Black Friday: A Real Money Saver or Just a Holiday Headache?

November 21, 2016
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Black Friday: A Real Money Saver or Just a Holiday Headache? 

While the vast majority of Americans see Black Friday as a savings extravaganza, I’m well aware that many of us have been questioning this notion for years (especially, those of you who are the proud coupon-savvy wizards among us).

It’s been a bit of a mental splinter for a while: is Black Friday really an event that actually provides a unique opportunity to spend less on our holiday shopping lists? Or is it just another advertising gimmick that we’re so accustomed to seeing from the retail industry?

black friday shopping. is it worth it?

The Decade-Long Question

Historically speaking, Black Friday has undergone quite a few transitions over the years, even concerning where the term “Black Friday” originally came from. However, the big BF as we know it took root in the US consumer experience sometime in the 1980s, when retailers began to use the day after Thanksgiving as the official start of the holiday shopping season. Since then, we’ve been programmed to shop until we drop, depending on how much turkey we ate the day before.

But the 1980s were quite some time ago, and things change. Ultimately, many of us have been wondering if Black Friday had more to do with advertising claims of “doorbuster” savings, when in reality, we’re simply being sold the perception of savings …hook, line, and sinker. So, let’s explore this question for a moment because, if we’re going to drop hundreds of dollars on Black Friday deals this year, then the least we could do is know the truth of whether or not we could simply spend the same amount when we’re not fighting our way through the holiday retail moshpit.

What Do the Facts Say?

There’s actually a very simple principle behind snatching Black Friday deals and going about it with a realistic mindset, but I’ll discuss that after we cover the facts. To begin, Black Friday tends to be the day when vast quantities of electronics are purchased, which is one reason why I wanted to hear what tech-guru, Sarah Mitroff of CNet, had to say about it. It turns out, she also has a few misgivings on BF deals:

“Don’t fall prey to enticing low prices on stuff you wouldn’t otherwise buy. Many big-ticket doorbusters are for subpar products that you’d overlook any other day. TVs are notorious for this, for example, Target’s TV doorbusters include several low-end TVs from Westinghouse and Element.”

And this isn’t even an isolated incident that only affects TVs. In fact, Time’s Brad Tuttle noted that Black Friday retailers have been repeatedly guilty of falsely advertising ‘discounts’ after the retailer sneakily marked up the sticker price, crafting a facade of supposed ‘savings’. Even THE retail company that was always known for saving people money, Amazon, only gave customers a 2.5% average discount during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday frenzies. Two and a half-percent could hardly be described as a ‘doorbuster’, but millions of us seem to fall for it every year.

So, unfortunately, our suspicions seem to have been true all along. Overall, no: Black Friday seems to be more of a holiday headache than anything else. That is, if you’re not approaching this post-turkey event with a few profoundly realistic strategies.

What Gives?

There is something interesting going on here. Retailers know that consumers, like us, have the ability to catch on quickly, meaning that events like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the mighty barrage of holiday ads that batter our better judgement are, quite frankly, a tactical marketing maneuver. According to Kathleen Kusek of Forbes, this is done in an effort to dazzle our savings spotters:

“To the more casual Black Friday shopper, 47 pages of sale items is precisely what checks the “information overload” box in the brain and may validate preexisting perceptions that Thanksgiving weekend shopping is tantamount to a Hallmark holiday.”

Retailers know they have to hype up the holiday buzz and cause a controlled confusion. Then, because everyone gets whipped into an artificial buying frenzy over the perception of mass discounts, they have actually caused an artificial spike in consumer demand. And when more people want to buy stuff (without more stuff having been produced) …that’s when prices are able to rise. At which point, retailers sparked the frenzy with the perception of low prices that were never truly marked down to begin with.

Speaking of which, another reason why we know that Black Friday is simply a ‘Kansas City shuffle’-style bait n’ switch, is because hundreds of companies have already broken from the pack and provided the same discounts during the entire holiday season. So, there technically seems to be no rush, despite what most huge retail companies want you to think.

But make no mistake: there are still deals to be had on Black Friday. With the unique exception of brands like REI, most retailers are pressured into participating in the big BF, but many of these companies won’t be receiving near the same consumer attention as, say, a Target or Best Buy.

And there’s your holiday savings opportunity. You win by outsmarting Black Friday itself.

5 Basic Ways to Make Black Friday Work for You

The key to winning big on BF is to identifying exactly who you’re competing against, and it’s not actually the retailers. You’re actually competing against all Black Friday/Cyber Monday shoppers. They want to find deals, and so do you.

So, what do we need to do to give ourselves unique advantages …advantages that give us the edge over the vast majority of other shoppers, going above and beyond what most retailers expect out of holiday shoppers? Here are 5 ways to do just that:

#5 – Use Google Alerts

One of THE COOLEST ways that you can outsmart the hordes of shoppers is to leverage technology like Tony Stark.

This method is not only a great way to think outside the box, but it’s also something that Google has specifically developed for even semi-tech-savvy shoppers. Google Alerts is one of the search engine’s many free services, which provides email alerts that signal breaking news or unfolding activity pertaining the keywords of your choice. So, if you were to define the keyword, “kmart craft supplies (your zipcode) black friday”, then Google will email you instant alerts to any new updates.  And not only that, but Google’s alerts were specifically tailored to Black Friday deals last year and many consumers were able to receive SMS messages about local discounts …while they were in the process of shopping.

