Want the Best Online Shopping Deals? Buy on Thanksgiving

A parent buys Christmas gifts for her three children at a Toys R Us store in New York's Times Square.
New York, UNITED STATES: Mia Chaney (R) buys Christmas gifts for her three children at a Toys R Us store in New York's Times Square, 25 November 2005, one day after Thanksgiving, known as "Black Friday", the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. The "black" in the term comes from the standard accounting practice of using red ink to denote losses, and black ink to denote profits. AFP PHOTO/Stan Honda (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
Photograph by Stan Honda — AFP/Getty Images

If you’re feeling tempted by promises of big discounts on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, here’s a tip: try shopping online on Thanksgiving instead.

While Thanksgiving Day may be about eating turkey and watching football, it’s also the best day of the year for deals, including for electronics, according to Tyler White, senior manager with Adobe’s Digital Index analyst team.

“Expect the biggest discounts on Thanksgiving Day,” says White. “All retailers know that once people get going shopping, they don’t stop until they have to, so the sooner you can get them started, the better.”

Savvy shoppers who take advantage of the Thanksgiving Day deals can, in theory, save a little more money than any other time during the holidays. Of course, capitalizing on the deals may require a lot of research and time spent clicking through various websites for the best deals.

In reality, the entire five days, from Thanksgiving to the following Monday, known as Cyber Monday, are filled with discounts. And it’s all designed to get shoppers to spend more than they ever intended to.

Yory Wurmser, retail analyst at eMarketer, says that because Thanksgiving is mostly an online shopping day, retailers have plenty of competition. Offering the best deals on Thanksgiving helps them attract customers early and, in theory, keep them spending during the entire holiday weekend.

“There’s a push to get ahead of the competition on Thanksgiving, and there is a feeling that Thanksgiving Day is becoming a really important launch date for e-commerce,” Wurmser says. “It’s certainly rivaling the other days in terms of volume of sales.”

Last month, Adobe (ADBE), which tracks $7.50 of every $10 spent online at the top 500 U.S. retailers and 80% of all transactions at the top 100 U.S. retailers, predicted $1.6 billion in Thanksgiving Day sales online. That’s an 18% increase from the prior year.

Because of that growth and changing behavior by retailers, White and Yurmser believe Thanksgiving Day will become a bigger online shopping day than Cyber Monday within the next couple of years.

“In the last couple of years, the big brick-and-click stores (retailers with both brick-and-mortar locations and e-commerce outlets) actually tend to see more online shopping on Thanksgiving and Black Friday than on Cyber Monday,” White says.

According to Wurmser, the smartphone will be a critical tool in Thanksgiving’s online shopping. After eating their turkey, many shoppers will use to their smartphones and tablets to find deals. In fact, Wurmser and his fellow analysts at eMarketer say the use of mobile devices for shopping will reach their peak on Thanksgiving Day.

“Mobile is the biggest shopping method on Thanksgiving Day for obvious reasons,” Wurmser says, explaining that many people take their mobile devices with them on trips and to visit family.

In a statement last month, Adobe said mobile devices would inch ahead of desktops for the first time on Thanksgiving Day as the main source of traffic to online retailers. Just over half—51%—of online shopping visits will be made through smartphones and tablets, the company said.

But mobile devices will represent a far smaller share of online sales for Thanksgiving. Spending through mobile devices is expected to account for only 29% of the overall dollars spent, a 12% increase compared to Thanksgiving Day last year, the company said. The data suggests that for many consumers, Thanksgiving is a day to browse deals from mobile devices, not to buy, experts say. But that is changing.

When shoppers actually start shopping on Thanksgiving, they’ll find some nice deals. According to Adobe, the average discount on Thanksgiving will be 26% off original list prices. Black Friday, meanwhile, will register an average discount of around 25%, followed by Cyber Monday at approximately 20%, the company said.

But before you run out and order gifts on Thanksgiving, there’s another consideration: Availability. According to Adobe, “out-of-stock incidents,” or periods when products are unavailable, will hit 83% on Thanksgiving Day. Out-of-stock incidents will dip slightly from Black Friday through the weekend. By Cyber Monday, however, products are often picked over and out-of-stock incidents will be up over 116% compared to their baseline, according to Adobe.

“Thanksgiving deals tend to be more lucrative because they’re often for bigger-ticket items with a steeper discount,” said Jill Gonzalez, an analyst with WalletHub, a company that provides personal financial advice. “Of course, ‘supplies are limited’ for these earlier deals.”

So the strategy for finding the best deals this week seems clear: look for deals on Thanksgiving, but do it early to minimize the risk of products being out of stock.

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