The holiday season is a bonanza for retailers. In November and December, stores 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 Black Friday -- an event 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. Shoppers should know the truth about these 10 Black Friday myths.
10 Black Friday Myths Debunked
Contrary to popular belief, Black Friday doesn't always generate the most sales or foot traffic. In 2014 the sales crown belonged to Super Saturday, the Saturday before Christmas. Sales hit $23 billion, a $2 billion gain over Black Friday. This year, however, the Saturday before Christmas is Christmas Eve, when sales volume generally is lower. Dec. 17 has been labeled Super Saturday, and retail analytics firm ShopperTrak predicts Black Friday once again will reign supreme, followed by the day after Christmas. Super Saturday is expected to come in fourth.
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 bricks-and-mortar stores still offer the best deals to folks who brave the crowds seeking in-store "doorbuster" 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. However, studies commissioned by The Wall Street Journal and others have 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 at a loss. According to industry analysts, starting prices are set to allow what appears to be a generous discount without sacrificing profit.
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, 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 sometimes offer Black Friday specials. Some 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 -- when they happen. But shoppers are better off buying Apple gadgets from resellers such as Target, Best Buy, Walmart, BJ’s Wholesale Club, and B&H, which often sell the devices in money-saving bundles and give better discounts than the Apple Store. For instance, look for the 9.7-inch 32GB Apple iPad Pro at the bargain price of $449 at Target (regularly $600). Multiple stores are offering $250 gift cards with iPhone 7 models.
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. 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 reason 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. Think With Google reports that store traffic peaks on different days for different types of stores. Department stores, superstores, and mall retailers generally post their best day on Super Saturday while dollar stores are busiest on Christmas Eve. Only sellers of mobile phones and consumer electronics count record crowds on Black Friday. Could Black Friday be a slowly dying holiday rite?
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