Using the services of some websites and apps can help you cut through holiday season promotions and find the true deals.

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We all know the drill by now. Retailers’ sales promotions begin weeks before Thanksgiving, with a smattering of modest deals that eventually build up to the shopping bonanza that is Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving.

That is followed by Cyber Monday, a so-called online shopping extravaganza that takes place the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend.

To whet shoppers’ appetites further, it has become increasingly fashionable for online retailers to build up anticipation for Black Friday with so-called flash deals. These last only a few hours, putting pressure on consumers to make purchases with little or no research.

Yet, however you shop, the chances of snatching a great deal for a quality item are slim, largely because Black Friday is mainly for retailers to clear out unwanted goods and because best-selling products rarely drop much in price. So we teamed up again with The Wirecutter, a website for product recommendations recently acquired by The New York Times, to weed out the good deals from the bad.

Year round, The Wirecutter tracks product prices across the web to unearth worthwhile deals on high-quality items. Less than 1 percent of the tens of thousands of Black Friday deals online last year were good deals — that is, discounts on high-quality, well-reviewed and durable products — and this year the situation is likely to be the same, said Adam Burakowski, The Wirecutter’s associate deals editor.

Fret not, frugal shopper: Getting a good deal is still possible. It just takes a bit of forethought and web sleuthing, Burakowski said.

“Come up with a list and ask yourself, What am I interested in, and what is the price now?” he said. “Just a slight check in advance would help out most consumers.”

Here’s how a bit of research could help prevent you from needlessly burning piles of money.


Deals, good and bad:Before we get into sleuthing for good deals, it’s important to understand a bad or mediocre deal. Retailers enjoy exaggerating their discounts for products in the weeks leading up to Black Friday, as well as on the actual day.

An example of a bad deal on On Monday, Amazon listed a set of 42 Rubbermaid storage containers for $16 as one of its deals of the day. But a quick search on Camel Camel Camel, an online tool that looks up price histories on Amazon items, reveals that the set was priced at $10 in late October and $14 earlier this month. So $16 is nothing to be excited about.

Sometimes mediocre deals can be tricky to catch. Toward the end of October, Amazon listed a deal for its Kindle Paperwhite e-reader for $100. On the surface, this may seem like a good deal because the retail price is $120. But at the beginning of October, the Paperwhite was discounted to $90 — a price drop that Camel Camel Camel could not detect because the discount was applied at the end of the checkout process, Burakowski said.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

So what’s a good deal? Amazon this week listed for $30 an Anker battery pack for charging mobile devices. That is worthwhile because the price of the item had remained flat at $40 for more than a year, according to its price history.

The lesson? Make a list of products you want to buy. Then check their Amazon price histories and buy the items if they drop to your desired amount.

Daniel Green, a founder of Camel Camel Camel, also recommends creating a wish list on and importing it to Camel Camel Camel. The site watches all the items and alerts you to price drops

There’s also a more automated option: Twitter accounts for the deals pages run by The Wirecutter and The Sweethome, its sister publication for appliances and accessories.


Brick-and-mortar: The same lessons for shopping wisely online apply to brick-and-mortar stores. Before you line up at Best Buy or Wal-Mart, browse the ads, highlight the products you want to buy and check their Amazon price histories.

However, sales catalogs don’t include everything that’s on sale, and when you’re in the store, navigating deals while shoving through a crowd will be more challenging. That’s where the free phone app ShopSavvy may be helpful.People use the app to scan an item’s bar code, and the software loads the price at online and physical stores.

I used ShopSavvy to scan a bar code for a pack of Swiffer duster refills. Within seconds, the app loaded the price of the refills at various stores: $10.34 at Wal-Mart, $9.97 at and $14 at Walgreens.

There is an easier way to avoid regrettable purchases at physical stores: Just don’t do it, and shop only online. The good deals at physical stores are as rare as the ones you would find online, Burakowski said.