Doorbuster Debunking: 5 Black Friday Deals That Aren't What They Seem

Doorbuster Debunking: 5 Black Friday Deals That Aren't What They Seem
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Retailers love to use the term "doorbuster," especially during Black Friday. It's a way to create the illusion that they've got the best and lowest prices at their store -- so low, you would be crazy to pass them up! But when it comes to doorbuster prices, the truth is often more smoke than fire.

One of the biggest problems with doorbuster deals is that they're usually too good to be true. Half the time, stores only stock a very small amount of these items, which means only a few lucky souls will actually be able to score them at those low, low prices. The other half of the time, the brands they choose for these "deals" are so low-tier, you wind up getting exactly what you're paying for: junk.

Here are five popular categories of Black Friday doorbusters that retailers often use to pull these kind of tricks.

Tablets

tablet

Tablets are some of the worst offenders. Last year, Best Buy (among other retailers) advertised tablets at prices as low as $39.99 (they're currently going for $44.99), and you can likely expect the same price or less in their Black Friday ads this year. However, the tablets they're selling at this price have some serious strikes against them. While you might think you recognize the brand name (think RCA or Westinghouse), many of these companies don't technically exist anymore.

RCA, for example, has not been an American company for decades. Any tablet you see with an RCA logo was not designed or manufactured by RCA. That name has been co-opted by brand licensing houses, which source the construction from OEM manufacturers in China. These tablets often have slower processors, non-HD screens, and other generic components that add up to lower performance overall.

Another thing to watch out for is the illusion of reliability based on OS. Just because a tablet uses the Android OS, doesn't mean it's a quality product. Google is pretty loose with it's licensing, so this is far from a guarantee of quality. If you choose to buy one of these ultra cheap tablets, fine, but don't expect it to perform anywhere near as well as an iPad or Google Nexus tablet.

HDTVs

smart TV

Photo via Flickr/linsinchen

In the past few years, the brand names on those infamous TV doorbusters have gotten better, but you still need to be careful. Last year, Black Friday sales yielded a 32" HDTV for $99.99, those TVs were Westinghouse TVs, which you may remember from the previous section as yet another example of a false brand. Westinghouse at this point is just a cover name for "cheaply sourced from third-tier manufacturer." Buying a Westinghouse or RCA TV might save you money, but the picture quality, contrast levels, viewing angles and feature sets -- like the amount of HDMI ports -- will all be sub par compared to a TV from a reputable brand.

Black Friday is not the only time of the year to get a good deal on a new TV. In fact, waiting for just a few weeks after the big day can actually be a good idea, as we generally see great TV deals throughout the holiday season. If you don't want to wait, we're actually already seeing some good 4K TV deals from top brands in the $400 to $500 range, like this LG 49" 4K Smart TV for $549 at BuyDig. Also, be on the look out for bundles. Last year, Kohl's had a Samsung 40" HDTV for $319 plus $90 in K-Cash, which was a great price and value -- K-Cash is a handy thing to have around.

Laptops

laptop

If you see a laptop on sale for a price that seems a little too low, there's usually a good reason for that. Keep in mind, laptops are like cars: what's under the hood is very important. There are a lot of laptops out there for less than $300 (see the Dell Inspiron Laptop for $299 at Office Depot, or the Asus X205TA for $179.90 at Staples), but these do not have the fastest processors on the market, nor do they offer much in the way of advanced graphics and video processing, both of which are important if you intend to use the laptop for gaming or video editing. Other areas that cheap laptops cut corners on are things like the screen quality, weight and low memory (RAM). Overall, the cheaper the laptop, the higher the chance you're going to have to replace it or spend money upgrading much sooner than you would if you just shelled out for a better model in the first place.

Also be aware that those $99 Chromebooks (currently selling for $159 at Newegg) you'll see offered at Black Friday are very bare bones computing devices that are only meant for basic email and Internet usage. They offer very little in the way of speed, storage, or video editing, and they are actually only $50 to $100 more when they're not on sale. Chromebook deals are not as strong as they look at first glance.

So what are the good laptop deals? Look for laptops that usually sell for around $1,000 on sale for $200-$300. If you're in the market for a PC, make sure the laptops you're looking at have a 6th generation i5 or i7 processor. While Intel just introduced the 7th generation versions (code name Kaby Lake), the improvements are not major. Buying a 6th generation is a quality deal, and you're a lot more likely to find good prices on these.

Major Appliances

washing machine

We sometimes do see some very low prices on major appliances during Black Friday, especially on bundle deals like washer and dryer sets. But you have to be diligent and patient about how you shop for these items. Not all doorbusters are a one-time-only offer. For example, in last year's Sears Black Friday ad, we noticed a five-burner Kenmore gas range (currently $649) on sale for $398.99, marked down from $849.99. That's a great price for that range, but we often see that same stove on sale for a similar price. Sometimes it's $450, sometimes it's $600, but it's never actually sold for the list price of $849.

Another thing to look out for is brand. If you're in the market for a major appliance deal for this Black Friday, we suggest you peruse the ads that retailers release early and check the deals you like against price history, as well as reviews on that model. Remember that not all models within the same brand have the same quality. When it comes to major appliances, it is much better to shop smartly, not impulsively.

Top Toys

lego

For many Black Friday shoppers, finding deals on the most popular toys of the season can be frustrating. Retailers know just how in demand these items are, and as a result, it's rare to find a good discount on the hottest holiday toys -- especially electronic toys -- during Black Friday sales. They know parents will do anything, including pay full price, to get these things under the Christmas tree. Retailers might pitch them as doorbusters with a very slight discount, but most stores sell popular toys at the same price across the board.

Another problem with buying hot holiday toys during Black Friday is that they sell out so quickly, both online and in-store, that you'll be cursing the day you got in line to try and get it. A great example of this was last year's remote-controlled Star Wars BB-8 Droid. It was almost impossible to keep on shelves, and every online store that offered it sold out in minutes.

Our advice? Ignore Black Friday for deals on these items. Find the lowest price now, and see if you can find discounts on gift cards for a store that sells it for the lowest online price. For example, Groupon is offering a $20 Target gift card for $10, which I was able to buy without having been invited via email. If you have the same luck, you can buy one per person, so if you and a spouse, family member or friend both buy one, you can get $20 off that toy your kids want, or on general brands like LEGO that don't often discount their merch.

Got any doorbuster stories to share? Let us know in the comments below.