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Marketing Magic: The Black Friday Delusion

Black Friday fever begins long before Thanksgiving: stores release ads days in advance; various websites produce guides to the best deals for specific products (like PS4 merchandise); and physical stores compete with online retailers like Amazon by lengthening their sales beyond Black Friday itself. As a consumer, this chaotic competition seems like a win-win situation. So what if we have to wait in a few lines? With so many stores scrambling for our money – slashing prices and advertising across multiple medias – the deals have to be great, or we’ll spend our money elsewhere. We win. Right?

Red

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what retailers want us to think. There’s a catch: most deals aren’t worth it.

Everyone Loves a Sale

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This Walmart ad includes the infamous “While Supplies Last” clause — and also a reminder that wristbands for special items aren’t guaranteed.

Black Friday deals operate on the assumption that consumers aren’t paying attention to anything but the price tag – often, these sales are accompanied with stipulations. The most famous is the small-print clause “While Supplies Last” under stores’ biggest deals, usually name-brand technology listed at half-price. Only the first customers in the store will get this deal – likely the folks willing to camp out all night – but retailers win no matter what: customers who score the deal leave happy, and those that don’t are already in-store, so to cut their losses, they buy other products instead.

Other deals are accompanied by pages of rules instead of small-print clauses. Walmart released a seven-page booklet explaining their sale on iPad Minis. In order to receive a promotional $30 gift card with it, customers must find a special line and obtain a wristband (while supplies last, of course). Best Buy’s release? 47 pages.

Gaming systems – especially new releases like the Xbox One S and PS4 Pro – are lackluster deals best avoided. Customers will purchase these high-demand items despite the price, so it’s not in a retailer’s best interest to slash the price too much – and if they do, it’s “while supplies last” (and they never do).

Questionable Quality

Once limited-quantity products disappear, the remaining “deals” aren’t always the best quality. The biggest price cuts are often on off-brand products, and even online retailers like Amazon do this. Forbes argues that Amazon’s deals are some of the best this year, but post-scripts that with a warning of sales to avoid – all of which are off-branded or unbranded TVs and Blu-Ray players.

The same advice applies to choosing your retailer, too: if an unknown (or potentially sketchy) site offers a deal that seems too good to be true, research it before making a purchase. Check out reviews for the product and for the site. Are all off-branded products poorly-made, and all small retail sites untrustworthy? Of course not – but a little research can save you a lot of grief.

Black Friday crowds line the front of a store; customers in line rush inside

Image Credit: Powhusku

Buy What You Need

Sales are a powerful thing, and those of the Black Friday variety carry even more weight than their year-round counterparts. That doesn’t mean, though, that Black Friday deals are the best. As the saying goes, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” – and louder isn’t always better. Some products are best bought at other times of the year, or even during the Black Friday sales that encompass the entire weekend after Thanksgiving (and sometimes Turkey Day itself, much to the chagrin of the employees scheduled that shift). Black Friday is no longer a one-and-done type of event. Walmart’s sales last five days; Amazon’s are already underway in what has become Black Month for them.

These same loud advertisements can also goad us into buying something we don’t need. Just because something is on sale doesn’t mean we need it. Impulse buys – though they seem a good idea at the time – are an easy way to waste money and end up with tons of unnecessary clutter.

About Natalie (22 Articles)
Writer. Editor. Blogger. Rejector of stereotypes. MFA candidate. Currently writing a novel about gender issues and dirt bikes. Home base: www.natalieschriefer.com.
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