If this year’s Black Friday deals are giving you deja vu, you’re not alone.
Retailers, it turns out, tend to repeat the same promotions every year: Macy’s has been selling $39.99 cashmere sweaters for five years running, while Best Buy has marked down the same 6-foot HDMI cable to $9.99 each Black Friday since 2013. At Kohl’s, go-tos include $9.99 sweaters (every year since 2012) and $199 KitchenAid mixers (since 2013).
“It’s simple: Retailers are under a lot of pressure and don’t want to upend a formula they know is working,” said Rebecca Lehmann, who tracks repeat discounts for the site Brad’s Deals. “It doesn’t hurt that many of these are giftable items.”
Take, for instance, Target’s $18 Razor scooters, or Macy’s $7.99 toasters and panini makers. They’ve been offered at the same price for years — “inflation has yet to catch up,” Lehmann says — because customers have grown accustomed to expecting them.
Online spending is expected to surpass $100 billion for the first time this holiday season. By 5 p.m. Thursday, Americans had already spent $1.52 billion online on Thanksgiving Day, up 17 percent from last year, according to Adobe Analytics.
So what else are you likely to see — other than $5 board games at Toys R Us and $169 recliners at Walmart — when you start shopping this holiday weekend? Here’s a checklist to guide you.
1. Online deals hours, if not days, before you find them in stores.
It used to be the Black Friday promotions actually started on Black Friday. Not anymore.
Retailers have been trotting out discounts for weeks. Best Buy kicked off its “Black Friday” discounts on hundreds of items, including big-screen TVs, Apple Watches and tablets on Nov. 1. Walmart followed a day later, with $6 pajamas and $998 Samsung TVs.
Kohl’s unveiled its discounts Monday, while Old Navy is offering 50 percent off everything beginning Wednesday. Toys R Us will roll out many of its Black Friday deals online beginning at 9 p.m. Wednesday.
The real action, though, begins just after midnight on Thursday, when Walmart, Kohl’s, J.C. Penney and many others begin offering their steepest discounts online.
But how do you know you’re getting a good deal? “Consumers should keep the number 37 in mind this year — that’s the average discount offered across retailers,” said Jill Gonzalez, an analyst for personal finance website WalletHub. “Anything less, and they might not be getting a true Black Friday deal.”
2. Toys — everywhere.
The hottest toys are already flying off shelves — and selling out, in many cases — so analysts say scoring discounts on the most coveted toys can be tricky. (Many retailers also say they’ve scaled back on inventory this year, which may make it even more challenging to track down what you’re looking for.)
“There’s really no pattern when it comes to toy discounts,” said Trae Bodge, a shopping analyst. “My advice is, if you see a discount on something that’s on your list: Get it, because it might sell out.”
Toys R Us, which filed for bankruptcy protection in September, is keeping its stores open for 30 hours straight beginning at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Its “door buster” deals include half-price Baby Alive dolls and a 40 percent discount on Lego construction sets.
But you may also see toys cropping up in some unexpected places, as retailers compete for shoppers’ dollars. Bass Pro Shops will be selling Build-A-Bears, while Bergdorf Goodman, Bon Ton and Bloomingdales store now carry items by FAO Schwarz.
3. Discounts on electronics — including iPhones.
If there’s one thing you can count on year after year, it’s discounted electronics.
“TVs, reliably, are always very deeply discounted on Black Friday and Cyber Monday,” Bodge said. Best Buy, for example, is offering 50-inch Sharp TVs for $179.99, while Walmart has marked down 65-inch curved TVs by Samsung to $997.99.
But this year, she says, shoppers are in for a treat: Rare discounts on newly released iPhones.
“Apple is known for not offering promotions, but retailers are finding their way around that with gift cards,” Bodge said.
Walmart is offering a $300 gift card with the purchase of a $999 iPhone X, as long as shoppers sign a two-year contract with AT&T or Verizon. (The discount also applies to the purchase of an iPhone 7, 7 Plus, 8 and 8 Plus.)
Target, meanwhile, will give shoppers a $250 gift card if they buy an iPhone 8 or 8 Plus, while Best Buy is offering $200 for the same models.
4. Widespread markdowns on clothing and accessories.
Deeply discounted clothing is nothing new. In fact, analysts say customers have grown to expect markdowns of 30 percent or 40 percent on apparel all year long.
But prices are likely to drop even lower this holiday season as desperate retailers look to shore up sales. Roughly 1 in 3 discounts being touted over Black Friday are in apparel or accessories, making it the most frequently marked down category of goods, according to an analysis by the personal finance site WalletHub.
On average, clothing and accessories will be marked down 48 percent, while jewelry will be discounted 59 percent, the analysis found.
“Black Friday is a great time to stock up on fall clothing,” Bodge said. But don’t worry if you forget a thing or two: Cold-weather apparel and accessories, she said, tend to be discounted throughout December.
5. Low prices on small kitchen appliances.
“Anything that sits on the counter, you’ll see good deals on,” Bodge said. “Toasters, slow cookers and food processors have become a popular category, especially at department stores.”
“Limited quantity” doorbusters at Kohl’s, for example, include mini-choppers, can openers and hand mixers for $4.99. J.C. Penney and Macy’s are selling rice cookers, griddles and waffle makers for $7.99, while Walmart has marked down blenders and deep fryers to $9.88.
While these might not be the flashiest items on your shopping list, Bodge says they can make for reliable holiday presents — particularly for someone you may not know very well.
“They are fun, yet practical gifts,” she said. “And the prices have gotten so low.”