It’s nearly that time of year again: the leaves are turning brown and we’re in the middle of a blizzard of marketing regarding Black Friday specials. Every year, these are followed by numerous videos of people fighting over the last discounted television like starving refugees going after a bag of potatoes. Is all of this hype justified, though?
Sellers will definitely answer “yes”. According to the National Retail Federation, the average American is planning to spend nearly a thousand dollars in the days around Thanksgiving, mostly on presents for others. Almost a third of all retail sales for the year occurs between Thanksgiving and Christmas day, meaning that this one month (approximately) accounts for as much business as four or five ordinary ones. In other words, Black Friday and its accompanying Cyber Monday, when you can find massive discounts while shopping online, are a bonanza for the retail industry. Almost every store has by now climbed on the bandwagon for fear of getting run over by it if they ignore this shopping holiday.
What does this mean from the perspective of an ordinary shopper who just wants to save a few bucks, though? Are these deals really as unmissable as the ads say, or could it be that they’re designed to make you spend more than you really need on stuff you can do without? We’ll use this article to examine some of the pros and cons of shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday in more detail.
Table of Contents
- 1 Good: Doorbusters and Loss Leaders Can Save You Money
- 2 Bad: You May End up Getting Suckered Into Impulse Buys
- 3 Good: You Can Get a Head Start on Christmas Shopping
- 4 Bad: Prices Aren’t Always Much Lower than Normal
- 5 Good: You’ll Find Plenty of Bargains Under One Roof
- 6 Bad: The Inconvenience Factor Is Huge
- 7 Good: You Have Time to Do Your Research
- 8 Bad: The Best Stuff May Sell Out Before You Get There
- 9 Good: There May Be Fewer People Crowding the Stores this Year
- 10 Bad: Online Shopping May Be More Difficult than Usual
Good: Doorbusters and Loss Leaders Can Save You Money
Deals, deals, deals! That is what Black Friday is all about, of course, and items on sale typically come with a 30% or better discount. How exactly this figure is calculated depends on the retailer: some use their regular prices as a baseline while others refer to the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, which can make it seem like you’re getting a better bargain.
The most heavily advertised discounts are on items known as “doorbusters”: special offers intended to get people through the front door. The company even sometimes sells these at a loss in order to attract the most customers. The idea is that they’ll earn back that money when you buy other items once you’re already there – if you’re looking for a new DSLR camera, for instance, they have a good chance of also selling you a tripod and a lens or two.
Those ads don’t tell you how much of these doorbusters are in stock, though, so an outing to buy a specific product may end in disappointment. Some of them are also what are called “derivative” products: electronics manufactured specifically for these kinds of promotions that are similar but not identical to the standard model. Still, the chance to get a new wide-screen TV for a fraction of the normal price is worth making some sacrifices for, especially if you follow the Black Friday shopping tips you’ll find in the rest of this article.
Bad: You May End up Getting Suckered Into Impulse Buys
Before you start counting your savings before they hatch, you should remember that the most enticing discounts apply only to specific products, not everything you see on the shelves. This can be difficult to keep in mind during a high-pressure situation like the Black Friday crush. Even when shopping online in the same period, you’ll encounter many time-limited offers intended to get you to click against your better judgment.
If you want to truly save money on Black Friday, it’s a good idea to have a list of the things you really want to get as well as some others you’ll buy if the price is right. Don’t get distracted and start to think that you “have” to spend all the cash you brought with you. Paying with cash is certainly recommended, too: handing over physical currency forces you to acknowledge the expense in a way that swiping a credit card doesn’t.
Be especially cautious when it comes to apparent bargains that may turn out to be anything but, such as unannounced surprise sales for in-store shoppers and pushy up-selling tactics. If you’re in doubt as to whether something is a good buy, having a price comparison app like ShopSavvy or ScanLife on your phone can save you a ton of buyer’s remorse.
Good: You Can Get a Head Start on Christmas Shopping
Since you’ve most likely reconnected with family members during the Thanksgiving holiday, what they’re interested in these days is probably at the forefront of your mind. With the winter holidays a comfortable distance off yet not too far in the future, Black Friday is the perfect opportunity to buy a few presents you may have trouble affording during most of the year.
