There’s very little about Black Friday that isn’t adversarial and financially, physically, and emotionally taxing. Make no mistake, store clerks hate you for making the choice to join the scavenging masses and there isn’t another customer there who wouldn’t decimate you with a well-placed elbow if you were standing in-between them and the $4 DVD that they just realized that they need. It’s all really quite terrible. Which is why many dismiss the deluge as a materialism soaked exploitation of our more gluttonous instincts. But this isn’t that kind of article.
Recognizing the chaos and embracing it despite the fact that it is a woeful pox upon humanity may, ultimately, mean that you’re a hypocrite, but gifts need getting. And after a year of hard work and putting up with the stresses of daily life, we all deserve a few nice things and a moment where our hard-earned dollar stretches a bit further. But you can limit the damage if you go into Black Friday with eyes wide open. Below is a power ranking of six major retailers — Target, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Staples, and Gamestop — with link to their ads and a description of how they stack up in terms of their deals on TVs, DVD/Blu-Rays, phones, wearables, video games, and laptops. We hope that by using this list as a guide your Black Friday experience will be as fruitful, quick, and painless as possible.
Count out GameStop and Staples as they don’t traffic in television deals. Wal-Mart and Target are neck and neck for second place and both offer a couple of good options on the 1080p and 4K front. These stores are the value play if you’re plan is to choose one store and get your TV while stocking up on clothes, those big popcorn tins that nobody really wants, and necklaces that your mom is going to wind up returning. Target, in particular, has an intriguing 55″ Samsung 4K UHD with a curved display for $697.99 (down from $1099.99). There’s also a $70 Target gift card in the mix for that one.
Additionally, Target has a 32″ Polaroid made LED TV for $85 and a 43″ Element 4K Smart TV for $199.
Best Buy gets the top spot in our rankings, though. Their front page features doorbuster deals on a 55″ Samsung 4K Ultra HD Smart TV for $479, a Toshiba 49″ with the same bells and whistles (though, this one has built-in Chromecast) for just $199, and a 60″ LG for $599. More than those three, though, it’s Best Buy’s variety that gives them the edge. If you need a mega 4K TV (Samsung 65″ SUHD 4K smart TV with High Dynamic Range and a 240 motion rate for $1497) or a mid to large-sized 1080p (a 55″ Sharp with Roku for $249 as an 8AM Friday morning doorbuster), then they’ve got options for you. And options are a good thing as everyone else will almost certainly be grabbing at the TV that you had your heart set on.
Wal-Mart blows everybody out of the water in terms of both price — with older DVDs like Interstellar and Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs costing as little as $2 — and selection, with an enormous spread of everything from TV shows like Outlander and The Walking Dead and Blu-rays at $6 for movies like Furious 7 and $10 for current releases. You can stuff a film library into everybody’s stocking, at that price. Big stocking or a small library, but the point carries.
Target is close behind, albeit with prices that are a little higher. And if you’ve got a 4K system, you might want to hit Best Buy, which has the only 4K media deal this Black Friday with $18 4K movies.
If you’re not feeling an intense rush to upgrade your laptop then you might want to hang back for Cyber Monday or wait to pick up a deal in December. Massive online retailers and direct manufacturer sites are going to have their share and they may offer more variety. If you’re not that choosy, though, Black Friday has a lot of good options. Customers in the market for an entry-level machine are going to be able to find Chromebooks for as low as $119 (a Chromebook 3 at Wal-Mart). Even I5 Intel-powered computers are in that sub-$400 space like this $349 Dell Inspiron with 8 GB of Ram and a 1TB hard drive from Best Buy. For $449, you can get a Dell I5 powered machine with a 128GB solid-state drive and 8 GB of ram at Staples, as well.
For Mac fans, Best Buy has $200 off two different 13.3″ MacBook Air models (a 128 GB SSD model for $799 and a 256 GB SSD for $999). They’ve also got up to $500 off select 2-in-1 laptops. As for tablets, I think they’re giving the low-end ones away with a fill-up at the local gas station, but in-store, there are several options under $50, like the 7″ RCA-made Android tablet that is going for $28 at Wal-Mart. They’ve also got a $199 iPad Mini 2 if that’s your kind of thing.
You’d think GameStop, being a store that sells video games, would easily top the list, but while they’ve got a pretty large selection featured in their circular, the prices are a little higher than their foes. Unless you’re in the market for some of the pop culture toys or need a relatively obscure accessory for the gamer in your life, it’s not a necessity to try and jam yourself inside a GameStop on Black Friday.
Surprisingly, the lowest prices and broadest selection on games comes from Target, which is offering deep discounts on older games such as Titanfall and Call of Duty Black Ops III as low as $8, although Wal-Mart is close behind on game prices, generally for new releases like Mafia III.
Console prices are fairly consistent throughout, though there’s a deal to be had for past generation fans as Wal-Mart is getting rid of the bulky Xbox One Forza 2 bundle for just $130.
Basically, if you need a phone to put under the tree, especially an Android, go to Best Buy. BB easily had the best selection across the board, from $20 Androids for kids to destroy (We recommend the LG Tribute, but get a case!) to decent prices on various iPhones. The best deal is likely a Samsung Galaxy 7, which nets you a VR accessory and a $250 gift card to boot. Or just get one unlocked for $550.
Best Buy, Target, and Wal-Mart are all offering the same basic deal on the current iPhone: If you qualify, you can get it for $0 down and get a $250 gift card on top of that for all three, so if you’re looking for other stuff to gift, that might be worth considering as well. That said, be aware that many of Wal-Mart’s phones come with the Straight Talk network, so before buying, know what you’re getting into.
Target also takes the edge in wearables. In addition to common deals like the Fitbit Alta for $100 (also a deal at Wal-Mart), it also has deals on the Vivofit ($60) and Vivosmart ($120) and has a slight edge on the Apple Watch, offering the first version for just under $200 where Best Buy offers it for $220.
That said, though, Best Buy does have an edge on selection, especially with higher end Android Wear kits with deals like $50 off the Samsung Gear S3. Wal-Mart mostly has Fitbits, so if you’re in Wally World anyway, it’ll be worth picking them up.
For a look at more must-have gifts this holiday season, take a look at our other guides.