The Truth Behind 10 Black Friday Myths
The holiday season is a bonanza for retailers. In November and December, retailers can take in as much as 30 percent of their yearly revenue, according to the National Retail Federation. One spike in the shopping period is the day after Thanksgiving, better known as Black Friday -- a day dark not only in name but also in horror stories of consumer frenzy. A lot of what consumers think about this storied day has been fabricated by the retail industry and its marketing helpmeets, thus perpetuating many Black Friday myths.
Contrary to popular belief, Black Friday doesn't always generate the most sales or foot traffic. Last year the sales crown belonged to Super Saturday, the Saturday before Christmas, although ShopperTrak predicts Black Friday once again will reign supreme in 2015. Sales on Super Saturday 2014 hit $23 billion, a $2 billion gain over Black Friday.
According to Snopes, the term dates to the early 1950s, when workers feigned sickness to get the day off. It really took hold a decade later, when Philadelphia police contended with massive crowds of holiday shoppers and fans arriving early for the annual Army-Navy football game. The day was deemed "black" because it was such a nuisance, and police used the expression to warn people away from the congested area. Retailers co-opted the phrase in the 1980s, using the financial "into the black" connotation (wherein profits surpass expenses) to put a positive spin on the day as prime time for holiday shopping.
Cyber Monday (a marketing term that reflects the supposed online bargains available the Monday after Thanksgiving) has become an increasingly popular alternative to Black Friday. But many brick-and-mortar stores still offer the best deals to folks who brave the crowds seeking in-store "door buster" sales. Why? Because merchants gamble that, once inside, consumers are likely to engage in a spate of impulse buying. Even online discounts are often bigger on Black Friday than Cyber Monday.
Many large retailers have price-matching policies that guarantee they will match (or beat) lower prices advertised by competitors. Read the fine print, however, and you'll see that most of these policies don't apply from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday. Shoppers can try bringing along a print ad from a circular or local newspaper and hope for a generous clerk, but others standing in the interminable checkout lines may not appreciate the attempt.
Black Friday sales thrive on the illusion of deep discounts. A study commissioned by The Wall Street Journal, however, found that better deals on a wide assortment of products pop up throughout the year -- and that includes December. Moreover, the biggest deals often are available in extremely limited quantities, which means only a few folks enjoy anywhere close to the bargains that ads promise. And then there's this: Retailers don't just give away merchandise and suffer the profit consequences. According to industry analysts, prices that have been so generously lowered already factor in the target profit margin. Sure, holiday shoppers are getting a good deal, but so is the merchant.
In addition to department stores such as JC Penney, Sears, Macy's, and Kohl's, upscale stores play the price-cut game. For luxury apparel at discounted prices, check Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Eddie Bauer, The North Face, and Bloomingdale's. The big shopping day also may be the moment to drive off in a luxury car. Companies such as Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW often offer Black Friday specials. Some industry analysts recommend waiting until December, however, when year-end prices fall further.
In the age of big data, retailers track consumer habits well in advance of late November in order to set prices and marketing gambits that will reel in shoppers. That's no excuse for heedless buying. The Black Friday gimmick involves convincing consumers that deals offered this one day are just too good to pass up. The reality is that consumers who buy merely for the sake of the sale are the fools. Increasingly, shoppers seem to be piercing the veil. Reuters reports they're adopting strategies used when shopping online; that is, comparing prices and eschewing impulse buying.
Apple Store sales certainly look alluring, but GottaBeMobile advises shoppers to buy Apple gadgets from resellers such as Target, Best Buy, Staples, Walmart, and wireless providers, which often sell the devices in money-saving bundles and give better discounts than the Apple Store. Still, DealNews expects the MacBook Air to be deeply discounted in Apple Stores' Black Friday sales.
Companies attract so many eager beaver shoppers to their websites that once deals go live, it's possible that any given order won't be processed before limited quantities run out, warns DealNews. Moreover, discounted prices that look too good to be true might be mislabeled. Best Buy had to cancel orders when this occurred on Black Friday in 2011, although the chain eventually apologized and granted store credit to affected customers.
For most retailers, Black Friday is all about the money. Some financial analysts, however, argue that Black Friday in its current form doesn't deliver all that it promises. In The New York Times, an economist reasons that opening stores so early Friday morning or Thanksgiving night incurs hefty operating costs and can hurt employee morale. Additionally, purchases made during those hours cannibalize sales during regular business hours. Recent data indicate that each year fewer people show up for one-day sales and more merchants are extending the big discounts through the weekend. Could Black Friday be a slowly dying holiday rite?