Of course, it’s important to shop for the real needs and wants of people instead of picking up stuff just in case you know somebody who might like it. Also, many of the best deals are announced only near the end of the holiday season, so doing all of your Christmas shopping on Black Friday may backfire. One strategy you could follow is to buy about half your gifts around Thanksgiving, taking advantage of any savings you can find and relieving some of the pressure. After that, you can still keep your eyes open and your credit card primed to snap up bargains that only appear during the middle of December.
Buying Christmas presents around Black Friday also negates one major disadvantage of online shopping, namely waiting for your purchase to be delivered. Internet sellers’ distribution warehouses are likely to be swamped in December, leading to delays. Getting your order in ahead of the rush gives you peace of mind that your gifts will make it to the tree on time, even if you have to return an item that’s the wrong size or damaged in some way.
Bad: Prices Aren’t Always Much Lower than Normal
This isn’t exactly a secret, but not something you’ll hear shouted from the rooftops either: many retailers increase their regular prices in the run-up to Black Friday. Shoppers who aren’t cost-conscious keep buying at the higher price while others are waiting for Black Friday before making a purchase anyway, so these price hikes don’t really affect the store’s bottom line. When the day finally arrives, they can then claim that something is “50% Off!!!” even though the real discount is actually lower – that is, if they don’t simply paste an eye-catching Black Friday sticker over a regular price tag showing the same amount.
Furthermore, the reason so many companies offer product bundles or bulk discounts around Thanksgiving is to get rid of undesirable inventory – anything that doesn’t sell for months costs the store money to keep in stock, and a lot of what you’ll find heavily discounted on Black Friday is more than a year old.
When you actually do the math, the special offers you can find on Black Friday are often little better than those available during other times of the year. Depending on how eager retailers are to clear warehouse space, we may well see larger discounts as we move into December, never mind those January clearance sales.
Good: You’ll Find Plenty of Bargains Under One Roof
Not everybody has the time to keep track of individual stores’ promotions, though. Black Friday may as well have been designed for people who’d like to snap up a couple of bargains but aren’t willing to do the legwork involved in tracking sales and finding coupons.
Considering the crowds, you may not want to visit more than one or two stores on the day after Thanksgiving, even with the extended shopping hours many businesses offer. It’s therefore wise to plan ahead and select a store with a good selection of products you’ve had your eye on for some time. Once you’re there, you’re also likely to spot a couple of things you can certainly use, but didn’t think of before actually wandering through the aisles. As long as you’re not too hurried, you can also share the excitement of searching for and finding great bargains with a friend or relative.
Bad: The Inconvenience Factor Is Huge
Standing in line outside in late November weather is typically not something people do for fun, and good luck finding a babysitter willing to watch your kids at 4 a.m. If clothing is what you’re after, you may also have to spend quite a long time waiting in line to use a changing room.
This kind of frustration will only be aggravated if fewer people are allowed in the store at any given time due to social distancing measures. Shouldering your way through the crowd to save fifty bucks is probably not the best use of your time anyway, which is perhaps the single best reason to keep your shopping on the web this Thanksgiving season. If you do decide to take part in the retail madness, you’re probably better off leaving small children at home and taking reasonable precautions against crime.
Good: You Have Time to Do Your Research
Window-shopping may be fun, but you will ideally do this with a strategic focus in the run-up to Black Friday. With so many businesses competing for your attention, it’s worth your while spending some time on finding the cheapest prices on big-ticket items you simply have to have while also making a list of things that can be given as Christmas presents.
Planning ahead and knowing what the products you crave normally cost will pay huge dividends. It can be difficult to search online for price information and product reviews when you’re watching the last of some item disappear from the shelf in front of you.
Most Black Friday special offers will be copiously advertised at least a week in advance, allowing you to consider your purchasing decisions and weigh your alternatives. Some websites worth checking out include:
Bad: The Best Stuff May Sell Out Before You Get There
Just like Christmas and Halloween, the Black Friday season seems to start earlier each year. While the main event is still the day after Thanksgiving (and, more recently, Cyber Monday after that), many stores are now running special offers much earlier – even starting at the beginning of November – to spread out the crush, get an edge on the competition, and perhaps test the waters a little. This is especially true this year as retailers try to figure out how increased online sales will affect their Black Friday strategies.
