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Your Guide to Black Friday Shopping

Black Friday, once a one-day blowout sale, has steadily ballooned over the past few years. Black Friday is now, in essence, Cyber Month — it’s not uncommon to see Black Friday sales promoted weeks ahead of the day itself.

This year, as early as mid-October, Wirecutter, the product recommendation site owned by The New York Times Company, saw Black Friday pricing on Wirecutter picks from retailers like Walmart, Best Buy and Target. The coronavirus pandemic is to blame for this phenomenon: Because of supply issues, Amazon pushed Prime Day (its annual deals bonanza) from July to October, which set off a domino effect of early holiday deals.

This new Black Friday timeline complicates things a bit because it’s hard to know when you’re getting the best price on what you want to buy. To help calm nerves, Newegg, Target and Best Buy are all offering price-match protection for select items this holiday season, meaning that if the retailer drops its price on one of those products you’ve already bought, you’ll be refunded the difference. Just be sure to read the fine print before you buy (Best Buy, for instance, requires you to create a free MyBestBuy account to be eligible).

But for everything else, and with the pandemic-related considerations of stock issues and shipping delays, I consulted my colleague and Wirecutter Deals editor Nathan Burrow, who has years of experience scouring the internet for the lowest prices to post on the Wirecutter Deals page. If you’re interested in more, subscribe to the daily Wirecutter Deals newsletter for the best deals the team finds.

Fitness deals. Better deals on fitness gear typically surface in December and January, Mr. Burrow said, just in time to make good on that New Year’s resolution. But since the pandemic shuttered gyms across the country earlier this year, the demand for at-home workout essentials has skyrocketed, making products like well-constructed dumbbells and resistance bands hard to find — and what you can find in stock tends to be cheaply made knockoff gear offered at higher-than-typical prices. If you see quality fitness gear in stock, buy now, even if the deal isn’t great; you may not see it pop up again.

The Nintendo Switch. Shoppers who have been itching to get their hands on the popular hand-held gaming device since the start of the pandemic know how difficult it has been to find. Whether you’d like to give the Switch this holiday season or keep it for yourself to fully embrace Animal Crossing, Mr. Burrow expects that discounts will be marginal at best and that the devices will probably continue to sell quickly. Both the Switch and the Switch Lite are available for purchase at full price now, but that may not last.

Work-from-home essentials. The pandemic-related shift to more working from home has driven up demand for essentials like office chairs, standing desks, monitors and monitor arms. That doesn’t mean there won’t be discounts this holiday season — it just means you have to act fast if you see a price drop on something you need.

Smart displays and other video-calling tech. If you are celebrating Thanksgiving remotely this year, you may need a new device to video chat with your loved ones. The Wirecutter Deals team has already spotted record low prices on the Amazon Echo Show and the slightly smaller Echo Show 8 from Target, Best Buy and Amazon. They’re worth buying now.

Kitchen gear you expect to use on Thanksgiving. Small kitchen appliances — KitchenAid stand mixers, Instant Pots, sous vide machines and more — reliably go on sale this time of year. If you know you’ll need an appliance for Thanksgiving prep, buy now. If not, you may be able to save slightly more on Black Friday.

Laptops — sort of. The Wirecutter Deals team has seen a lot of good early Black Friday deals on Wirecutter picks like the Lenovo c740, the Lenovo c940 and the Lenovo X1 Carbon (8th Gen) from Best Buy and Lenovo itself. Mr. Burrow expects the same deals again on Black Friday, supply permitting, but whether you can wait that long comes down to your needs. Because it’s a bit of a tossup, follow the Wirecutter Deals team coverage in the run-up to Black Friday, and we’ll do the vetting of deals for you.

Audio gear. Wait until Black Friday if anything audio-related — wireless earbuds, noise-canceling headphones, portable Bluetooth speakers, soundbars and more — tops your wish list. Mr. Burrow says it’s better to wait because the discounts will probably be steeper.

Apple devices. Apple rarely offers significant discounts on its products, but Mr. Burrow expects a few small drops on the new Apple Watch Series 6 and Series 6 SE come Black Friday. The Wirecutter Deals team has already spotted a few deals for the new 8th-generation iPad in the past few weeks, and it’s likely we’ll still see better deals closer to the big deals event. Even if you’re thinking of upgrading to the new iPhone (which probably won’t see markdowns), Mr. Burrow still suggests waiting: Many retailers, including Apple itself, will offer gift cards (rather than lower prices) in exchange for products purchased. It’s better to wait and collect a store gift card than to shop now and leave empty-handed.

Health and grooming. Mr. Burrow predicts that the price of razors, electric hair trimmers, toothbrushes and hairstyling tools will drop on Black Friday. Wait to nab these personal care products when they’re at their lowest.

Vacuums. Though many stores are now offering great early deals on all types of vacuums, it’s worth waiting until Black Friday to buy. Even if the prices don’t drop much lower, you’ll have more options to choose from: Whether you’re looking for a robot vacuum that does the work for you or a cordless Dyson stick vacuum, the deals will be there.

Mattresses. There will be a few Black Friday mattress discounts this year, but the best deals historically arrive in February. Unless your mattress is keeping you up at night, wait it out. The prices will be better, and you’ll have a better range of options, too.

Outdoor gear. REI doesn’t participate in Black Friday, but it holds two yearly sales, in May and September. During those sales, you will have a wider array of discounted gear to choose from, and a variety of retailers to choose from, because Backcountry and Amazon typically match many of REI’s discounts. But if you can’t wait, Mr. Burrow expects to see a few small deals on outdoor gear this month.

Bedding and linens. If you need a new comforter, it’s worth waiting a few months. We’ve come to expect better deals on a wider range of options in January and February. That’s when department stores typically host their seasonal white sales, offering bedding, linens and other household goods for cheap.

Interested in learning more about the best things to buy and how to use them? Visit Wirecutter, where you can read the latest reviews and find daily deals.

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