Black Friday isn’t charity. Here’s how retailers want to trick you into spending more than you should, buying things you shouldn’t
Black Friday, which falls on 29 November this year, may feel like an annual treat for thrifty shoppers, but it has little to do with altruism. For retailers it is all about maximising consumer spend.
Some Black Friday bargains will save you money, with some items selling at or below cost price, but profit-starved stores, especially those in South Africa under extreme pressure, do not plan to come in at a loss for the day.
Rather, online and brick and mortar stores use the annual shopping day to manipulate consumers, get feet through doors, win hearts and minds, and generate additional revenue.
In South Africa, shoppers spent close to R3 billion at stores on Black Friday 2018 - a leap in spending so high that it even helped ‘save’ the country's economy after a torrid year. And with South African consumer spending habits often dictated by pay day deposits, it’s an expense that few local consumers can actually afford.
In order to get consumers parting with their cash, and then, ironically, thanking the stores while doing so, retailers employ several tricks and techniques - many of which are refined each year as the shopping day continues to gain traction in South Africa.
This is how stores will try to trick you into spending more money than you probably should on Black Friday 2019.
Stores will build up your bargain-seeking arrogance – to your detriment.
The psychological manipulation starts long before anyone bangs on the store doors early on Black Friday morning itself, and all the retailers taking part are conspiring against you.
Stores use several psychological tricks to manipulate shoppers, but one of the most important is boosting your certainty of finding a great deal on days like Black Friday, according to brand and consumer specialist Martin Lindstrom.
He argued on Bloomberg that most of what we do while shopping is irrational and subconscious, and calls the mall “the soul of seduction”. The more rational shoppers think they are, he says, the more likely they are to be manipulated.
In other words, you might think it’s entirely rational, and even pretty genius, to be tracking down that amazing deal on Black Friday - but if anything, this confidence just means you’re more likely to fall prey to their tricks.
Building up the hype prior to Black Friday reinforces the idea that great bargains are to be had. Also watch out for messages that tease limited availability and the need to pounce on deals while they are available, rather than sitting on the idea of buying that brand new washing machine until it is "too late".
"Limited stock" is just that – especially if the numbers aren't specified.
Mainstream stores will not risk being caught for fraud; if they advertise a once-in-a-lifetime discount of tens of thousands of rands, they really will sell at that price. But there is no requirement for them to have enough stock to make sure you too can get that item at that price.
Be especially worried when the level of stock is not specified, because "limited" can mean "one".
Stores count on the fact that the adrenaline rush of Black Friday will make you grab a "deal" you haven't properly researched when limited stock means you can't get exactly what you want – especially after you've camped out on a cold floor all night or obsessively clicked "refresh" on a web page.
Retailers lure you in with great deals, and then subtly tempt you to buy stuff that is not on sale
The concept of loss leaders - items that aren’t necessarily profitable, but sold to attract customers to other items - is nothing new, and not exclusive to Black Friday, either.
Between online research and social media, retailers have to offer genuinely good deals to get feet through their doors rather than those of competitors. If they draw enough traffic they may be able to offset the losses with higher volumes on regularly-priced goods, and they tend to do everything in their power to convince you to buy those.
In some cases it seems as if stores also subtly mark up items they think shoppers may not know the value of, and let the halo-effect of Black Friday give the impression that these too are really good deals.
Loss-leading is not a failsafe way for stores to generate profits, but they do work – to the extent that they’re banned in many US states and European countries.
The products on sale may be old....
Check the model numbers of the hot ticket items that are deeply discounted, and you may find that the products are anything but new.
Events like Black Friday are a great way to move old items that haven't sold through the year, and probably won't move during Christmas shopping either – and which will only drop in value as they are outpaced by newer models with new features or technologies.
These can still be great deals if you know what you are in for, and if you are happy with last year’s model, or one with limited features. Just don't be caught with a "new" TV that isn't quite what you expected.
... or inferior
Because American consumers can now be counted on to flood into stores for Black Friday, some manufacturers create products especially to capitalise on that spending.
In at least some cases, these special product lines are cheaper to make, and inferior, to mainstream product lines that carry the same name. Because of this, Forbes suggests that the very bastion of a Black Friday deal - the not-so-humble flat screen television - is better bought at other times of the year to avoid buying “toned down, derivative models”.
If you can't find the model number for a common item from a big name with a simple Google search, beware.
You are not being paranoid: some stores will quietly increase prices before Black Friday to claim bigger discount levels.
As with some online stores in South Africa, those dramatic double-digit percentage discounts on offer come 29 November will not necessarily be as attractive as simple math would suggest.
That’s because in order to hit the advertised discounts, some retailers quietly increase the retail price of sale items a few weeks before the event.
That way they can genuinely claim a discount compared to what they were charging before, even though that is not necessarily the price that was generally charged.
Chances are you'll get the same thing at the same discount later – and you may do even better.
It’s easy to fall into the temptation trap of Black Friday and think it’s the only sale of the year. But, in the US market at least, CNN claims that there are the same - if not better - deals to be had at other times of the year.
And the South African seasonal retail cycle is looking more and more like that of America, as Black Friday and Cyber Monday take hold here.
Sales on things like clothes and outdoor equipment are often dictated by the changing weather, so if you’re after summer fashion items, you may be better off waiting a few months after Black Friday.
Likewise, South African electronics stores increasingly release items like smart phones and televisions soon after they launch elsewhere. Those launch dates are often linked to big international events, such as the Consumer Electronics Show in the US.
So if you lust after a big-ticket item such as a new iPhone or a large TV, you might be better syncing your sales clock with, say, Apple's international releases, and waiting for the fire-sale price drops that come when that now top-of-the-line phone suddenly becomes a previous model.