Think Black Friday Is the Best Day to Get a Deal? Think Again

(Los Angeles Times/MCT) -

As the hardiest of shoppers prepare for the annual Black Friday consumption frenzy, many are convinced it’s their one shot at a great deal.

But “that’s not even close to the truth,” said Matthew Ong, senior retail analyst at online personal finance company NerdWallet Inc.

Bargain hunters can – and, in some cases, should – avoid the Black Friday weekend crush, several experts said.

Many characterize the shopping bonanza as an expertly marketed ploy to capitalize on shoppers’ fear of missing out. By dangling a small batch of irresistible savings, stores land hordes of hopeful shoppers all scheming to score the deal of the decade.

Yet only a tiny percentage of customers end up with the most desirable deals. The rest, unwilling to leave empty-handed, walk away with lesser bargains arranged appealingly nearby.

The weekend is crowded with misleading promotions, including deceptive discounts off misstated “original” prices and deals that could have been had a year earlier, according to NerdWallet. More than 90 percent of Black Friday ads this year feature items being sold at exactly the same price as they were last Black Friday, the financial advice website said.

And some door-buster prices are available throughout the year, including a $79.99 Tommy Hilfiger jacket at Macy’s that NerdWallet said was also offered during the retailer’s Veterans Day sale. At Target, researchers discovered a KitchenAid mixer selling for less than its advertised Black Friday sale price.

“Consumers make poor decisions when they’re under duress, and this is most obvious on Black Friday,” Ong said.

There will be plenty of competing shoppers this year to provide that stressful situation.

From Thursday through Sunday, the National Retail Federation anticipates that as many as 140 million shoppers will hit stores or retail websites – less than the 147 million that planned to do so last year, yet still more people than reside in Mexico.

And more companies than ever are opening their doors on Thanksgiving. So on top of the shoving, sleep deprivation and occasional stampedes the shopping event tends to breed, there will be an extra layer of hostility born of the decision to stand in line instead of stay home.

Black Friday itself remains the busiest and most productive day of the year for retailers. Consulting firm Accenture found that the appeal of the day is at a five-year high, with more than half of survey respondents saying they’ll participate.

Retailers have been in a promotional mood for months, as they try to attract wary shoppers. They’re trying to make up for sales that have been weak through much of the year, damaged by volatile weather, shaky consumer confidence, the government debt stalemate and a payroll tax increase.

Forecasts for the year-end shopping period – which can sometimes account for 40 percent of a retailer’s annual sales – are dour. Morgan Stanley predicted the worst holiday sales since 2008.

Worried retailers may continue discounting well past Black Friday in an attempt to suck in last-minute stragglers, analysts said.

Sharon McCollam, Best Buy Co. Inc.’s chief financial officer, told analysts in a conference call last week that keeping up with rivals on bargains and discounts is “table stakes” in the year-end sales game.

“We are committed to being competitive on price,” McCollam said. “So if our competition is, in fact, more promotional in the fourth quarter, we will be too.”

DealScience, an online bargain aggregator based in Los Angeles, found that Wednesdays are the week’s best day to save money, with a third of all coupons published on that day.

And hold on to those receipts: This year, more than 20 percent of big-box retailers are offering a price-match guarantee, according to DealScience. In fact, most retailers will issue a rebate for the price difference if they put an item on sale after you bought it at a higher price.

Overall, Dec. 4 will be the best day to shop during the season, the day with the least amount of traffic in the weeks following Thanksgiving, according to ShopperTrak. On Saturdays and Sundays, in comparison, stores are expected to be overwhelmed with people scrambling to check off their gift lists in four weekends instead of the five they had last year.

“Come into a store on Wednesday, and shelves will be fairly well replenished, things will be back in order, there will be lots of workers to give you attention and much less commotion,” ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin said. “You can really focus on the deals that are available.”