En español | Shopping for doorbuster deals used to be pretty simple.
Not that it was easy — it typically involved lining up for hours in the predawn chill on Black Friday (or, at some stores, in the Thanksgiving dusk). But it was straightforward: When the store doors opened, you made a beeline for the handful of flat-screen TVs or next-gen iPhones available at a super markdown, maybe jostling a few fellow shoppers aside to get there first.
With the growth of e-commerce, brick-and-mortar doorbusters have receded as the default mode of Black Friday shopping, especially in this pandemic year. Seven in 10 respondents to a holiday shopping survey by BlackFriday.com said stores should either close on Black Friday or eschew doorbusters — and that was in August, before the fall spike in COVID-19 cases.
Still, the doorbuster hasn't disappeared, shopping experts say — it has just gone digital.
"A doorbuster can be something that gives a retailer an edge on a major sale day, by encouraging consumers to do a lot of their shopping in one location,” says Casey Runyan, managing editor of discount guide Brad's Deals. “The shift to online shopping makes that trickier, but there is still an advantage for retailers that can give consumers a reason to spend money with them before shopping at other stores."
That means plenty of savings opportunities for the 54 percent of shoppers who plan to make purchases on Black Friday (and the 60 percent who anticipate doing so on Cyber Monday), according to a new AARP holiday survey.
So, what makes a deal a doorbuster if there's no door to bust?
Price. “I would say broadly that a discount of 30 percent off or more for popular name-brand products and closer to 40 percent off or more for lesser-known products would constitute a doorbuster,” says smart-shopping guru Trae Bodge, who tracks deals year-round at her site True Trae.
Product. “Deals that have that doorbuster feel are heavily advertised, have prices that catch the eye, and often are in hot or trendy product categories like TVs, air fryers or stand mixers,” says Nathan Burrow, deals editor for Wirecutter, the New York Times’ product-review site.
Scarcity. Doorbusters are typically available for a limited time and in short supply, says Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert at coupon clearinghouse RetailMeNot. While the days of having only two or three of a hot item at the doorbuster price are past, many stores do limit stocks for top deals.
Skirboll expects retailers “to get creative and host online doorbusters, potentially with flash sales and online queues to try and mimic the in-store experience."
Here are some top tips from shopping pros on busting down virtual doors to get the best Black Friday deals.
1. Check the Black Friday ads
Most major retailers put out online and print circulars cataloguing their holiday deals. “Especially this year, it is important to note when a specific deal is going live according to the ad,” Runyan says. “Retailers have been staggering their events, so the times and dates can vary from page to page.”
You can peruse ads galore and compare prices at deal aggregator sites like BlackFriday.com, Best Black Friday and Brad's Deals. Major stores’ websites also have prominent links to their Black Friday sales.
2. Keep up with deal sites
In addition to sharing scans of big retailers’ Black Friday ads, which can stretch over dozens of pages, sites like those listed above rate deals and break out the best from each store. Bodge also recommends consulting Slickdeals’ Black Friday deals page, which gathers input from millions of users to post the best finds, and using cash-back sites like CouponCabin to track down extra savings.
3. Sign up for store emails
Another way to sort through the “dizzying number of deals,” Bodge says, is signing up for emails from your favorite retailers so you get advance word on digital doorbusters before they drop.
4. Set alerts
Like the in-store doorbusters of old, the best Black Friday deals online may be over fast. When you find the ones you want, set alerts on your mobile or computer calendar “so you don't miss out,” Skirboll suggests. “Have the site and item pulled up on your browser so you can be ready to hit checkout as soon as it is live."
5. Look for rebates
Runyan calls this one of her favorite “secret” tips. “Many doorbuster-type deals involve a rebate,” she says, “so if you go to that page on a retailer's site, you can see all of the rebate offers at one time.”
Look for the rebates link in the navigation menu at the bottom of the page, or do a search for the retailer's name and “rebate.”
6. Get browser extensions
Install a tool like RetailMeNot's Deal Finder or CouponCabin's Sidekick on your web browser to add savings on top of the sale price. These extensions search for coupon codes and cash-back offers as you shop and apply them at checkout — saving you time and money.
7. Don't just look at the price
Doorbuster deals “are not often from marquee brands, and when they are, they're often an older model or an alternate version,” Burrow says. “Item quality is our first consideration when we vet a deal [at Wirecutter], but if you can find that rare combination of quality and price in doorbuster form, we recommend you move judiciously but quickly."
8. Compare before you check out
When you've got a doorbuster item in your cart, do a quick search to make sure you're getting the best deal. “Just because you found what seems like a great sale on something doesn't mean you've found the very best price,” Bodge says. “Google Shopping is good for this.”
9. Don't pay for shipping
Delivery charges could eat into that doorbuster discount, Runyan warns, so plan your order to meet the threshold for free shipping. “This is very easy at retailers like Walmart and Target, where you can pad your order with things you always need, like laundry detergent and garbage bags. If padding your order isn't an option, see if you can do free curbside pickup.”
Watch out for Black Friday scams
Online shopping scams have surged during the coronavirus pandemic, according to tracking by the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau. As you shop this holiday season, take these steps to avoid doorbuster deals that turn out to be actual steals.
- Shop with retailers you know, and be sure you're on their actual websites, especially if you got there via an email, text message, social media post or search link touting a great deal — scammers are adept at creating lookalike sites to snare consumers.
- Pay by credit card. Federal law limits consumer liability for fraudulent credit card purchases to $50, and many card providers offer 100 percent protection. If a retailer seeks payment by money order, wire transfer or gift card, it's a scam.
- Don't give an online retailer more information than it needs. That should be just your billing information and the shipping address. If they ask for your Social Security number or other private data, go elsewhere.
- Research deals involving unfamiliar stores or brands. Search for their name with words like “complaint” and “scam.” Black Friday is all about big discounts, but if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Learn more about online shopping scams and other common cons at the AARP Fraud Resource Center.