#4 –  Pay Attention to Your Usual Go-To Saver Companies

Speaking of alerts, there are always apps that can do the same thing for those of you who will be using Amazon.com this year. The best, by far, happens to be one called camelcamelcamel, the Amazon price tracker. Once you find a product that you’re looking for, you can use CCC to keep an automated eye on that sucker, and snatch it up when the price takes a dive.

Interestingly enough, the biggest savings we’ll see this year will most likely come from online retailers (and Walmart, as usual). With that being said, one great tip to outsmarting the buyer crowd is to stick with the companies you already know have great deals, and apply your laser focus on them this Black Friday.

And using this strategy, you can literally keep an eye on your favorite stores, using apps like CCC and Flipp, while you sleep. Most shoppers are going to be dazzled this year, but you won’t, because you were already focused on what you wanted (and how much you were going to pay for it)…and you used high-tech apps to light the way to your discounts.

#3 – Pay NO Attention to the Hype

Nobody can deny just how easy it is to get sucked in. Especially when shoppers by the hundreds are rummaging through shelves and bargain bins, the psychological effect is profound, sparking a buying rally that electrifies the atmosphere.

target black friday hype

Before you know it, you’ve bought 5 DVDs for $20 only to realize later that you could’ve gotten them online for a buck a piece. What happened? Well, in a way, seeing other shoppers grab for the similar items will psychologically increase their value in your eyes. It’s just something humans do, and retailers know this.

With that being said, retailers also know that they’ve created a feeling of diminishing supply with the clock running out, so checking consumer reviews on items is the last thing on our in-store to-do list. Which means, we end up buying a knock-off product, since its price was staggeringly low in comparison to the known, quality brand. According to Caleb Denison of Digital Trends, this is an extremely efficient way that retailers can score an easy sale on the unwitting shopper:

“They’ve worked out how to make something at minimum cost that will last a little longer than the warrantee on average, crank out a limited number of them, sell them all during a buying frenzy, and come out with a tidy profit.”

He further sarcastically says, “It’s like gambling in Vegas. The cards are stacked against you.” Well said, indeed.

The sooner we can unlock our brains from the hype and the dazzle, the better we’ll get at passing up deals that were never actually good deals in the first place.

#2 – Don’t Use Black Friday for Christmas Gifting

To be honest, perhaps the best simple method of winning the Black Friday game is to not even use the event as a way to purchase Christmas gifts. Why?

Because EVERYONE seems to Christmas gift shop on the big BF, and if you’re going to locate true discounts and deals, then you actually have shop for things that everyone else isn’t. The rule of thumb is that if everyone is in the mood to buy something, then that item is most likely going to become more expensive. This includes video games, TVs, airfares, decor, etc. Even if the sticker says “discount”, chances are, it’s probably a discounted 50% against a 60% sticker markup. So instead, what if we decided to go about buying things that we need for everyday life?

For instance, have you ever thought about stocking up on household supplies during Black Friday? Got any home fixtures, baby supplies, toiletries, or home maintenance items on your everyday list of things to buy? Granted, it may not be the most fun thing to buy at 6AM on the big BF, but chances are storewide discount will apply to the toilet paper too. And you can bet your bottom dollar, they didn’t go through all the trouble of marking up the two-ply.

Then, you could even use your loyalty or cash-back credit card, and get some gas points while you’re at it.

You win.

#1 – Think Like an Economist (AKA: Use Your Imagination)

Much of your Black Friday winning-spree is going to come down to how well you can think like an economist and outside the box. To break this down, Liz F. Kay of Bankrate explains what this means, providing a very clear anecdote on the reality of the holiday shopping season:

“Electronics bargains may include 42-inch high-definition TVs starting at $109 and 55-inch LCD HDTVs for $379, according to predictions from DealNews. But de Grandpre says Black Friday sales circulars will be filled with off-brand merchandise. “Black Friday is about cheap stuff at cheap prices,” he says.”

You simply need to be acquainted with the “what’s in it for them” principle, because simply expecting companies to offer a true storewide discount is not exactly reasonable. Whatever the case may be, the best way to do Black Friday is to break away from what most consumers are buying and how they are buying and, instead, figure out what retailers may not have thought of by purchasing non-gift items and using apps and Google to discover their hidden Easter egg deals.

So you might get a bad deal on that off-brand TV, but you might just win big by stocking up on dog food and chlorine for the backyard pool …because, when we consider the economics of the matter, those things aren’t in demand, but they’re still a part of the storewide doorbuster discount.

Stay Tuned, Because There’s More to Come

As Black Friday draws near this season, my hope is that you will be able to find these articles useful in helping you avoid bad deals, not get trampled in the inevitable stampedes, and generally have a fun time completing your holiday shopping list, not to mention, using the season’s sales to leverage your buying power on those everyday things that you’d have bought anyway.

That’s why this is going to be the first of many other Black Friday-related posts to come, so please stay tuned. The holidays are on their way, so let’s get ready to holiday shop…

The smart way.

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