Will Thanksgiving Day upstage Black Friday for online tech sales?

Best Buy, Target, Sears, Staples and other major retailers have been releasing their Black Friday ads and circulars for the past week, setting up for what should be a busy shopping day for TVs, laptops, tablets and other electronics. But savvy shoppers who can negotiate time away from the family, turkey and football on Thanksgiving Day itself could also score bargains.

Michael Brim, founder of the BFAds website, which focuses on Black Friday offers, says retailers have increasingly been sneaking deals traditionally reserved for the day after Thanksgiving into their stores and online to their websites on Thanksgiving Day. The challenge for shoppers, he says, is that these deals generally aren't heavily promoted, so you must be willing to poke around.

Brim says it's been five or six years since he's personally ventured into physical stores on Black Friday, taking his chances with increasingly ample online shopping opportunities from big name retailers (including those in the electronics field) on the day after Thanksgiving. "Over the past couple of years almost all sale items are available online as well as in stores," he says.

The added benefit of shopping online on Black Friday is that you can be in multiple virtual stores at once, avoid the physical crowds and lines, and have the benefit of accessing Amazon. The main concern is whether retailers' servers can withstand the traffic strain; they haven't always done so, even as recently as last year's holiday shopping season. (And, as any security product vendor will tell you, you need to beware of phony retail websites when shopping online during Black Friday or Cyber Monday).

While Best Buy, Sears and others will all have great deals, Brim emphasizes that Amazon really has the online shopping experience down better than others, generally making for a better Web-based buying experience. Amazon is also proactive about monitoring other retailers' sites and offering competitive deals. "I just trust them more for online shopping than big-box retailers, where you hear more about sales being made, but then having items back-ordered or even having orders canceled when you go for in-store pickup," he says.

Deals on Apple?

As usual, shoppers probably will not find much in the way of Apple product bargains this holiday shopping season, Brim says. However, some retailers do find ways around Apple's strict policies against selling its iPads, MacBooks and other gear for less than the manufacturer's suggested retail price. For example, the BFAds website showed an iPad 2 with Wi-Fi and 16GB of storage being offered for the usual $499 by a retailer called Meijer, but the retailer also tossed in an $80 gift card to use at the store. And it's not as if Apple never has sales around this time of year: It did last year.

Brim says there will be deals to be had on tablets, but prices have already come down on many products as vendors attempt to make a dent in Apple's market share. He's seeing more action on the e-reader front, such as a Target ad for a Kindle Keyboard 3G at $85, way down from the typical $140 price tag at Amazon. This year should again offer many bargains on HDTVs and laptop computers. One thing he's noticed is that the TV deals are for both lesser-known names (a 24-inch Dynex LCD for $80 at Best Buy) and bigger brand names (a 42-inch Sharp LCD set for $200 at Best Buy). "It's kind of doubly overwhelming to have good TV deals and brand names," he says.

The other interesting twist this holiday shopping season is that buying via mobile devices is expected to take off, including by shoppers who plan to use their device while in a store. (IBM recently issued survey findings about this.) Mobile ad network InMobi this week said it has found that some 21 million mobile device users plan to make purchases directly from their handset over the upcoming holiday weekend. Price comparison shopping on mobile devices is expected to more than double from a year ago, according to the study based on 907 mobile users.

Anne Frisbie, vice president and managing director for North America at InMobi, said in a statement: "The study highlights that mobile is cannibalizing desktop shopping and shows that mobile devices will be a critical tool in all facets of shopping this holiday season. It will be ubiquitous both in the store and online, and successful brands and advertisers have a tremendous opportunity to differentiate themselves by creating an exceptional mobile experience."

Retailers last year cranked up their social media efforts via Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and the like to entice shoppers to make online or in-store purchases. This year should be even more intense.

This story, "Will Thanksgiving Day upstage Black Friday for online tech sales?" was originally published by Network World.

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