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Black Friday: 15 Tips for Buying a Black Friday Notebook (or Not Buying One)

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It’s that time of year again, when notebook buyers across the country start plotting how they’re going to score a cheap notebook on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that kicks off the holiday shopping season. We’re going to start tracking the deals on our Black Friday Notebooks page, but before you commit to neglecting your family on Thanksgiving or camping out your local notebook dealer’s parking lot I wanted to offer a few words of caution.

Buying a notebook for a ridiculously low price can be a very satisfying experience, but it’s not necesairly all roses. In fact, last year we heard tons of Black Friday horror stories. Last year Brandi offered one of the most frustrating stories I’ve heard-Best Buy Employees Hoarded Black Friday Laptops?

Yes, you can get a really good deal on a notebook the day after Thanksgiving and we’ll be tracking all of the deals on our Black Friday Notebooks page, but please consider the following before setting your heart on any Black Friday notebook deals.

1) That cheap Black Friday notebook is a loss leader

The reason retailers discount notebooks and other items so much on Black Friday is to get you in the store. The items advertised in Best Buy, Circuit City, Costco, Wal-mart and others’ Black Friday ads are “loss leaders.”

This means they’re willing to break even or even take a loss on the notebooks in order to lead you into their stores and towards purchasing overpriced cables, notebook setup services and extended warranties.

A lot of consumers will feel good about “saving” $200 or $300 on their notebook and then turn right around and buy a nearly useless extended warranty or an overpriced setup and Anti-virus installation service. Or they take their “savings” and blow it on full-priced gadgets for friends and family.

2) Do you really want a “cheap” notebook?

There’s a difference between a Black Friday notebook that’s a good value and one that’s just play cheap. Retailers want to present the lowest possible price points in their Black Friday ads, but this sometimes means they’re selling notebooks with dog-slow processors, not enough ram, smallish hard drives or without features you’d expect on any 2008 notebook such as Web cams.

A notebook computer is the centerpiece of your digital life and is something that should last at least two or three years. If you do decide to purchase a Black Friday notebook, make sure you’re getting one that will meet your needs and that you think will satisfy your needs over the long term.

If your needs are extremely basic, such as email and web browsing, any notebook will do. But if you’re going to run off of battery a lot, playing video games or using a lot of applications at once you’re going to want to avoid the cheapest Black Friday notebooks. There will be several good notebooks on sale that will meet many mainstream notebook buyers’ needs, but don’t expect a high-performance machine for $299.

3) What’s Your Notebooks’ Total Cost of Ownership and Will Camping Out for a Black Friday Special Significantly Reduce It?

There are a lot of expenses that go into owning and maintaining a notebook and its peripherals, many of which are the same whether you buy your notebook for $299 or a $3,000. Your Internet service, software costs, backup solution are all the same no matter how much your Black Friday notebook costs. What’s worse is that cheaper notebooks often require more service and upgrades over time. Once you add up all of these costs, that $100 or $200 notebook discount isn’t all that attractive if it’s not the right notebook for you.

Add up everything if you want to get a real picture of the impact of your Black Friday ‘savings’. Each person’s situation is different of course, but here’s a simple example of the total cost of ownership of a notebook over three years:

+$649 notebook
- $250 Black Friday Discount on Notebook
+$149 Microsoft Office Student Edition
+$1080 Internet Service Provider (36months x $30)
+$99 New printer/All-in-one
+$240 Ink and paper (approx $80/year)
+$150 Backup Drive
+$240 External Monitor
+$300 Miscellaneous software/games
+$90 Anti-virius (3 years x$30)
+$110 Replacement battery (Batteries degrade significantly with use)
=$2857 Total Cost of notebook purchase over three years

As you can see in this example, you saved a very significant $250/ 38.5% on the notebook, but over the life of your notebook that’s an 8.75% savings discount off your notebook’s total cost of ownership.
That’s a pretty small sliver of the expense pie for camping out in Best Buy’s parking lot.

Identify which peripherals/services you can do without and buy the best configured notebook you can afford whether or not it’s being discounted on Black Friday. You can always buy a printer, anti-virus or software down the road and get by on free alternatives for the time being.

