By John Schmidt
America’s favorite annual shopping event is just around the corner. Last year, more than 174 million Americans took part in the year’s busiest four-day shopping weekend that began with Black Friday and ended with Cyber Monday, spending an average of $335 each, according to the Washington Post. This year, it’s likely to be even bigger, with a projected 4% jump in holiday spending.
But the deals don’t come easy. Last year, one man claimed his spot as Best Buy’s /zigman2/quotes/205918291/composite BBY +0.15% first in line a full 17 days early —forgoing family time, sleep and, probably, his sanity. Even typical Black Friday shoppers spend an average 4.5 hours seeking out sales , some lining up before dawn to get an early start. And the competition for closeout deals can get vicious: Every year, there are fresh reports of Black Friday brawls breaking at stores out across the country. (Sad fact: More Americans have died in Black Friday incidents in the past decade than from shark attacks, according to BlackFridayDeathCount.com)
And yet... 69% of Americans surveyed by the National Retail Federation last year said they planned to brave the Thanksgiving weekend crowds, with two-thirds of them citing deals “too good to pass up.” But are they, really?
Sometimes, we actually pay more for stuff on Black Friday
It’s probably not news that Black Friday deals can vary widely based on the item: A 2017 WalletHub analysis of pre- and day-of prices found that books, movies and music, videogames, toys and electronics are the most discounted items, while we’re less likely to find deals on jewelry, clothes, accessories and furniture.
But did you know some things are actually more expensive? WalletHub’s data found that 8.5% of items cost more at large retailers on Black Friday than on Amazon /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -1.78% in prior weeks. (An older ShopAdvisor analysis found as many as 42% of products were pricier on Black Friday than the previous four weeks.)
Speaking of deals that aren’t really deals: For years, retailers have been baking special “sale” prices into their business models by listing original prices far above what they ever charge. Translation: That $30 shirt you snagged for 40% off may have already been priced at $17.99 a few months before.
We can find similar sales from the comfort of our couch
Still enticed by Black Friday sales, but don’t want to put on pants? Keep in mind that many retailers offer the same prices online as in their bricks-and-mortar stores. Last year, according to TechCrunch, online shoppers spent $5.03 billion on Black Friday, finding deals like Microsoft /zigman2/quotes/207732364/composite MSFT -1.79% Xbox One S 500GB consoles for $189.99 (retail: $249) at Best Buy and 49-inch 4K TVs for $159.99 (retail: $479.99) on Amazon.
It’s easy to go overboard during one-day sales
Door-buster deals. Flash sales. “While supplies last.” They’re all classic retail tricks: Businesses use a sense of scarcity to convince us to buy more now—especially during one-day shopping events, when there’s pressure to snatch up limited deals (and other people racing to beat you to them). It’s really easy to get caught up in the frenzy and end up overspending.
Arming yourself with a list of what you really need to buy can help. Taking a little extra time to think about how much you can afford to spend in each category—from food to décor and gifts—and where you’re likely to score the best deals can save you even more.
There are plenty of other opportunities to save
If you’re feeling FOMO on Black Friday, there’s always Cyber Monday, the all-digital shopping holiday typically offering similar discounts as Black Friday. There’s also…Tuesday. One analysis found that Walmart, /zigman2/quotes/207374728/composite WMT +0.48% Bluefly, Forever 21 and other companies slashed prices on apparel, jewelry and watches by more than 40%—and even put new items on sale—the day after Cyber Monday 2017.
Miss all three of those days? Don’t worry, there’s more! Green Monday (the second Monday in December) is like a second Cyber Monday. That also kicks off the week where we can expect the deepest discounts on toys—up to 25% off. And Free Shipping Day is Friday, Dec. 14, when many online retailers drop prices again and comp shipping.