The dishes have all been washed. The leftovers put away. Everyone is home, happy and recuperating from the Thanksgiving Day feast. Midnight fast approaches. Instead of settling down for a nice slumber to celebrate a holiday survived, millions of Americans will be heading to the big name retailers at the stroke of midnight for a retail event that has come to be known as Black Friday.

The official start of the Christmas shopping season, Black Friday, has often been called the busiest retail sales day of the year. This has in fact been true a number of years, but even those times it wasn’t the busiest, it has consistently placed in the top five. Originally an East Coast creation, it wasn’t until the 2000s (and the prolific saturation of megastores) that Black Friday swept across the country becoming a national retail phenomenon.

The term started in the late 1960s in Philadelphia referencing the headaches the incredibly heavy traffic caused public transportation workers and traffic cops as folks flooded the streets and the stores to start their holiday shopping. In more recent years, it has come to negatively signify the idea that most retailers operate in the red for the majority of the year, and need the holiday shopping season to finally put them in the black, the profit columns. Black Friday is their jump-off point for the most lucrative of retail seasons.

As the economy worsens and the megastores continue to grow, the cut-throat methods retailer’s employ to add profit to their bottom lines also increases. In order to get shoppers into stores most store’s offer incredible deals to potential shoppers, but are these deals really as spectacular as advertised?

The Black Friday shopper would be wise to pay attention to the following information if they’d like to make sure to get serious bang for the bucks they are spending, starting with some of the showier aspects of retailers’ huckstering.

SHORT STOCK – The ads are tremendous. The best deal on a DVD player you’ve seen, a quality product available for purchase at an incredibly cheap price. You fight the traffic, find parking, brave the crowds and get to the retailer. They are sold out. Sure, they were offering the DVD player at the unheard of price, but they were only offering fifty of them, and they sold out in the first ten minutes the store was open.

This is a common Black Friday tactic. They want to get you in the store for the promise of a high-end product at a low-end price. They take the hit on the fifty or one hundred they sell, then count on the rest of the disappointed customers spending their money on inferior or less drastically price-reduced products they had no intentions of purchasing before they arrived. The pushy sales teams will be out in force. It’s easier to sell you something if you are in the store. The promise of a great deal got you in the building; the reality is you might spend that money on something else that you wouldn’t have bought otherwise.

BAD PRODUCT – Black Friday is a great day for unloading products and merchandise that have disappointed sales-wise over the course of the year. They might even be advertised heavily. Items that are damaged, unpopular, past-their-prime or have been returned by previous customers are often ideal for the retailer’s Black Friday sales bins.

This practice is directly related to short-stocking the heavily advertised high-profile products. The retailer counts on consumers settling for second best after their first choice is no longer available.

BAIT-AND-SWITCH – The price offered on the item you are purchasing is surprisingly low, but when you get to the counter you suddenly find the actual amount you’re expected to pay is significantly more than advertised.

The retailer might be selling an inexpensive product with a high-priced warranty. In the case of computers and other electronics, they might be advertising a bare-bones price, but then hit you up for software, additional components, or outrageously priced add-ons that are required to operate the product.

The retailers aren’t interested in giving the store away. They want to get you in the door, and then inundate you with sales people, cheap products and apparent savings. The consumer’s best interest is not necessarily shared by the stores. Here are some things to keep in mind if you are heading out.

PLAN AHEAD – Many Black Friday deals can be found online weeks ahead of the actual day. Check the site’s of retailers that interest you. There are some third-party sites that list many retailers’ deals side-by-side. In recent years, some of the larger stores (Target, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart) have tried to have claimed their ads and pricing are copyrighted and have had them taken down. They don’t want to make comparison shopping easy. The sites are fighting it though, both in the courts and by more guerrilla means, and many are still active.

KEEP CHECKING – The best deals are often saved until the last minute, not appearing in ads until Thanksgiving Day or even Black Friday itself. Be sure to check your papers before you head out the door. If you have a phone with an internet connection, keep checking for deals and comparing prices.

Also, check online prices both on Thanksgiving Day and again before you go out on Black Friday. It’s not unheard of for some Black Friday deals to be available online. There are even certain offers that are online exclusives and there have been cases where the online deals actually beat the in-store deals. The retailer is counting on you getting out the door before checking it out. So check beforehand, or if you have the proper phone, check before you buy.

DO YOUR RESEARCH – Have a decent idea of what you are looking for and be sure to research those items.

Know what the prices would normally be. The retailer might have marked their inventory up prior to Black Friday so they could then claim they reduced it by a larger percentage.

Know what similar products are high-end or at the very least adequate. If they are sold out of what you want and offering a sale on a similar off-brand product, if you’ve done your research you will know if you should consider purchasing it or if it’s not worth any price.

Know what time the stores are opening. Many open at midnight after Thanksgiving Day, while others will open their doors at 5AM. If you are serious about saving, plan to get there when the doors open. If they are short stocking the items you are interested in, they will probably go within minutes of the first purchase.

Don’t feel like you have to get out there on Friday to beat the crowds. Most of what is being offered probably isn’t as great as advertised. There are still plenty of days before presents will be opened, and plenty of deals to be found in stores and online. If you do plan on braving it out there, remember to dress comfortably and maybe leave the kids at home. It could get ugly. Happy spending!

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