4) Say No to Extended Warranties

Please Don’t Buy One of These! Politely tell your salesperson that you’re not interested (repeatedly) no matter what scare tactics they use. Extended warranties are NOT insurance (read the fine print). Extended warranties are the single most profitable item that electronic retailers sell for the simple fact that very few people ever actually use them.  A common selling tactic is for the salesperson to relate a story about how he/she just helped a customer, friend or family member redeem one of these new service contracts for a new computer or gadget.

Consumers who’ve tried to get their systems replaced under extended warranty plans have had mixed results at best. Call your homeowner/rental insurance agent and ask if your notebook is covered against loss, theft or damage of  computers. You’d be surprised at how much some insurance policies cover- (I bought a very expensive bicycle back in college and it was promptly stolen. My parents’ insurance company sent me a check for $900 after I sent them a receipt and affidavit swearing that it was actually stolen).

Many salespeople will tell you that if your notebook dies and they don’t have they no longer sell that notebook then you’ll automatically get a newer/better version. While some stores and managers offer excellent service and often provide customers with a very nice upgrade, it’s It’s a real crap-shoot as to whether or not they’ll actually replace your busted notebook with an appropriate model a year or two after your manufacturers’ warranty expires.

If you have any doubts as to whether or not you’ll get upgraded to the latest machine if you Black Friday notebook bites the dust after its warrany expires read this story: Best Buy Threatens To Replace A $2200 Sony Laptop With An Asus EeePC.

In the economic downturn you can’t even be sure if the retailer will exist in two years to honor the service contract they sell you this holiday season. Extended warranties aren’t cheap and you’ll be better off putting that money in a piggy bank and putting it towards your next purchase.


5) Use the Right Credit Card to Buy Your Black Friday Notebook:

Don’t pay with cash, check, debit card or any any credit card that doesn’t protect your notebook purchase. Check with your credit card issuer and ask them if/how they protect stolen, damaged or broken notebooks and if they extend the manufacturers’ warranties. This advice goes for any notebook purchase, but considering the increased for loss, theft or damage of your new notebook during the holidays this is especially important.

American Express credit card if you’ve got one for your notebook purchase since they automatically DOUBLE your manufacturer’s warranty up to two years and cover stolen/lost items for the first 90 days after your purchase. Some other credit cards have similar purchase protection plans, but I always use one of my American Express cards for my electronics purchases for this very reason.

My wife accidentally spilled a drink on one of my notebooks a few days after I purchased it. I faxed AMEX the repair estimate and they promptly credited my account with $1,000 to get the computer repaired. I decided I could live with a few spots on that notebook and not to have it repaired. I called AMEX back to ask them what to do and their rep told me to keep the money because my computer was now worth $1,000 less.

Another time I dropped one of my notebooks’ batteries on the sidewalk and the casing was bent. I called AMEX and they rep wen to the manufacturer’s Web site, found out the MSRP for a replacement was $139 and credited my account immediately so I could order one immediately.

6) Long Lines for Black Friday Notebooks:

You’re not the only one going trying to score a deal on Black Friday. In fact, there are probably several hundred people in your neck of the woods willing to line up earlier than you. Every year it seems that people are willing to get in line just a little earlier.
I remember when showing up at the crack of dawn was good enough to get my hands on deeply discounted gear. Last year there were long lines on Thanksgiving MORNING at some stores.

7) Greedy People Can Ruin Your Black Friday Notebook Purchase and ‘Minimum Per Store’:

I like to think that most people are good, especially during the holidays, but that’s far from the truth on recent Black Fridays. Some store employees conspire to buy Black Friday notebooks or make them available for friends and families. I’ve heard of several cases of employees snatching vouchers for Black Friday notebooks, or handing them out to friends rather than other customers that are in front of them in line.

Some retailers will advertise a minimum number of Black Friday notebooks per store, but these ads are put together weeks (if not months) before Black Friday and stuff happens. Shipments can show up late, some of the notebooks can get damaged, or “accidentally” sold before the doors officially open on Black Friday. For example, Best Buy is letting 25 winners of a contest bring three friends to shop and buy door-buster items before the general public is allowed to.

