Holiday Deals that Aren’t Really Deals at All

overwhelmed holiday shopper

At one point Black Friday was just that – a single Friday in November with some seemingly good deals on stuff you might want to purchase. It’s much more than that now. First it spread to the adjacent weekend. Then stores started opening on Thanksgiving to get an even earlier jump on the sales. Now Black Friday is really Black November, with a solid chunk of December thrown in for good measure.

Despite what retailers around the nation would like you to believe, Black Friday isn’t a holiday – it’s a marketing ploy. Black Friday is not an act of generosity from your preferred big box stores and online retailers – it’s a full out assault on your bank account.

Now in fairness, there are good deals out there. And if you love the experience of Black Friday shopping, there's no reason you can't maintain your annual shopping traditions. 

That said, there are some deceptive offers out there. As long as you can identify and avoid these "deals" you can shop with a bit more confidence.

Trojan Horse deals

Some deals seem impossibly good. How could it be so? The latest, greatest phone for only a dollar? What madness is this?

If you don’t know the story of the Trojan Horse, here’s the basic gist: Some soldiers wanted to get inside a city, but they couldn’t get past the wall. So they built a giant wooden horse and hid inside. The people in the city said, “Hey wow! Free giant wooden horse!” and brought the horse inside the walls. Then the soldiers inside the horse got out and some unpleasant things happened.

Retailers routinely offer outrageous, can’t-pass-it-up deals on hot new items in order to get consumers through the door, but those retailers are under no obligation to have very many of those items on hand. They’re willing to take a loss on those few pieces of select merchandise knowing that the consumers who miss out on that great deal will very likely buy something else.

If you must leave the house at 3am in search of those Trojan Horse deals, make sure you’re willing to walk away when you find that the item you wanted sold out before you even got through the door.

The Big Mark Down

Your excitement about a potential deal is usually proportional to the percent of the markdown. You’re not getting out of bed for a 5 percent sale, but 70 percent? People sleep on sidewalks for those kinds of savings.

The problem is that those savings are regularly inflated. If an ad claims that you can save $100 on a laptop for example, be sure to check out the starting price. Retailers often use the highest price an item has ever been – not what the item is right now. They may also inflate an items price briefly before the sale period to make the markdown look that much more impressive.

It's important to comparison shop and verify how much an item is selling for elsewhere. You can use price tracking sites like camelcamelcamel and WikiBuy to see how much the price of selected items has risen or fallen over the previous months. It's a great way to see whether that massive discount is really as impressive as it seems.

Second rate merchandise

Black Friday and similarly "shopping holidays" often create a sort of shopping mania, where customers see appealing price tags and make quick decisions without considering other factors. You see a really cheap TV – boom – you buy it. That blender is practically free? Boom – purchased.

Unfortunately, even an extremely cheap item may not be worth what you pay for it. The deepest discounts on Black Friday and beyond are often for lesser quality items; either older models that retailers are looking to ditch anyway, or low grade items made specifically for deal-hungry Black Friday shoppers.

Do yourself a favor and do your research beforehand. Figure out specifically what you want and stay focused on getting those items and those items only

Don’t let yourself be hypnotized by low prices and deep discounts. There are certainly deals to be found, but you have to wade through many, many more false deals to get to the good stuff.

Shop smart and shop safe!

Updated November 2019

Tagged in Smart shopping, Holidays

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

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