Gizmo Guy: Black Friday begins with Target offering Curbside pickup

BLACK FRIDAY
Bargain-priced flat screen, high-definition TVs are door-buster deals designed to draw you in and get you shopping. Word has it that retailers will offer a TV set for as little as $70.

Name-brand headphones for under $50. Tablet computers, TVs and digital cameras for less than a $100.

Yes, the Black Friday hyper-discount holiday frenzy - already building through the entire month of November - can be the happiest time of the year for bargain-hunting gizmo lovers. If you play your cards right.

This time around, we're spotting new plays in the game plan, sparked in large measure by predictions that online sales will almost equal those of brick-and-mortar stores.

Major retailers such as Best Buy and Target are more willing to price-match online offerings, though you'll likely have to go through a drill: calling up the site at the store to prove the item is still available for purchase. Just waving a webpage printout won't do.

Lots of online rivals are now following Amazon's lead with free delivery. Wish they'd also bring back the tried-before-its-time idea of a waterproof, WiFi- connected outdoor storage box where the delivery guys could safely stash goods at your abode. Much more sensible than those goofy dreams of Amazon, and now Wal-Mart, dropping packages on your doorstep using a drone hovercraft.

Starting Sunday, Philadelphia-area shoppers will be getting to know a hybrid shopping service called Curbside, debuting at all 33 regional Target stores after smaller warm ups at select outlets in the San Francisco and New York/Northern New Jersey environs.

Curbside is for people who love the convenience of shopping on their mobile phone (a huge trend) yet also crave the instant gratification of take-it-home purchases.

After downloading the Curbside app (iOS or Android), you can "virtual-shop" your local Target on a smartphone or tablet, then drive to the store and pull up to a designated pickup spot.

Within "20 or 30 seconds," claims product developer Jaron Waldman, a store rep (or two, for extra-large items) will be loading the order into your vehicle and off you go, without ever having to park, eject the kids from the backseat, navigate the aisles, or deal with lines at check out and will-call counters.

Waldman used to steer the "geo location" team at Apple and has applied that expertise to Curbside. The mobile app automatically senses and "dings" a staffer to bring out the goods when you're nearing the store. "You don't have to go into the app and manually alert the merchant that you're on the way. You can show up an hour later, you can come two days later, whenever," said Waldman.

Some limitations prevail. At the moment, the Curbside service won't let you order perishable (refrigerated/frozen) foods.

And those limited quantity, crazy Black Friday "door buster" bargains can't be fetched for curbside delivery, drat, though "other holiday specials certainly will be," promised Waldman.

Not incidentally, there's no tacked-on service charge, no tipping the delivery person. And charging the order on a Target card will still cut the bill by 5 percent.

Shopping Tips: As Sy Syms used to say, "an educated consumer is our best customer."

That goes double with techie goods offered up as Black Friday/November specials. On super sale days - Best Buy is actually hosting its first in-store deal-athon next Saturday - there's little or no time to weigh the limited quantity specials against similar looking products that might be a few dollars more.

So it pays to visit and shop a product category - be it digital cameras, Bluetooth speakers or stick vacuums - before the madness begins, to compare what's the "best" of a breed in terms of features and feel with what's the least you're happy to settle for.

Can you live with a leftover, discounted iPad Mini or Kindle Fire versus the latest iteration?

How about a 2013-2014 Canon or Nikon point-and-shoot versus a 2015?

We say, yes, for the most part, though the absence of wireless image transfer might be a deal breaker for some image shooters.

Topping most gadget-lover wish lists, TVs will again serve as the primo "loss leader" to get you into a store or site.

Word has it that retailers will offer variations on a 32-inch, 720p (that's lines of resolution) high definition TV set for as little as $70 ($10 less than last year).

Logic will suggest such a set will be inferior to a 1080p HD TV, though in-store pre-inspection will probably demonstrate you can't detect a difference with that size screen when standing just a few feet away.

The most attractive TV deals will reportedly be on 60-inch screen sets - with BF prices starting at $549 for "second tier" branded HD models. And if you're craving an Ultra HD TV (with four times the pixel count of HD), the already leaked deal (from Dell) on a Vizio M60-C3 suggests you'll be able to order or take one home for $799.

Black Friday backlash. Hate the idea of holiday sale madness ruining Thanksgiving, both for families who feel compelled to eat and splurge, and the poor employees who have to work the holiday?

Give props and belated business to Staples, GameStop and REI. All are giving their retail store employees a paid day off on the national holiday though their websites will be active.

And REI will even extend the holiday to Black Friday, giving themselves a big pat on the back in the process. Said CEO Jerry Stritzke, "Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of the essential truth that life is richer, more connected, and complete when you choose to spend it outside. We're closing our doors, paying our employees to get out there, and inviting America to Opt Outside with us because we love great gear, but we are even more passionate about the experiences it unlocks."

takiffj@phillynews.com

215-854-5960@JTakiff