Black Friday 2018 and Cyber Monday 2018: When and where to get the best deals

The calendar may say Black Friday will be Nov. 23 and Cyber Monday will be Nov.26, but expect sales to happen before and after those specific dates.

With back-to-school shopping out of the way, stores and customers can both turn their attention (and wallets) toward the next annual retail highlight: the holiday shopping season. But as with many things in our lives, the internet has fundamentally changed what was once a singular focus -- the specific date of Black Friday -- into a continuum of deals that starts ever closer to the beginning of November and runs straight through until the last couple of days before Christmas.

The online shopping industry started competing with the brick-and-mortar-focused Black Friday with its own deal day -- Cyber Monday -- but as the internet became more of a shopping destination, it's morphed into Cyber Week and even a month-long cornucopia of sales on Amazon throughout November.

Also: When to shop to save the most on large appliances CNET

Though the specific day -- and its infamous incidents (trampled customers, fistfights over sale items, etc.) -- has lost its singular cachet, the idea of Black Friday as the time to grab the best deals of the year has become firmly entrenched in the mind of the consumer. So if you're going to get the most out of the Black Friday/Cyber Monday shopping extravaganza, you might as well do it right. Without further ado, here's a rundown of all the basic information you need to do Black Friday the right way.

When is Black Friday?

Nov. 23, 2018: As always, Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving, but that hasn't stopped retailers from using turkey day to get a head start on the festivities (though not without a backlash from some stores and shoppers).

Also: Photos: 15 luxury tech products for business pros TechRepublic

When is Cyber Monday?

Nov. 26, 2018: While Cyber Monday was created as a way for e-tailers to grab a share of the action physical stores got on Black Friday, it's lost some luster as those same companies not only started offering Black Friday deals on their websites, but also extended their cyber sales over several days, if not weeks.

When will the first Black Friday ads appear?

Among computer/electronics retailers, Dell has jumped the gun over the last few years with its ads (both consumer and small business), which "typically leak" right around Nov. 1. Last year some deals from them started almost immediately. You'll usually see ads from the big boys -- Best Buy, Target, and Walmart -- made public about a week later.

Where can I get the best deals on Apple products on Black Friday?

Apple has been notoriously stingy when it comes to any kind of sales on its products in general, and not even the yearly mania around Black Friday gets it to budge much. In fact, the tech giant abandoned discounts at its Apple Stores on Black Friday years ago, only attempting to entice shoppers with free iTunes gift cards with iPhone, iPad, and Mac purchases. It's a tactic that other Apple partners have adopted as well -- you're now much more likely to get a store gift card from Target and Walmart when you purchase an Apple product than any kind of savings from the normal price. You'll generally need to rely on retailers like MacMall and B&H Photo for actual deals, particularly on MacBooks.

How cheap will laptops be on Black Friday?

Chromebooks helped usher in the era of the $100 PC, forcing Microsoft to respond by slashing the price it charged manufacturers to license Windows in order to stay competitive in the budget market. That seems to be the floor for the cost of a new computer, though you may see one or two deals for $89 systems. Of course, at this price point, you are getting the barest of specs -- no HD screen, 2GB of RAM, a minimal amount of built-in storage, a slower processor -- that can handle Internet browsing and basic productivity tasks. For an additional $100-$200 you should be able to locate a deal on a more powerful computer with a few better specs that won't require as many compromises.

Also: Best Chromebooks for 2018 CNET

How will I know if I got a good deal on Black Friday?

There definitely will be a handful of legitimately great prices on items during this extended shopping period, often as a "doorbuster" special that may be available in limited quantities or for a short window of time. But despite retailers' promises to the contrary, Black Friday prices aren't always the best of the year. In fact, product review site Wirecutter recently pointed out that of the more than 78,000 deals it tracked for Black Friday 2017, only about 450 were worth the site highlighting.

A big reason for that can be found if you look closely at how the percentage off figures trumpeted in Black Friday ads are calculated. You may notice that stores use the original or list price as the starting point, but that often isn't the price they are currently using to sell a product. For instance, a desktop PC may have an original price of $399, so its $249 Black Friday sale price looks like a pretty significant discount. However, if that desktop is being sold for $279 in the weeks running up to holiday shopping, it's a lot less impressive.

Also: 2018 holiday shopping predictions

This tactic is fairly widespread, so you need to do your homework before succumbing to Black Friday fever. We can help you determine the real deals and not-so-real ones as we report on the major tech retailers' ads as they are leaked. Make sure to come back to ZDNet often during the coming weeks to find out what the best sales will be for Black Friday 2018.

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