This leads to the problem of shoppers who procrastinate, or at least wait until Black Friday actually arrives, not necessarily having access to those products they were eagerly awaiting. At the moment, for instance, there’s a real shortage of laptop computers, possibly because so many people have chosen to work from home during the coronavirus epidemic.
The best advice to avoid missing out on bargains on the stuff you need is to keep an eye on special offers throughout “Black November”. Once you’ve found the exact product you want, it may be worth getting it even if the price will drop by a few dollars more later – waiting too long may mean doing without it until another seasonal discount turns up. Many retailers offer price matching in any case: if they or another company drops the price of some item within 30 to 60 days after your purchase, they’ll refund you the difference on the spot.
Good: There May Be Fewer People Crowding the Stores this Year
Between mind-boggling unemployment figures, the continuing risk of coronavirus infection, tensions surrounding civil unrest, and uncertainty about the future, 2020’s Black Friday will probably be much less hectic than that of 2019. Last year, Americans collectively spent $60 billion on that one day alone. To put this figure into perspective, that’s 25% more than the United States spends on all foreign aid.
In 2019, $7.4 billion of Black Friday spending consisted of online sales, a number that is certainly expected to increase this year. This means that there will be less pandemonium in most stores, giving you a chance to try on clothing before buying it and perhaps snag a couple of items that are going to sell out before Cyber Monday arrives.
Bad: Online Shopping May Be More Difficult than Usual
Smart retailers plan events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday months in advance, but nobody really knows what’s going to happen on the day in question until it arrives. With so many people presumably turning to online shopping, it’s entirely possible that some retail websites will slow down or even crash under the strain. Since, just like in a physical store, there’s only a limited amount of inventory earmarked for these sales, you may also find that the most popular products sell out much more quickly than expected.
Unless you enjoy the excitement of grabbing one of the best bargains before somebody else or enjoy the experience of actually seeing and touching items you’re interested in, you’ll probably prefer doing your shopping from your living room rather than in a store. This is certainly a better option if you’re spending time with relatives you only get to see around Thanksgiving, especially now that many stores start their Black Friday sales on Thursday afternoon. Many other people will be thinking exactly the same thoughts.
Black Friday will probably be mostly online this year anyway, which is far from a bad thing. If nothing else, shopping by phone or computer makes price comparisons and access to coupons easier. Several major retailers offer free shipping on your 2020 Black Friday purchases as a further incentive.
Going this route means that you may miss out on some bargain items; look for “in-store only” on advertisements, often printed in the finest of fine print. On the other hand, some deals are only available through the seller’s website. Ordering in advance will be a good way to avoid delayed shipping, and you will probably want to keep an eye on daily deals for the chance to pick up some pretty major discounts on popular items.
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It’s easy to get caught up in all the Black Friday excitement and join the legions of shoppers who all have money burning holes in their pockets. The last thing you want, however, is to get sucked into the trap of overspending, especially with the holiday season right around the corner. In fact, the notion that this shopping holiday is distasteful and contrary to the true spirit of Thanksgiving has led some people to declare it “Buy Nothing Day” in protest against rampant consumerism.
Still, if you’re going to buy an item like a new TV anyway, you may as well do so when the price is at its lowest. In the case of products like clothing and electronics, this often means the end of November, but don’t forget to look for bargains in the weeks before Thanksgiving rolls around. If you can’t find an offer that seems worthwhile, don’t settle for second best: similar discounts are available at other times of the year as long as you’re willing to look for them.
The best advice for Black Friday 2020 is probably to rely heavily on websites like PriceGrabber, Google Shopping, and Shopzilla to find the best deals online. Stick to products you actually need, be aware of what they normally cost, and resist the siren song of deals that tempt you into going over your budget. If you need to use a credit card, make sure that you pay off as much of the balance as you can before it becomes due. Don’t forget to make use of cashback, coupons, and rebates, both from your credit card company and the store you’re shopping at. These can typically be stacked on top of Black Friday savings; you may even be able to take advantage of special seasonal promotions that are valid only during the week leading up to the event.