How Black Friday really works

The good, the bad, and the ugly – we have insider knowledge of how the big shopping event really works

(Image credit: John Lewis)

Black Friday is gaining popularity in the UK year on year, but how does it really work? Read on to discover our tips – and learn more about retailers' tricks, so you come to the annual shopping bonanza fully clued up. 

Don't care how it works and just want a bargain? Browse all our Black Friday deals or find out about the latest Black Friday deals – and how to snag them. We've even got some Black Friday dos and don'ts to help you get the very best deals.

The myth of the Black Friday queue 

Black Friday is all about queueing, right? Well, unless you are after the one most popular item that you think will sell out in the first hour, there really is no need to camp outside shops – or get up at the crack of dawn to surf Amazon. Sales last all day, and beyond Black Friday to Cyber Monday and sometimes, er, beyond again. In fact, the week – and for some retailers, weeks – before Black Friday is the best time to start looking at deals. 

Not all that glitters is Black Friday gold

What retailers often don't tell you is that the massively discounted products are the ones that would have gone on sale regardless. PLUS, many products' prices change frequently, anyway. 

What to do? Checking the price history of what you're planning to buy on or PriceSpy will tell you whether the savings are real or not. These sites show you whether a price is likely to re-occur.

If this makes the difference between going into debt for what you want to buy and having a little longer to save up (think Boxing Day sales), it can really be worthwhile waiting. 

In other words, always check, rather than be distracted by the recommended retail price, especially on big ticket home buys.

Worth noting: in the case of technology and furniture, the best deals to be had are usually on last year's collections or models, so don't expect to get a massive discount on a product that has just gone on sale this season (that simply wouldn't be profitable for the retailer and, after all, they're not in the game to do us any favours – it's all about the bottom line). 

So, if you've been looking at a particular product for the past year, chances are that the best time to get a deal on it is Black Friday; if you're hoping for a discount on something new, you might be better to wait for the Boxing Day and January sales (don't worry, we'll keep you informed about those, too). 

A special note of caution against products specially brought out for Black Friday: avoid these, as they might be of sub-standard quality and or a marketing trick.

Black Friday deals: shop in store or online?

The eternal dilemma of the modern shopper: do you buy it online even though you haven't seen it, or do you bite the bullet and hit the (very busy) shops? 

Both forms of Black Friday deal hunting have their potential drawbacks. Watch out for the Prosecco tactic in shops: yes, it is nice to be plied with wine as you are browsing, but this trick is aimed entirely at making you more impulsive and spending without thinking. 

In our opinion, it's much better to go in knowing the precise product you want and aim for it like a dart to a bull's eye. The same applies to online shopping: buy something you've already seen in store or have read (one of our) reviews on. 

If you're sure of the type of product you want, but not sure of the best one to buy, take a browse of our buying guides so you don't have to wander around stores for hours comparing.

Clever ways to get bigger Black Friday discounts

Can't decide if you really want it? This could save you money; retailers monitor their websites for items that have been left in the online shopping basket but not paid for; sometimes, they may even offer you an additional discount as an incentive to complete the transaction. 

This isn't guaranteed, but worth experimenting with, especially if you have started your shopping before the big day itself. So, keep a cool head and sleep on it, it may work out in your favour. 

Shop securely on Black Friday

To keep your online experience fun/safe on Black Friday, there are a couple of security precautions to remember. 

  • If shopping on Amazon, for example, and buying from a third-party retailer, do your due diligence: click through to their website to verify that it exists. 
  • How to spot a fraudulent retailer? If the deal they're offering is too good to be true, it probably is; if they don't have a contact address and phone number, they're probably not real; and if they don't offer a secure (https) connection, they're probably after your personal details. 
  • Be especially vigilant about deals that are advertised on social media (we'll be checking anything we put on ours, obvs). 
  • Ensure that the deal is advertised by a reputable retailer; if you click through and are asked for personal details, navigate away. 
  • Lastly, use your credit card rather than debit, as that offers you at least some protection if a purchase goes wrong. 

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