(MoneyWatch) A long history of retailers offering massive discounts on the day after Thanksgiving has many consumers believing the Black Friday is the best shopping day of the year. But beware. Between the door busters and great deals are some offers that could put a bit of “bah humbug” in your holiday season, from bogus sales to restrictive return policies. Moreover, some products tend to get cheaper as the holiday season wears on.
Here are the things you shouldn't buy — and bad deals you should avoid — on Black Friday.
Better deals at other times
There are a handful of products that you might be tempted to buy on Black Friday, but should wait to purchase if you're looking for the best deal, according to DealNews. Clothing and toys are likely to get cheaper during the first few weeks of December. Meanwhile, the site says it's already spotted unbeatable deals for brand-name HDTVs — and you won't even have to camp out.
If you are looking for household items, such as quilts, bedding, towels or any other linen, you should know that “white sales” are held in January and offer the lowest prices of the year.
Retailers also know that consumers go into a bit of a feeding frenzy after camping out all night with other deal-crazed shoppers, so they put out low-quality products that they want to unload under banner headlines proclaiming heady discounts. In some cases, the discounts are bogus. The original price is simply inflated to make the price cut seem too good to refuse, a practice known as “benchmarking.”
If you're shopping for electronics or other big-ticket items, make sure you pre-screen products online before hitting the mall. Outlets ranging from CNET and Amazon to Costco and Consumer Reports offer online prices and reviews. Price-tracking tools, such as Amazon's CamelCamelCamel, can help you determine whether the current price is a real bargain or bogus.
Beware of bundles
Another retailer technique that's geared to make you buy more on Black Friday while thinking that you're paying less is to “bundle” a bunch of related products, making it impossible to buy a la carte. If you intended to buy all of those products, go for it. If not, wait. You'll save more by buying on a different day when the product is sold without the bundle.
Watch return policies
Thanks to a very early Hanukkah, if you're shopping for the Jewish holidays, returning something that you bought on Black Friday should be a breeze. Most retailers give you at least two weeks to bring products back without a major fuss, though it's always smart to check return policies before you buy.
But if you're shopping at Office Depot or Staples for Christmas gifts, you could easily run afoul of their restrictive return policies, which typically give buyers just 14 days to bring things back. And those stores are far from alone. Plus-size retailer Eloquii only gives shoppers at its online store 15 days from the date of shipment to get products back, according to blog The Budget Fashionista.
Naturally, it's a mistake to buy now if the recipient won't get the gift until after the return window closes. So check on those return policies and either wait to keep returns in the window, or buy from more consumer-friendly retailers.
It's worth mentioning that some retailers, such as Amazon, have return policies specifically geared to the holiday season. The online retailing giant normally requires consumers to return goods within 30 days of purchase or be subject to restocking fees, for instance. But Amazon gives holiday shoppers a break, allowing those who buy any time after Nov. 1 extra time — until Jan. 31 — to get products back for a refund or gift-card credit. But other retailers actually make their policies more restrictive at the holiday season. Ask about returns before you buy. And make sure to get gift receipts, so your recipient will get credit for the full purchase price, not the post-holiday sales price, if he or she needs to take the gift back.
If you are buying electronics, games or DVDs, be aware that many retailers charge “restocking fees” for returns that can range from 15 percent to 50 percent of the purchase price. Some only charge the fees if the plastic wrapping is opened or the product is taken out of the box. Others charge restocking fees regardless. Make sure you know before you buy and, if there's a chance of return, be careful with the packaging.