The Truth Behind Black Friday Deals Nobody Wants You To Know

Fresh from their tryptophan-induced slumber, a sea of savvy shoppers will flock to stores this Black Friday, according to the National Retail Federation’s Thanksgiving Weekend Expectations survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics. Six in ten shoppers say they will or may shop at some point during the four day weekend, which equates to more than 140.1 million people. Those expectations are similar to 2013’s preliminary survey results of 140.3 million projected shoppers.

Specifically, 29.5 percent of holiday shoppers state they’re planning on spending money on Black Friday (that’s down slightly from 2013) while just over 30 percent are undecided and won’t make up their mind to part with their cash until they assess if the deals are worth it.

“Consumers today want more than just the discounts they’ve been showered with since the start of the recession; they want exclusive offerings and a good reason to spend their discretionary budgets,” said NRF President and CEO, Matthew Shay. “We could witness a sea of change this 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. We are positive 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.”

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But those Black Friday “tricks” could land you in the red if you’re not careful. Beginning Thanksgiving night, retailers are throwing open their doors to Black Friday bargain hunters. Retail titans like Macy’s, Best Buy, Walmart and Sears aren’t even willing to wait for the leftovers to get cold, opening up shop Thanksgiving night to those in search of the best deal in town.

So is shopping on Black Friday really the best path to a holiday bargain?

Maybe. But then again…maybe not.

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Retailers pull out all the stops for Black Friday. And not all of them necessarily lead to you scoring a bargain. So to truly root out the best deal, you first have to take a peek behind Black Friday’s magic curtain. And to make sure you land the best prices this holiday season, we’ve got a few tips no holiday shopper should go without.

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1. Retailers want to scare you

Using clever catch phrases and buzzwords to describe their pricing strategies like “door-buster” and “while supplies last,” they create and fuel the frenzy that is Black Friday. Those crafty catch phrases and key words like “limited,” “prices reduced” and “clearance” can do a number on your psyche, scaring you into thinking you are certain to pay more if you don’t plunk down your cash ASAP.

When we hear or read those words, we fall under the spell of the psychological phenomenon of scarcity. And the thinking that if you don’t snap up the wares that appear to be bargains – even if they aren’t really a bargain — motivates the competition that has shoppers abandoning all budgetary reasoning. Retailers often even use a frightening color (most commonly red), to highlight their “sale” prices. Studies have shown red induces fear and anxiety while also energizing. And when consumers buy into the scarcity theory and fear they won’t find a better price or quantities of an item are limited, retailer’s pockets grow fat.

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2. Prices aren’t really lower

According to a report from Adobe Systems, you might not score the best deal on Black Friday after all. Shopping online while the turkey is cooking is when prices will dip to their lowest, with the average discount equaling 24 percent, according to their report. That’s lower than any other day of the holiday season.

Black Friday will still offer a savings, as Adobe says in-store and online prices will be an average 20% lower the week of Thanksgiving.

A recent analysis of prices from 2009 to 2013 conducted by Savings.com found that the number of deals peaks the week before Thanksgiving. But the savings varies depending on what you’re shopping for. The Savings.com data says the day before Thanksgiving is the best day to stock up on toys for all the little ones on your list. Electronics prices dip their lowest in early November. The report also found the number of holiday deals advertised in October has more than doubled between 2009 and 2013.

But you can still shop for savings on Black Friday, according to the deal website RetailMeNot. Just don’t expect Black Friday to stand out as the most wonderful shopping day of the year as much as it once did. According to an analysis conducted by RetailMeNot, the average savings on Black Friday in 2013 was 37 percent, which matches the savings on Thanksgiving and the following Saturday.

3. Retailers manufacture discounts

The cable knit sweater your daughter simply can’t live without that’s on sale for 50% off at $59.99 was never meant to sell at $120. It was stocked by the retailer with the discount already built in to the pricing. But retailers create the feeling that you’re landing a whale of a sale by appearing to reduce the price to an amount they always intended to sell the item at in the first place.

And they do it a lot.

The number of discounts offered by 31 major department store and apparel retailers jumped 63% from 2009 to 2012, according to Savings.com, a website that tracks online coupons. In addition to that, the average discount also jumped from 25 percent to 36 percent.

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4. You don’t have to leave your house

Merchants love foot traffic. The chances you’ll spend more than you bargained to and splurge on an impulse buy are much greater when you stroll – or sprint – around a store on Black Friday.

But there’s no need to brave frigid temperatures or battle for a tiny piece of real estate in the toy aisle on Black Friday when you can access the same prices, quantities and inventory online. In fact, in some cases, stores like Pier One offer online only savings and inventory on many items.

As retailers continue to compete with the fact that customers can access goods online anytime they want, they are reshaping Black Friday. “Black Friday is no longer about waking up at the crack of dawn to stand in long lines and hope for the best,” Walmart’s Chief Merchandising Officer, Duncan Mac Naughton, said about the company’s holiday plans. “I think you’re going to see chapters of activity throughout the month.”

5. You might not be able to correct a mistake

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Stores often tighten their return policies during the holidays. So if you are scared into over-spending, you might not be able to easily or completely rectify your mistake. Some retailers will only offer store credit, even with a receipt. And the Retail Equation, a company that creates return profiles for merchants, helps retailers track serial returners to ban them from attempting to return an item should they come down with a case of buyer’s remorse. And should you forget to ask for a gift receipt, even if your recipient loves his new slippers but they’re the wrong size, he might not be able to return them, or receive a credit in the full amount you paid for them.

So this holiday season, it may just be better for you to skip the mad rush to the mall, avoid the headaches, the long lines and the aggravation, and stay home instead. Go ahead and sleep in on Black Friday. Spend the day at home taking the time to enjoy your family members a little bit more. After all, isn’t that what the holidays are really all about?

Photo Courtesy: Hannon/AP.