What was once a distinctly US pastime has evolved into a worldwide phenomenon worth millions of dollars. But as consumers, how do we know we’re not just falling for the hype? Here’s what to keep in mind ahead of November 29.
One of my earliest memories of Black Friday comes from watching the six o’clock news – hordes of shoppers storming Best Buys and Walmarts all across America in a frantic, clamouring heap. I was fascinated, intrigued, disgusted and horrified, but safe in the knowledge this survival of the fittest was happening tens of thousands of miles away.
Little did I know that over time, this distinctly US pastime would spread far beyond its initial borders, seeping all the way down into our little corner of the world, to the point that Black Friday – denoting the day after Thanksgiving in the US, with its name probably originating in a Philadelphian reference to hellish traffic – is now broadly synonymous with getting a good deal. But with Singles’ Day getting bigger and Boxing Day looming in the horizon, it’s hard to know how much of a deal we’re really getting. What’s to say retailers aren’t just inflating their prices in the weeks prior, only to drop it back down closer to the date?
“Anecdotally, we do hear about some retailers doing that,” says Sue Chetwin, CEO of Consumer NZ. “When it comes to [sales generally], we’ve looked at some of the big box retailers like Farmers and Briscoes and found that some items are always on sale. They might go up and down slightly in price, but for weeks at a time, they can be [discounted].”
Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett, country manager for product comparison site PriceSpy, also warns of retailers trying to make discounts look bigger than they actually are. “A known approach is to raise the price shortly before the sale and then compare the sale price to this elevated standard price,” she says. “The shop has a good chance of success if: a) shoppers do not compare the sale price to a competitor’s price and b) shoppers do not compare with what the product actually cost in the past, before the shop did the ‘bluff raise’.”
According to a survey recently conducted by PriceSpy, it also found that not all consumers were getting the big discounts they were expecting. It found that 58% of Kiwis expected to save between 30-90% on Black Friday, but historical data suggests the average discount offered across all products listed on the site was just 12%.
In the UK, a consumer group also found that just one in 20 discounts was genuine after price checking 83 sale items on Black Friday last year. The group concluded that nearly all were cheaper or available for the same price at other times of the year. For example, it found that Amazon offered its Echo (2nd Gen) for 39% cheaper on Black Friday when it had been cheaper on at least 13 occasions before that date.
So what about in New Zealand? Are we seeing similar tactics being used by retailers here?
Last Black Friday, the Samsung Galaxy S9 (64GB) sold for $888. The following month, it went down to $800 which kinda sucks if you were a Black Friday shopper. Similarly, the Nintendo Switch was on sale for $498 before selling for $479 the following week, while the Sony PlayStation 4 Pro (1TB) was $517 on Black Friday but $500 not long after.
Meanwhile, appliances like the KitchenAid blender and Dyson vacuum cleaner actually went up in price ahead of Black Friday, while this Breville espresso machine was sold for its Black Friday price on multiple occasions both before and after November 23.
For the most part, a good Black Friday deal seems pretty hard to come by. That’s not to say they don’t exist (for example, this Samsung TV was discounted from $888 to $797 last year) but they’re certainly not as ubiquitous as most people think. Therefore, it pays to shop around and actually ask retailers about both past and future discounts, regardless of whether you’re shopping in-store or online.
“Ask them what the price was a couple of weeks ago, or maybe don’t buy it on the day – find out what the price is going to be tomorrow,” advises Chetwin. “Use these sale days to buy something that you’ve been thinking about getting for a while and don’t get it on finance because your bargain will quickly turn into not being one if you miss any of your repayments.”
And even you are getting a genuine sale, Chetwin warns that retailers may try to claw back the dollars in other ways, such as pressuring people into purchasing extended warranties. “Our advice is that you virtually never need [one] so you should avoid wasting money on those.”
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