Here’s your scary thought for the day – there are only four weeks left until Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Before you get ready to scan through a thick stack of sale ads, wait in lengthy lines and navigate through mobs of people, there are some things you should know about Black Friday.
Over the years, retailers and their ingenious marketing staff have convinced customers that they’ll miss out on tremendous deals if they don’t shop on Black Friday. It’s also somewhat of a cultural activity, with families getting together for Thanksgiving dinner, then rising early the next morning to shop ’til they drop.
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But how great are those deals, really? Is Black Friday just so much marketing hype? Here are 5 things the big retailers don’t want you to know about Black Friday.
It’s Not the Biggest Shopping Day of the Year
Changes to shopping habits, including more and more online purchases, have resulted in the Saturday before Christmas moving to the top slot for money spent shopping in retail stores.
The Deals Aren’t Necessarily All That Great
According to a NerdWallet study of 21 Black Friday advertisements, 20 retailers advertised at least one product at the exact same price in 2015 as they did in their 2014 Black Friday ads. That translates into 95 percent of retailers who apparently rehash their “deals” from year to year.
That same study found that some major stores, like Sam’s Club and Sears, offered the same or lower prices earlier in November as they did in Black Friday ads.
You might also find that stores offer similar deals throughout the Christmas season. During the week following Thanksgiving, often known as “Cyber Week,” stores run big sales in an effort to compete with online retailers.
In the days leading up to Christmas, stores sometimes offer steep discounts to limit the amount of merchandise they have to clear out after Christmas.
“Limited Supply” Could Mean Really Limited Supply
Some stores will specify how many of a particular item will be available on Black Friday in each of their locations. Some retailers will provide vouchers to customers who get in line early to guarantee that they can buy what they came for.
In many cases, though, you’ll make it through the droves of shoppers waiting to get into the store and find empty shelves where your desired product should be. You’ve probably already noticed this, and it’s often because there weren’t very many on the shelf to begin with.
Once stores have you inside their doors, they know you’re in the mood to spend money. You’ll probably buy a bunch of stuff, even if you couldn’t find exactly what you initially wanted.
There are some exceptions. I’ve got to hand it to CVS, for example. If I show up there on Black Friday looking for items from their ad, chances are pretty good that I’ll find most of them. Plus, a lot of the items will be congregated together near the front of the store so they’re easy to find.
Stores Inflate Discounts
The NerdWallet study referenced above also found that stores often inflate their regular prices in order to make discounts look more impressive than they really are. They found several stores advertising the same product but at different “regular” price points, so it looked like certain retailers had better deals, judging by percentage discounts.
It’s important to judge prices not on percentage discounts, but on what the item is actually worth. Check prices online at Amazon and other retailers to see what it really sells for.
In my own shopping, I found that with most Black Friday “deals,” I could often get the same or a similar item on Amazon or Walmart.com for a comparable price.
Don’t Skip the Fine Print
Some stores that offer price matching exclude Black Friday deals. Also, stores won’t price match merchandise if they don’t carry that exact same item.
That’s frequently the case with Black Friday deals, for which stores may offer “special editions” or other downgraded versions of TVs, appliances and other products.
You won’t be able to find online reviews of these one-shot deals, either. Sometimes called “derivatives,” you can fairly easily spot one by typing the exact model number into Amazon or Google. If you can’t find it anywhere else, it’s probably a one-off, a likely inferior product specially made to sell cheaply on Black Friday.
How About You?
Do you plan to brave the Black Friday crowds at malls and stores? When do you do your Christmas shopping, and where?
Need some extra money? Sell all of your stuff by using the tips in my book, “The Ultimate Guide to Getting the Most Cash For Your Stuff.”
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