Each year, as soon as the Thanksgiving turkeys are unstuffed, Americans get set for holiday shopping. On the fourth Friday of every November, stores roll out epic deals for Black Friday — and all heck breaks loose in aisle four.
The hype around Black Friday creates the impression that every offer is worth trampling over fellow shoppers to get to, with retailers slashing prices to historically low levels for one day only.
If you’re one of those passionate shopaholics, you’d probably like to know how to make the most of your Black Friday shopping. How can you sift through all the marketing jargon to find the best deals? At the end of the day, is Black Friday really worth it?
The Truth Behind Black Friday
Consumers today want more than just discounts… they want exclusive offerings and a good reason to spend their discretionary budgets. We can witness a sea of change every holiday season as consumers’ reliance on extremely deep discounts over the biggest shopping weekend of the year shifts to more of a ‘wait-and-see’ mentality around what retailers will be offering on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday.
Each time retailers have a few tricks up their sleeve that will draw their customers to their stores and websites, deciding the deals are worth it after all.
But those Black Friday “tricks” could land you in the red if you’re not careful. So is shopping on Black Friday really the best path to a holiday bargain?
In some cases, yes. But not always.
Retailers pull out all the stops for Black Friday. And not all of them necessarily lead to you scoring a bargain. To truly root out the best deal, you first have to take a peek behind Black Friday’s magic curtain.
Let’s dig a little deeper.
5 Retail Secrets to Help You Survive Black Friday
1. Retailers want to scare you.
By throwing around anxiety-inducing buzzwords like “limited time only” and “while supplies last,” retailers fuel the frenzy of Black Friday. To pressure shoppers into buying first and asking questions later, retailers cultivate the illusion of scarcity.
It’s easy to get caught up in the panic when we believe that resources are limited. Unfortunately, this means that many shoppers believe they need to buy up bargains fast — even when some of those “bargains” aren’t bargains at all.
Retailers also take advantage of human psychology by using frightening, alarming colors (usually red) to highlight their sale prices.
To get the best deal this Black Friday, don’t fall for corporate smoke and mirrors. Before you make a purchase (especially if you’re at the store in person), comparison shop with a few other vendors to make sure that the deal you’re looking at is actually competitive. Otherwise, you’re falling right into the retailers’ trap.
2. The best deals aren’t always on Friday.
While Black Friday is the best day for online deals on TVs, tablets, appliances, and jewelry, it’s not the best day for all deals.
Studies show that most online sale prices are best on Thanksgiving Day, not Black Friday. If you’re looking for online discounts on sporting goods, computers, apparel, and video games, you should do your shopping on Thursday, not Friday.
Plus, the majority of Black Friday deals are available all week long, not just on Friday. Why fight your way through Black Friday crowds if you could get the same deal on Monday night?
3. Some of the discounts are illusory.
We’ll let you in on a little secret: that $60 sweater that’s on sale for 50% off was never meant to sell at $120. When the retailer stocked it, the discount was already baked into the price.
On Black Friday, retailers create the illusion that you’re scoring a massive discount by reducing a product’s price by some enormous percentage. But in reality, the “sale price” is often what they intended to sell the product for in the first place.
Don’t force yourself to splurge on an item because “it’ll be more expensive later.” Instead, do a little research. If you can find the same item for the same “sale price” at several other retailers, it’s likely that the “sale price” is just the item’s standard cost.
4. You don’t have to leave your house.
Merchants love foot traffic. The chances you’ll over-spend or splurge on an impulse buy are much greater when you stroll around a store on Black Friday. That’s because in a brick-and-mortar storefront, you’re at the whim of all of a vendor’s mind games.
The press of the crowds heightens the illusion of scarcity; the blaring red signs drive panic into your blood. Worse, you’re isolated from the ability to comparison shop, with only a single vendor’s prices for reference. In a store, the retailer has you right where they want you.
Luckily, there’s no need to fight your way through Black Friday crowds. In general, you can access the exact same prices, quantities, and inventory online. In some cases, you can even find special online-only deals.
If you’re struggling to gather the gumption to get to the mall for Black Friday, don’t bother. Online shopping usually offers the same bargains — and without the overwhelming compulsion to over-spend.
5. You might not be able to correct a mistake.
Stores often tighten their return policies during the holidays. So if you end up over-spending, you might not be able to fix your mistake. Some retailers only offer store credit, even with a receipt. Many don’t accept returns at all.
Don’t convince yourself that it’s safe to over-spend on a purchase because you can “just return it later.” Thanks to Black Friday policies, you may not be able to return it at all.
How to Check if a Black Friday Deal is Fake: 4 tips
Don’t get duped by dodgy deals this Black Friday. Before you rush into impulse-buying a discounted coffee machine or tablet, read on for our advice on how to work out if a deal is real.
1. Check the price of the product across multiple websites.
This is the most basic check you can do. You can find out that more than one shop will sell a product at a similar price, but only one claims that the price is a special offer.
For example, if four shops are selling the same washing machine for £250, but only one is claiming it’s a special offer at ‘Now £250, was £300’, it’s a pretty good indicator that the price is not a particularly special deal. Of course, if you’re happy to pay £250 for that particular washing machine, that’s fine. But don’t snap it up thinking you’re getting a bargain.
2. Check the price history.
Make a shortlist of the products you want to look out for in the Black Friday sales, and then look them up on websites such as Pricerunner, PriceSpy and CamelCamelCamel (Amazon only) to find out their price history.
This will enable you to know whether Black Friday prices are genuinely worth getting excited about.
3. Be wary of ‘was’ prices.
Claims such as ‘was £100, now £50’ are abundant on Black Friday. But don’t let these ‘anchor prices’ mislead you. Retailers shout about savings — often in red to grab attention — as a way of influencing customers and they can be quite misleading.
Sometimes products are listed at their lower price for longer than they were at their full ‘was’ price. Retailers often use old RRPs (recommended retail prices) as ‘was’ prices, so they reflect the value of the item when it was first released, not its current value.
And Amazon displays every price reduction as if it was a promotion, so even a price drop as small as 1p will be flagged as a discount. Rather than automatically trusting anchor prices, it’s better to check against other shops’ prices to try to work out the true value of the item you’re buying.
4. Look out for notes or signs explaining offers.
The rules that govern special offers are vague.
In some instances, shops can get away with using ‘was’ prices that haven’t been in place for a long time if they put up a sign explaining the deal. Tactics such as this can make offers look better than they are.
You can see notes that explain the product was actually only at the higher price for a fortnight, six months before the current offer. Sometimes these notes are well flagged, but sometimes they’re completely buried — meaning you’ll have to scroll through masses of small print to uncover vague wording — so it’s worth doing some thorough research if you want to be confident you’re getting the best deal.
Not all manufacturers have RRPs, but some do and choose to display them on their own websites. Before you buy a product in the sales, check the manufacturer’s website to see if you’re getting a decent discount on the RRP.