Top Toys of 2015: Buy on Black Friday or Wait?

Prices for this year's top toys -- including dolls, video games, Legos, and of course Star Wars merchandise -- seem to be clustering in the $45 to $100 range. While not as high as in past years, the cost of filling up stockings and gift bags for kids, grandkids, nieces, and nephews can still mount quickly. That makes it imperative to find deals on the hot toys of the season, or simply avoid price gouging.

Black Friday, the official kickoff for the holiday shopping season, may seem like the perfect time to grab deals on kids' toys. But don't count on it.

Black Friday deals aren't always the best.

In past years, Deal News researchers found, shoppers could save up to 63 percent by waiting until after Black Friday to buy toys. The report recommends shopping in December, noting that the two weeks before Christmas historically offer the best prices. Other studies narrow that window to the second week in December for online sellers.

Retailers try to spur impulse purchases by billing Black Friday prices as one-time-only discounts. But a side-by-side comparison by Brad's Deals shows that Black Friday deals can be identical from one year to the next, and the lowest prices recur throughout the year. Toys R Us advertised repeat prices last year on a Skylanders Swap Force starter pack ($37.50), Leapfrog Explorer software ($15), and a train set from Imaginarium ($40).

Waiting can lead to discounts.

Waiting until the last minute is dangerous, lest the toy sell out, but sometimes rewarding. Stores discount some items heavily right before Christmas to get rid of stock that otherwise might go unsold.

Super Saturday, the Saturday before Christmas, offers some of the best last-minute sales, although it's also one of the busiest shopping days of the year. With Christmas on a Friday this year, shoppers can scope out Super Saturday savings almost a full week before the holiday. For those who come up empty-handed, there is still a week left for last-minute shopping opportunities and sales.

Buying early is smart in some cases.

A lot depends on the individual toy and whether demand is overwhelming. This year, Star Wars toys might be the hottest. Items such as a Millennium Falcon drone ($110) and Kylo Ren lightsaber ($30) have been tapped as certain to sell out. The smartphone- and voice-controlled BB-8 droid ($149) already has -- less than 15 minutes after its initial release on Amazon in early September, according to The Denver Post. Best Buy, Disney Stores, and the Sphero online store also sold out within a day. While the BB-8 is back in stock now, it may not last through the holiday-shopping craze. (Some stores also sell an alternative remote-controlled version made by Hasbro for $80.)

When retail stores are out of stock, online vendors can come to the rescue in some cases -- but potentially higher prices and expensive priority shipping make this another risky bet. In 2013, shoppers reported paying double the retail price for an otherwise sold out Doc McStuffins doll on Amazon.