If you're planning to stand outside a superstore for hours, waiting for the doors to open at "oh-dark-hundred" just to make the dash for one of the door-buster bargains on Black Friday, then you probably need a strong cup of coffee, or maybe even a nice nap, more than you need my advice.
But for the rest of us, girding up to venture into the wilds of Mall Country in search of gadget bargains, here are some tips to keep in mind.
You're Still in Time: The door-buster items get a lot of attention, and it’s true that many of them are sold out within the first 15 minutes of a store's opening. But that’s not always the case, especially with bigger ticket items in smaller markets. It’s worth checking to see if your local store still has any of these rock-bottom deals, even if you’re showing up at a civilized hour (meaning after sunrise).
Resist Impulse: Do some homework before you go if you’re looking for something specific, such as a digital photo frame or a GPS for the car. Check the sales circulars to see what the going rate is so you’ll recognize a great bargain when you find it. Be especially careful about the enticing geegaws you might encounter, like the keychain with an LCD that shows digital photos. These inexpensive devices are often cheaply made from cheap parts, and may deliver poor performance over a short lifespan.
These Prices Will Last: Also don’t feel that you have to buy today to get a good bargain. The retailers feel the slower economy's pinch, and they have inventory to sell. Chances are excellent that "One Day Only" prices will reappear before the holidays.
Stick to Big Brands: If you want quality, it’s always a good idea to stick with the major brands, especially if you don’t know the market in depth. Big names like Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, Garmin, Nikon, Canon, and Apple are generally safe bets, even when you’re buying the most inexpensive models.
Gifts to Avoid: There are some categories of consumer electronic products and other gadgets that are very much subject to individual taste, such as earphones for MP3 players, cell phones, and anything that requires a monthly subscription, such as a satellite radio. A gift certificate can be a safer way to go, unless you know for sure what the recipient wants. And even then, make sure that it can be returned for a refund or credit.
Some Gadget Deals to Watch For:
Watch for a variety of high-definition Blu-ray movie disc players for under $100. This is still quite a lot more than you’d pay for an equivalent DVD player, but the prices are finally down to a level people will find attractive. Models from Sony and Samsung will be available for under $150.
Apple iPods remain fairly expensive, but you’ll find other MP3 players with 4GB capacity for under $30. For under $50, you’ll find MP3 players from SanDisk (a good brand) with 4GB — or even 8GB — of storage.
40- and 42-inch flat panel televisions will be widely available for less than $600, even from top brands such as Samsung and Sharp. 50-inch plasma and 46-inch LCD sets will be available for less than $800.
You’ll have many choices for car GPS systems under $100, which will outperform systems that cost three times as much just a few years ago. Garmin is the leading brand, with Magellan and Tom Tom holding second and third position.
Bargains abound for digital cameras, many bearing price tags under $100. And not just the "toys" intended for children (which you can find for $30 or less). You’ll find choices from Nikon, Kodak, Olympus, Samsung, and Sony below the three-digit mark.
For grandparents with a computer, consider a webcam (a video camera for a computer). Using the free service Skype, you can use a computer to make a free video call to any other computer. It’s a great way to stay in touch with young grandchildren, even from a long distance, and you’ll find choices from top brands such as Logitech for less than $20. At that price, you can get one for each member of your family.
Prices for digital photo frames have dropped significantly in recent years, and you’ll find lots of models with 8-inch (diagonal) LCD screens for less than $50. These frames can show hundreds of different pictures in a continuous slide show instead of just the one picture you can squeeze into a regular photo frame.