Some stores use a voucher system, but as Brandi wrote last year, this system is far from perfect. Read: Best Buy Employees Hoarded Black Friday Laptops?

Needless to say, that guarantee of having 25 notebooks per store can shrink by the time you get a crack at buying one.

8 ) New Notebook Models Coming Soon, Clearing Out the Stock For 2009:

Most notebook manufacturers announce a slew of new notebooks at the Consumer Electronics Show, which kicks the first week of January. This often means you can buy the identical or better model for the same price at a post-holiday sale as you can on Black Friday.

9) Online Black Friday and Cyber Monday Deals
Lining up in a frozen parking lot isn’t the only way to score a great deal on a notebook if you want to buy one for yourself or as a gift in time for Christmas. All of the PC manufacturers will be holding online sales on and around Black Friday. Retailers such as Amazon, Buy.com, NewEgg.com and others will be doing the same. In fact, some of these deals may be better than what you’ll find at brick and mortar stores.

10) $400 off, doesn’t always mean $400 off

Yes, ‘$400 off’, ‘Save $300′ and ‘$200 discount’ all sound good, but they don’t always mean what they should. Retailers base Black Friday savings on the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP), not the notebook’s most recent price. Notebook manufacturers like HP and Dell have a perpetual $50 to $200 discount on many of their notebook models online.

11) Black Friday Notebook Model Number Confusion

Retail notebooks have long and confusing model numbers, making it difficult to comparison shop. This makes it all but impossible to get a retailer to price match a Black Friday deal, even if it’s not of limited quantities. This is how retailers can all claim to have ‘exclusive’ models. Truth be told no retailer has an “exclusive” on any notebook. Instead they have exclusive pre-configurations.

Try going to the manufacturer’s web site and configuring a notebook with the same specs as the Black Friday notebook you’re considering to see how good the deal is and if it’s worth waiting in line. The specs will vary depending on the exact model number, but understanding the numbering scheme makes it easier to comparison shop.

12) DON’T OPEN THE BOX

It can be very tempting to tear open the box as soon as you bring any new gadget home. I’d suggest taking a deep breath and backing away from the box before opening it, but new deals will be announced for Cyber Monday and throughout he holiday season. By not opening it until you’re absolutely sure you’re going to keep it you can avoid restocking fees. Best Buy and many other retailers charge a 15% restocking fee for open merchandise. If you’re giving a Black Friday notebook as a gift FORCE your kid (or whoever you’re giving it to) to carefully read the specs on the side of the box and to go online and make sure it’s what they wanted before opening it.

13) Check the Return Policy Closely

Some retailers offer more liberal return policies during the holiday season, but they usually have the most restrictive terms on laptops. If you’re buying a computer on Black Friday (Nov. 28) and give it as a Christmas gift, your child/significant other/parent may not be able to exchange or return it.

Some stores limit to returns on notebooks to as little as 14 days and charge a 15% restocking fee if opened.

14) There Will Always Be Another Deal

Patience is indeed a virtue. Black Friday always brings out the cheapest deals of the year, but usually only on the lowest-end mainstream consumer notebooks. While a few thousand lucky people will get a decent computer for $400 or less, most shoppers will be left out in the cold. There are deals year-round, with manufacturers regularly running $400-off, 20%-off, 30%-off and other promos, especially around national holidays, after the holidays,New years, back to school season, graduation season, tax season, Valentine’s Day and whenever the manufacturers are lagging behind sales targets.

You no longer have to deal with lines and all the other hassles to get yourself or the kids a basic computer.Netbooks have also changed the game- if you want a cheap notebook to just get online or check email- you can buy a netbook any day of the year for under $400.

15) Your family is More Important Than Scoring a Deal on Black Friday
Your significant other may tell you he/she understands your gadget obsession and not to worry about cutting out on Thanksgiving early, but chances are that he/she’s just being nice and thinks you’re a freak of nature for ditching the relatives you see once a year for the chance of buying a notebook or gadget. If you’ve got elderly relatives or kids you should really think hard before cutting out early on them.

