As I sat at the table at a friend’s relative’s house on Thanksgiving Day, the conversation was dominated by a common theme. There was plenty of great food and a healthy array of other topics at the table, but the discussion kept finding its way back to the annual nationwide shopping spree known as Black Friday, which was mere hours away. In fact, there was more talk of the anticipation of the next day’s retail adventures than of Thanksgiving itself. Chances are it was the same way at your table. Indeed, the Friday free-for-all has in many ways eclipsed Turkey Day as the front runner for the second biggest deal of the year in the collective consciousness and folklore of the nation, right behind Christmas Day itself. A day formerly reserved for giving thanks has been reduced to little more than Black Friday Eve, with really good food.
Although the objective of Black Friday is to benefit retailers and balance the books, it is brazenly portrayed as a gift to consumers, with many so psyched about the supposed savings that they don’t even question why it is given such a dark title. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, was given its name to denote the fact that it is an opportunity for retailers to get out of the red (loss) and into the black (profitability). This is accomplished by supposedly slashing prices on merchandise that hasn’t been sold at its original suggested retail price yet during the calendar year. It is a tremendous boon for sales when combined with the fact that most non-retail workers have the day off, still have Christmas shopping to do, and are on a tryptophan high from inhaling a ton of turkey the previous day. Black Friday indeed serves its purpose, with many retailers who have operated at a deficit all year long ending the year in a surplus financial situation.
The mere fact that retailers end up so far in the black ought to open the eyes of consumers to the fact that they’re not really saving at all in most cases. Nobody goes into business to lose money, and retailers literally and mathematically cannot successfully get into the black by selling merchandise for less than or even the same as they paid for it themselves. In other words, the consumer is still taking a hit, even on Black Friday. Consumer prices are usually so significantly marked up over the discounted wholesale rates retailers pay that they can afford to leave them up all year in hopes that you’ll buy before finally relenting a bit and giving you a small break with just over a month remaining on the calendar. Even with that break, in most cases you’re still being taken to the cleaners.
When I was growing up, I never heard the term “Black Friday” used. All we ever heard about was the “After Thanksgiving Day Sale” or something similar that each retailer was putting on. It was never presented as a collective retail movement, although that’s exactly what it was. Even though retailers were getting over on consumers back then as well, at least they had the decency not to throw it in our faces. Now they don’t even grease the shaft before giving it to us; they unapologetically tell us they’re using us to put them in the black, and we’re so numb and dumb that we help them do it, even though most consumers will spend so far beyond their means that they will be the ones who end up in the red.
But let’s face it, you’re going shopping. You didn’t even sleep last night, you’re full of coffee, and your money is burning a hole in your pocket as we speak. So how can one avoid being a casualty of Black Friday and come out a winner at the end of the day? Here are a few priceless tips that can keep you in the black:
- Only buy what you need to buy. If you buy four television sets because they’re marked down slightly, you’ve still spent far in excess of what you would have spent if you had only purchased the one that you need. Consumers are often so fueled by the adrenaline rush caused by a “deal” that they are overtaken by excessive impulses that completely cancel out the benefit of taking advantage of it in moderation. Set a Black Friday budget and stick to it.
- Buy wholesale. Often factory direct outlets will sell to consumers at the same rates retailers pay. Retailers are the ultimate opportunists; they are consumers selling to other consumers who have less buying power, and making a profit based on not only the lack of resources, but the lack of knowledge of the average consumer. Wholesalers are just as motivated to get rid of inventory as retailers, especially at year end. Do a little research and find a wholesale outlet or distributor near you.
- Buy online. Wait until Cyber Monday, the Monday after Black Friday, and take advantage of online sales often offering greater savings than what you’ll find in brick-and-mortar stores which pass the cost of their overhead onto you. Online shopping also gives you the distinct advantage of comparison shopping in a pressure free environment.
- Wait until after Christmas. Black Friday is merely the opening salvo in the retailers’ desperate final battle in the annual war against red ink. Stores know they still have over a month left in the year, and even those consumers who don’t get caught up in the Black Friday frenzy will come out en masse over the following month. The real savings come when the yuletide carols have ceased, the gifts have been unwrapped – and in many cases, returned – and retailers are in a mad dash to eliminate the old year’s inventory with only a couple days left on the calendar.
With a bit of restraint and a healthy understanding of the game, the consumer can turn the tables on Black Friday, and finish the fiscal year on the winning side.
Brian C. Scott