When is a sale not a sale? When a product is the same price it's always been, or when you get hit with surprise finance charges.
The prices on TVs, expensive electronics, and major appliances tend to drop significantly during the holiday shopping season, but some deals are better than others. That's why our product experts wrote this guide—so you know what to expect when making a major purchase on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and any other day.
1. Remember: Nobody ever pays full price!
When you see something marked down 50%, that’s a sign you’re getting a great deal—right?
Wrong. That “original price” is MSRP—which stands for Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price—and nobody should ever pay it. Except for rare cases where retailer discounts are not allowed, stores almost always have some sort of sale going.
That 50% off sale price might be the same deal you can get a week after Black Friday, or on a random Tuesday in June. Or its a big discount on a bad product. The sales you should be paying attention to, though, are ones that dip below a frequent sale price.
That’s why sites like Reviewed.com search through deals to let you know which ones are actually noteworthy—and which ones are just hype. The real deals are harder to come by than you might think: We only found about 20 major appliances at record low prices on Black Friday of 2016.
2. Sometimes, "free delivery" comes at a cost
A good rule of thumb: If you’re buying a major appliance, don’t pay for delivery. The majority of retailers currently advertise free delivery on appliances above $399 or so, which includes all but the least expensive models out there.
If you do decide to buy a $299 dishwasher, don’t try and haggle for free delivery—the frazzled employees at most big box retailers just don’t have the leeway to make that kind of a change. Instead, look for a retailer with a lower threshold for free delivery and shop there instead.
At some stores, delivery charges might differ depending on where you live. In other words, free delivery might mean dropping the still-boxed appliance at the foot of a driveway, and there may be an additional cost to bring a fridge up five flights of a New York walkup. Check this out ahead of time—it might make sense to pay a little more from a local retailer whose delivery team knows your neighborhood.
3. Installation almost always costs extra
Don’t confuse free delivery with free installation. Those services have associated costs and are rarely included along with delivery—and no matter how hard you beg or how angry you get, the delivery team just isn’t equipped to hook up a gas dryer or deal with your local recycling center’s rules for disposing of an old fridge—and the store you bought your TV from doesn't know anything about your cable provider.
The same goes for packing materials. Drivers have to make room in the truck for boxes and crates—and the cheapest free delivery won't account for that.
4. Finance charges can cost you hundreds
Even if you have the cash on hand to pay for a big purchase in full, financing can be a good way to use someone else’s money to soften the impact of a major purchase.
However, you should be aware that finance specials tend to only delay interest, not eliminate it.
In other words, if you buy something with 0% financing for 12 months but wait 12 months and a day to pay it off in full, you’ll still be charged the full amount of delayed interest on the entire purchase for those 12 months. On some store credit cards, that could be as much as 20%—or up to $1,000 on a $5,000 purchase.
Also, check the fine print. Some brands aren’t eligible for some deals (that tends to be true with luxury appliances and high-end audio), and some retailers have additional deals that aren’t heavily advertised.
5. Discounts may differ depending on what you buy
There's a big difference between buying appliances and electronics.
Prices on electronics start falling in the summer and drop all the way through Black Friday. Stores often discount a popular item to get attention, and "deal of the day" sites like Massdrop still have good bargains.
But when it comes to major appliances, home goods, and kitchen gadgets, discounts tend to be rise and fall across retailers in unison all year long. In an age where consumers can compare prices instantly across multiple retailers, no store wants to be the one with the higher price. That means if one retailer has a sale on a popular product, most others will follow suit.
Individual retailers sometimes offer their own special deals—usually involving free delivery, bonus rewards, and special financing. Or, they'll sell a "retailer exclusive"—a version of a popular item with one small difference. It pays to be aware of these when deciding where to shop.