If you’re still set on chasing down a Black Friday deal take a look at our Black Friday Notebooks page.

29 Comments

  1. Jonathan Mancinelli

    November 25, 2008 at 6:04 am

    The “Say No to Extended Warranties” section is the biggest amount of bull I’ve ever read. People honestly don’t understand how they work. They are offered by the store through a third party. If anything, the store is NOT making, the company offering it IS. They really do come in handy. Besides, I’d prefer talking to someone who speaks plan English any day over an foreign underpaid HP rep cleverly disguised as “Steve” no matter what the cost is. ;)

  2. Johnny OMG

    November 24, 2008 at 10:04 pm

    The “Say No to Extended Warranties” section is the biggest amount of bull I’ve ever read. People honestly don’t understand how they work. They are offered by the store through a third party. If anything, the store is NOT making, the company offering it IS. They really do come in handy. Besides, I’d prefer talking to someone who speaks plan English any day over an foreign underpaid HP rep cleverly disguised as “Steve” no matter what the cost is. ;)

  3. Grace

    November 26, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    Feel writer of article was a little “out there” in his list of pricing – reality check:

    +349 notebook

    CPU comes with operating program

    Internet Service Provider – needed for every CPU

    Printer – optional

    Ink and paper – your CPU makes it for free?

    Backup Drive – if needed – or burn to CD

    External Monitor – not needed for a notebook

    Miscellaneous software/games – if needed

    Anti-virius even new ones come w/only 3 months Replacement battery – no kidding Sherlock

    So bottom line $349 + tax.

  4. Grace

    November 26, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    Feel writer of article was a little “out there” in his list of pricing – reality check:

    +349 notebook

    CPU comes with operating program

    Internet Service Provider – needed for every CPU

    Printer – optional

    Ink and paper – your CPU makes it for free?

    Backup Drive – if needed – or burn to CD

    External Monitor – not needed for a notebook

    Miscellaneous software/games – if needed

    Anti-virius even new ones come w/only 3 months Replacement battery – no kidding Sherlock

    So bottom line $349 + tax.

  5. EJ

    November 26, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    In looking for a good computer(laptop or desktop) just keep these in mind:

    1. If you’re planning to run Vista, it is recommended to get one with the Core 2 Duo processor(different from core duo); if XP a Core Duo is fine. Stick with intel, rumor has it that AMD is going down(or at least a distant 2nd when it comes to performance).

    2. At Least 2GB of RAM and 160 GB of Hard Drive(HD) for multi-tasking and good amount of storage.

    **3. For Gaming, a dedicated video/graphics card.

    4. Wi-Fi (don’t worry,almost all laptops come with these now a days)

  6. EJ

    November 26, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    In looking for a good computer(laptop or desktop) just keep these in mind:

    1. If you’re planning to run Vista, it is recommended to get one with the Core 2 Duo processor(different from core duo); if XP a Core Duo is fine. Stick with intel, rumor has it that AMD is going down(or at least a distant 2nd when it comes to performance).

    2. At Least 2GB of RAM and 160 GB of Hard Drive(HD) for multi-tasking and good amount of storage.

    **3. For Gaming, a dedicated video/graphics card.

    4. Wi-Fi (don’t worry,almost all laptops come with these now a days)

  7. EJ

    November 26, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    -Don’t worry about software, theres TON of free(legal) stuff in the internet (ie; antivirus, firewalls, applications, etc.).

    -Try getting a broadband service of at least “up to 1 Mbps”

  8. EJ

    November 26, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    -Don’t worry about software, theres TON of free(legal) stuff in the internet (ie; antivirus, firewalls, applications, etc.).

    -Try getting a broadband service of at least “up to 1 Mbps”

  9. Right

    November 24, 2009 at 10:24 am

    After researching some of the Black Friday “deals”, I can say your advice is great. Don't rush to buy!

  10. Right

    November 24, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    After researching some of the Black Friday “deals”, I can say your advice is great. Don't rush to buy!

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