Nowadays it's difficult to tell when Black Friday ends and Cyber Monday begins. But it's probably not that important to differentiate among them anyway. Regardless of when you're shopping during the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you won't be able to swing a smartphone without hitting a sale—or, more likely, three dozen sales and special offers, inundating your in-box.
Here's some essential information for finding the best discounts on Cyber Monday, and for understanding how this traditional day for online deals fits into the grand scheme of the holiday shopping season. (One last note: We'll update this post through Monday morning as new trends and deals emerge.)
Many Cyber Monday deals launched before Monday. We live in a world when Black Friday deals begin on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, if not even earlier. It's no surprise, then, that lots of sales marketed as "Cyber Monday" specials were available before Monday.
All 2,000 Cyber Monday deals at Walmart were available for purchase as of 8 p.m. the night before. Meanwhile, Toys R Us introduced the first of many rounds of its Cyber Monday deals at 8 a.m. on Sunday morning, including 50% off a Thomas & Friends railway set ($80, normally $160) and buy-one, get-one-free WWE packs. Amazon's Cyber Monday deals, on the other hand, basically blurred into the weeks of deals that came before it—and that will continue into Cyber Monday and beyond. L.L. Bean began a 10% off everything sale starting before Thanksgiving (use code THANKS10 at checkout) that's valid through Tuesday, December 1, and customers get a $10 credit for every $50 spent on orders now through December 24 too.
But most sales went live Monday morning. Despite a few outliers jumping the gun on Cyber Monday sales, the vast majority of retailers waited until it's Monday to make its online sales live. (Not to say that other online deals won't be available sooner, but there will special e-retail sales arriving specifically for Monday.) Head to deal-tracking sites like dealnews, RetailMeNot.com, Offers.com, Bargainist, and Buxr.com for the latest on sales. Or just head to your preferred retailer's website, where you'll surely find deals galore.
Look for sitewide discounts. Like in the past, major retailers are offering sitewide discounts of 40% or 50% off on Cyber Monday. This goes especially for apparel retailers, seeing as the original prices on clothing is often subjected to absurd markups, so it's easier for them to be dramatically marked down. If you have a preferred retailer—Land's End, American Eagle, Ann Taylor, Barnes & Noble, and so on—now's the opportunity to scoop up an item you've had your eye on but just hasn't gone on sale yet. Even Target is doing the sitewide discount thing this year, with 15% off everything on Monday.
But don't assume Cyber Monday always has the best deals. Gap got an early start on across-the-board discounts, offering 50% off everything in stores and online as of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, via the promotional code EARLY. On Cyber Monday itself, however, Gap's sitewide discount was "only" 40% (via code BESTCYBER). Sport Authority, meanwhile, is enticing shoppers to buy sooner by offering discounts that get smaller as the day progresses. The sports retailer's site was offering 30% off everything from 10 p.m. Sunday night through 6 a.m. on Monday morning, then 25% off your entire purchase from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday, and finally 20% off from 6 p.m. to midnight.
Toys and clothes are particularly cheap. After reviewing the deals on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday over the past few years, the experts at dealnews have concluded that Thanksgiving generally sees the best discounts on TVs, tablets, laptops, and movies, while Black Friday is tops in terms of iPhones, video games, and headphones. Cyber Monday, on the other hand, tends to feature standout prices on clothing (see those sitewide discounts mentioned above) and toys. Bear in mind, however, that in previous years, toys have been even cheaper, on average, during the two weeks prior to Christmas.
Free shipping is a gimme. While some retailers will stick with a minimum purchase requirement in order for customers to get free shipping, most understand that consumers today demand free shipping before biting on Cyber Monday. For that matter, many shoppers demand free shipping throughout the entire holiday season. That's what's prompted Best Buy and Target, among others, to offer free shipping on all orders, no minimum purchase required, for the duration of the holidays.