It's often said that there's never a right time to buy a new computer as technology and the components within consumer electronics move on and are updated at such a breakneck pace. Consequently, the PC, laptop, satnav or audio player you buy today will seem slow, lacking in memory and generally old hat a year or even a few months down the line.

There is, however, a right time to bag a technology bargain.

For US customers, this time is Black Friday - ie today, the day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday is equivalent of the first day of the Harrods sale, when retailers seem drunk on the rash deals they're offering - often for one day only.

Black Friday has become the day when $600 HDTVs can be snapped up for $250, iPods go for a song and bargain seekers risk their health by camping outside stores overnight in a bid to be the first through the door to get their hands on the most discounted items.

Vince Trang, VP of Techbargains.com, told our sister site, PC World.com, that the deals offered on Black Friday usually represent the best deal you will be able to get all year on an item.

He says: "Black Friday is actually a time for amazing deals." If you plan to buy something specific in the next six months and you discover a bargain advertised on Black Friday, buy it, Trang says.

"We monitor these prices all the time. We saw one price on a tech product last year [on Black Friday], and we didn't see that good a price [on it] again for 11 months."

The other point Trang makes is that the web is the best place to pick up these bargains - you don't need to get up at the crack of dawn and set up camp outside a retail store and you can trawl the web much more efficiently than you could traipse from shop to shop.

It also means that those of us who don't reside in the US, Black Friday can be enjoyed via the web: many retailers will honour the same deals offered on their website for international customers. You do of course have to factor in the additional shipping charges, but that's the case whenever you buy from abroad.

You need to do your homework about Black Friday deals though: deep discounts are big news all over European websites today, but check the terms and conditions of these offers before you get too excited. Apple is extending its discounts to its European cousins, but some of the best discounts being offered today are achieved through voucher codes that are not valid outside the US.

I'll vouch for that

Techbargains.com is essentially an aggregation site for the likes of NewEgg and other discount voucher sites - and it has its equivalent in the UK too.

For example, SmartClicks is a UK service that sniffs out deals and special offers from a range of stores, including Dixons and Currys.

Another site that was recommended by several PC Advisor readers is Boffer. Like Black Friday itself, it offers a heavy discount on one or a handful of items each day and keeps selling the same item at the cut-price rate for that day only or until stocks run dry.

If you're after money off a disparate range of goods, it's also worth checking out MyVoucherCodes - a site that aggregates deals and displays any that match your search criteria.

It's also worth looking at the bargain and refurbished goods sections of some of the best-known retail brands. Dell Outlet is one good example, as is Toshiba, which uses a £150 cashback incentive for its laptop customers.

It also has a discontinued models section where you can select one of its older laptops, for example, for less.


Similarly, HP Hot Offers operates by selling you a laptop, PC or other item and giving you £100 cashback or a voucher towards your next purchase. Other offers are pure discounts: for example, you can currently pick up its C4850 wireless photo printer for £75 rather than the usual £150.

Supermarket sweep

Some electronics companies make a point of offering their goods on a 'get it while it's hot basis'. For example, earlier this week Medion announced its brand-new 5in widescreen personal satellite navigation device for exclusive sale through the Aldi supermarket.

This £180 satnav goes onsale on Sunday at Aldi and is expected to sell out the same day. Medion often does deals of this sort: last year it was selling a £500 Blu-ray desktop PC via Sainsburys on a similar basis.

In fact, supermarkets - and their associated websites, are a great hunting ground for technology bargains - and one of the reasons stores such as Woolies found it so tough to compete.

The temporary VAT reduction is great news, but we don't necessarily expect every retailer to bother printing out new price tags for all their goods. One high street retailer we spoke to told us that while pricing on their website had already been updated to reflect the reduction of VAT from 17.5 percent to 15 percent, high street stores may instead elect to apply the discount at the till.

Technology products are often offered at discount prices - both online and in stores - in any case, so it's entirely possible that the VAT reduction won't lead to any further cost-slashing. We'll have to see how that plays out.

It's far more likely that retailers will treat the run-up to Christmas as cut-throat business as usual: it's always the most competitive time of the year and the most lucrative for the high street. That means that bargains are all-but guaranteed in any case.

Given that overheads are high for bricks and mortar stores in comparison with websites, the faster they can churn through stock and realise their assets the better - hence the fire sale that's about to kick in now that Woolworths has called in the receivers.

Left on the shelf

The shelf life of technology products is another plus as far as the consumer is concerned, too. While it's frustrating to see the shiny MP3 player you couldn't resist back in the summer now being offered for half price or less, the upside is that you can capitalise by bagging a bargain of a not-quite-new item when thrift is of the essence.

Digital cameras, in particular, plummet in price just weeks after they first go onsale, as the crossed out pricing on Amazon.co.uk and other tech stores shows. For instance, Amazon UK is currently offering the Nikon D40 digital SLR camera for £229 - a massive saving on the original retail price of more than £450.

Of course, it's not as though the retailers don't recognise that this is when they're going to be doing the briskest business. It's no coincidence that this is the only time of the year you'll see Boots The Chemist touting its compact digital camera line-up in its newspaper ads, rather than its deals on multi-vitamins or suntan lotion.

PC World says the laptops that are in its current retail line-up are planned to be 'end of life' come mid- to-late January, with similar stories from Dell, Sony, Asus and other big technology brands. In other words: buy now and help them clear the shelves for the even more exciting but initially higher-priced new models.

Not every deal is a good deal, of course. In among all those festively good deals is plenty of overpriced tat - and not just of the 'comedy' Margaret Thatcher nutcracker variety. That's why, if you're after a decent tech deal, you need to research the product area first to check on what the budget you've set aside out to garner you.

The buying guides and comparative group tests, as well as the individual reviews here on PC Advisor's website are a good starting point, while our latest magazine issue summarises the best laptops, cameras, satnavs, MP3 players and more in a handy guide.

The Shopping section of our site and the price comparison links on our reviews will help you find the best current online deals, but you'll want some similar best-price reassurance when you're traipsing the high street too.

It's not just John Lewis that is Never Knowingly Undersold - other shops offer guarantees of being the best deal around too.

This means that if you're in a shop that says it will match the price of local or even national retailers, it's a fair bet that you're getting a great deal. It's worth checking whether they have get-out clauses for sale items, of course. Having bought your bargain item, it's also worth checking up on the veracity of the retailers' claims using an online price checker.

Although PriceProtectr is primarily aimed at US consumers, it can also check deals on some UK sites including the UK arm of Amazon.

We don't have Black Friday, but nor do you need to wait for the January sales to bag a technology bargain.

Just remember to pay by credit card for anything over £100 and to keep the receipt in case you subsequently find a better deal.