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Avoiding Black Friday Online and Offline

This article was written by in Consumer. 9 comments.


Many retailers — those who have survived the rough economy — have struggled this past year. Companies are looking forward to the holiday season because they know consumers are in a tough position, too. Here is how it works: the economy is recovering, but unemployment is the last piece of the economy to improve in a recovery. With an national unemployment rate of 10.2%, Americans are finding it more difficult to rationalize frivolous or expenses. We’ve seen a broad trend towards frugality during the recession and we’re not quite ready to bid farewell to the newly found focus on savings.

The credit crunch has affected consumers as well, and fewer people have access to what has normally been a boost during the holiday season, cheap credit.

Despite the lack of access to income and credit for spending, consumers want to do what they can to make the holiday season seem normal. Experts predict this holiday season will be similar to last years, though some predict slightly less spending and some predict slightly more. We would expect retailers to use the same play book as last year. Shoppers will find Black Friday doorbusters offering the best deals and unannounced deals online.

There are some caveats. Included in the fine print amongst the Black Friday advertisements and circulars is often a number of conditions. The best deals are commonly found only in limited quantities. The time you need to be at the store to receive the deal is also limited. If you need to be at two different stores at 5:00 am or earlier to line up before the doors open, you need to choose. Many of the doorbusters are only available in person, as well.

While deals are in abundance, they exist mostly as teasers in order to get the most customers in the door at the same time. These deals are often just one step away from bait-and-switch scams. Last year’s Black Friday death at Wal-Mart shows how retailers can be irresponsible and unprepared and how customers can be horrifying for the sake of saving a few dollars. I plan on avoiding the morning shopping madness this coming Friday.

Stores also tend to suspend consumer-friendly practices during the period after Thanksgiving. You will have a more difficult time getting stores to match prices if another local store has the same product advertised at a lower price. For many products, this practice is suspended. In the past few years, retailers have limited return policies. During other times of the year, if a sale item is out of stock, you can get a rain check. But for the holidays, sales are first-come, first-served.

Shopping online won’t be much better. Last year, some retailers couldn’t handle their online sales. In some cases companies couldn’t ship the products sold for weeks or months after the orders were placed, and in other cases they resorted to shipping similar products when inventory ran out.

Should companies be allowed to advertise deals that will only be available to a few customers? If one store has, for example, three televisions — not three brands or three models, three televisions — to sell at a super low price to the first three people that day who want one, is this deal truly “available?”

I plan on avoiding Black Friday as much as possible this year. I am not a fan of crowds and very few sales are worth dealing with frenzied shoppers and grumpy salespeople. I may be monitoring a few stores online but unless I see fantastic deals on a selected group of interesting items offered by a retailer I can trust, I’ll be keeping my credit card in my wallet. The holiday season may be a bit easier for me than it is for others as I am sans kids, but I hope to continue this approach even if my life changes in the future.

What’s your plan for holiday shopping this year. Will you brave the crowds on Friday or stick to browsing online?

Photo credit: jardenberg

Updated January 16, 2010 and originally published November 23, 2009. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar vcmcguire

I don’t know what you’re talking about with this Black Friday thing. This coming Friday is Buy Nothing Day, right? ;)

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avatar KC

I’ve never taken part in Black Friday. I hate crowds. Most of the “deals” on Black Friday are for cheap stuff. Its stuff I wouldn’t want. I saw an ad for an $89 Blu Ray disc player. I’ve looked at Blu Rays and if I purchase one it wouldn’t be this particular model. In other words if I want something I know what I want and its usually a better quality than the “deal” on Black Friday.

This year my sister and I are buying my dad a point & shoot digital camera. We know the model we want to buy (the same as the one I already have for myself). We’ve been comparing prices online. I know that two retailers will have it for $150 on Black Friday. This is $30 cheaper than any price I’ve seen so far. I could get a p&s camera for much less, but those “deals” are on inferior models. I know the one I want – I’m saving the cash to buy it – and I’m doing it online on Black Friday so I can avoid the crowds and not be forced into buying other things on that day.

Just keep your head if you do go shopping. Know what you want and don’t be tricked into buying something else just cause its cheap.

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avatar Steve

I have wandered into a few stores on black friday and it hasn’t been worth the trouble. I am not in the market for a flat panel TV and I only buy a new digital camera when my old one breaks. Even when I do want something, the stuff I might want is gone well before I get there and the stuff that is there is not that good a deal, something I don’t really need in my life, or both.

One time I went to Fry’s (electronics store) on Black Friday, and saw TWO accidents while I was circling the parking lot looking for a spot. I decided that it wasn’t worth risking my own accident just to save a few bucks on something I didn’t really need anyways, and left.

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avatar Yana

I plan on avoiding crowds, stores and traffic on Black Friday. I need to do food shopping today, and that is bad enough. The grocery stores have been very crowded. As far as other shopping, the only thing I want to do is get to Fashion Bug while my discount coupons are still good. The trouble is that while I love that store, I don’t like clothes shopping at all. Once I get it done, though, I’m thrilled with the deals I get there. We always avoid Xmas, and as a result are very comfortable at this time of year.

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avatar Hal (GT)

I agree with you, I’m avoiding it as much as possible for the same reasons. I do think that there’s a real good chance that sales this year will flatline after Friday. Consumers are being forced to be frugal. With the jobless rate so high and things tight people are turning toward homemade gifts or not giving at all. The idea of going deeper into debt on plastic is not an option for many.

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avatar Greagory Creaser

You can borrow my chair to go sit in front of a store at 4am waiting for their doors to open! You will find me (several hours later) at the kitchen counter with my laptop in my pj’s with a hot cup of coffee. We tend to purchase gadgets from extreme geek and hunt for deals in the electronics arena. Actually the new PowerMat wireless charger looks intriguing. Here at VeriSign we’re betting everyone is looking at the shipping charges, and we are hoping savvy users are shopping on secure sites that offer EV SSL. So Good Luck on Cyber Monday – I will be shopping from my home- safe and warm with my wife by my side.

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avatar John DeFlumeri Jr

If you have the time, and they have what you want, it’s a great thing to do. But not just to look around, too much stress.

John DeFlumeri Jr

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avatar ctreit

I don’t remember ever shopping on Black Friday. I probably won’t start this year, either. We usually don’t spend that much during the holidays anyway.

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avatar Bucksome Boomer

Flexo, Black Friday shopping is not all bad. The important thing is to have a plan; only buy what’s on your list. Don’t go into debt to buy something.

I pick the stores I want to hit, order them by open time and leave before they start to get too crazy.

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