Are you ready to rumble? The shopping matchup of the year, Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday, is nearly upon us. And that means it's time to set a shopping strategy for the most important items on your wish list: Do you buy them on Black Friday or hold out for a better deal on Cyber Monday?
The right move depends on what you need to buy and what kind of shopping experience you can tolerate. Use this holiday cheat sheet to decide which items to buy early on Black Friday and which purchases can wait until Cyber Monday.
What to buy on Black Friday
1. Trending toys. Remember when Tickle Me Elmo sold out by 10 a.m. on Black Friday in 1996? You never know which toys will generate that level of shopping hysteria, but you're better off not risking it. If the kids in your life have their hearts set on specific toys, prioritize those purchases. You may not get the lowest price, but you won't face a disappointed kiddo, either. Best-case scenario? You snag the last Hatchimals Wow Llalcorn and come home a hero.
2. Doorbusters on TVs and tech. Doorbusters are "loss leaders," items priced low enough to get you out of bed at 6 a.m. to go shopping at Best Buy (NYSE:BBY). You'll see these aggressive deals on TVs, gaming consoles, headphones, and other technology. Retailers make it work for them by limiting the number of units available at the doorbuster price -- which means they sell out quickly.
If something on your list turns up as a doorbuster, show up at the store early and be prepared to fend off other shoppers.
3. Appliances and other big-ticket items. Black Friday drives a lot of foot traffic into brick-and-mortar stores. And those retailers are ready to differentiate themselves from online competitors by spotlighting items that are far too big for next-day shipping.
Best Buy, Lowe's (NYSE:LOW), Home Depot (NYSE:HD), and Walmart (NYSE:WMT) are already promoting up to 70% savings on appliances. These deals may last through Cyber Monday, but they're not likely to get any bigger. Shop for your big-ticket items early, when you'll have a bigger selection.
4. Smartphones. You'll find smartphone deals running throughout the holiday shopping weekend, but the biggest discounts on newer-model phones will sell out early. Shop Walmart, Target (NYSE:TGT), or Best Buy on Black Friday for up to $500 off or a free $500 store gift card with activation.
What to buy on Cyber Monday
1. Beauty products. In 2018, Sephora and Ulta Beauty slashed prices on popular items by up to 50%. Beauty lovers also had their pick of gifts with purchase, seasonal beauty sets, and buy one, get one deals.
Expect beauty retailers to announce sales early and then ratchet up the discounts in the days leading up to Cyber Monday. You don't have to worry too much that inventory will sell out unless you're stalking a specific item that's trending.
2. Small home gadgets. Things like Roomba vacuums and Instant Pots should also be heavily discounted on Cyber Monday. Items that are small enough to ship or easy enough to pick up in store get overshadowed on Black Friday by refrigerators and dishwashers that aren't easy to purchase online. That means -- cross your fingers -- perhaps Best Buy will be ready to make you a deal on that Vitamix you've always wanted.
3. Clothes and random gifts. Sitewide discounts are popular on Cyber Monday, particularly among clothing retailers. In 2018, shoppers scored half-off everything, plus free shipping at Abercrombie & Fitch, Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Calvin Klein, Eddie Bauer, Express, Gap, Nine West, and Tommy Hilfiger. Even Target jumped into the mix with a 15% off sitewide deal for the day.
A sitewide deal from your favorite retailer gives you a broader pick of discounted goods. That's helpful when you haven't decided what to buy for the people on your gift list. Wait for Cyber Monday, and you can browse stores with sitewide discounts, knowing that you'll save on whatever you end up purchasing.
And for everything else on your list...
For everything else on your list, decide on the timing of your purchase by considering the size of the item and shopping experience you want. The general rule of thumb is to spend your Black Friday shopping for goods that are in high demand or hard to buy online. Of course, that makes sense only if you can handle the Black Friday in-store shopping experience. If you're chasing doorbusters, for example, plan on getting up early and, possibly, sparring for the last toy on the shelf.
On Cyber Monday, focus on smaller items and use sitewide discounts to browse your favorite retailers for the last few random gifts on your list.