box and packaging?”
     
  • Look at shipping costs. While items may not cost to ship at purchase, how much does it cost to return it in case it wasn’t what you’re after? “If you have to pay for shipping or return shipping it may be smarter to look elsewhere because the delivery fees could cancel out the savings,” says Woroch. “Knowing these details ahead of time is key to saving money and your sanity.”

Cyber Monday Pros:

  • It's more convenient. You can shop Cyber Monday deals from your couch, your bed, anywhere! And there's no standing in long lines.
     
  • 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.
     
  • Cyber Monday allows you to visit multiple stores at once by switching between various tabs on your computer—a plus if you want to shop the best price for an item.

Cyber Monday Cons:

  • 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.
     
  • 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

Unless you’re after a doorbuster or catch a thrill from battling crowds on three hours of sleep, Cyber Monday can find you the same or better deals from the comfort of your home.

7 Secrets for Saving Money When You ShopAny Time of Year

  • Use apps to check prices in real-time. “The app ShopSavvy is really useful when you’re out shopping in stores because you can scan the barcode on items and see if there is a better deal elsewhere,” says Palmer of Nerdwallet. Woroch is also a fan of ShopSavvy, as well as Flipp, which provides circulars all in one place so you can quickly compare to plan your shopping trip strategically.
     
  • ...And apps that help increase your savings. Swagbucks, another one of Woroch’s go-tos, provides cash back for all your shopping.
     
  • Consider your credit card. Think carefully about which credit card you’re using to do your shopping to maximize your cash back or rewards, says Palmer. “If you are shopping at Amazon, you can earn five percent cash back using the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature, for example.”
     
  • You can save even more money by shopping with discounted gift cards. “Companies like CardCash and Raise offer gift cards up to fifty percent off, so a one-hundred-dollar gift card could be purchased for only fifty dollars,” says Conway of Slickdeals. “Some gift cards to popular merchants may be a lesser savings, but every dollar counts, especially if you're making a larger purchase.”
     
  • Install a browser extension. Tools like Honey hang out quietly while you shop, combing the web for the lowest price on whatever you’re buying. “One tool that saves Honey members time and money is Droplist,” says Honey’s Parisi. “Droplist watches selected items, notifying shoppers when the price of an item drops below the amount initially chosen. Droplist monitors the price of the item for 30, 60, or 90 days and will automatically send an email when the price drops to the amount that was set.”
     
  • Shop according to product. Woroch urges shoppers to wait to buy winter apparel and accessories until closer to the holidays or in early January. “Toys are best to buy in the first two weeks of December, based on price histories,” she says. “Gift wrap, decor, and other seasonal merchandise like pre-lit Christmas trees are a better buy after the holidays.”
     
  • Mark your calendar for major sales. Amazon Prime Day and the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale, for example, offer deep discounts on clothes, home decor, kitchen essentials, and beyond.