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Are Black Friday deals as good as they seem?

Diane Hall


Shopper holding paper bag with sign of Black Friday

The UK seems to have adopted a few things from the States in recent years: proms for those leaving high school, decorating our homes for Halloween, and letting off fireworks on 4th July.

Another event that seems ingrained in the UK calendar is Black Friday. Following the American celebration that is Thanksgiving, you could equate this retail extravaganza to our Boxing Day sales—but, as you’d perhaps expect, Americans do everything bigger and better. Whilst most of us in the UK don’t queue outside shops in the early hours of 26th December to bag a bargain, the hysteria surrounding Black Friday in America can actually result in people physically fighting to get their hands on a coveted item.

The term ‘Black Friday’ was coined in 1961, when American police likened the sheer volume of people and traffic straining to get to the sales as a black mass. In later years, the term was linked to the colour of retailers’ bank accounts and the trade they did on the day. The money taken on Black Friday could equal the takings for the rest of the year for some retailers, i.e. they were ‘in the red’ before the event, and ‘in the black’ once it finished.

Black Friday sale on phone with Christmas decoration

Black Friday sale on phone with Christmas decoration
Laptop display with black friday screensaver and female hand with credit card over keypad going to make order in online shop

Today, many UK brands hold their own Black Friday events. As we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving over here, Black Friday means nothing to us really; however, that doesn’t stop UK firms jumping on the bandwagon in the hope that they can earn even more revenue in the run up to Christmas.

Whilst Black Friday discounts seem a good deal to shoppers, the event is not necessarily for our benefit. Specific products are often side-lined for Black Friday to ensure their clearance; as long as they are on offer at a higher price for a certain amount of time before the event, the shop will keep on the right side of UK retail law. However, the price the item comes ‘down’ to may sometimes be the normal RRP; labelling an item as being part of a Black Friday deal automatically makes shoppers think they’ve got a bargain, and few don’t stop to look at the small print associated with the deal.

A few years ago, consumer magazine Which? carried out some research. They found that a staggering 95% of the Black Friday deals they looked at were for products that had been displayed at the same price or cheaper in the six months prior. On a similar note, almost half of these special offers dropped further in price after the Black Friday event had passed.

As with a lot of promotions, Black Friday—in the UK at least—is largely a gimmick designed to capitalise on our spending habits as we try to find the perfect Christmas gifts for our loved ones, given that it occurs on the last Friday of November.

Don’t get sucked in

For shoppers, it’s important to see the discounts as what they are—just another marketing ploy, rather than a true saving. If you have a specific item on your Christmas shopping list, you’ll likely have an idea of its average RRP. On Black Friday, by all means, spend a few minutes researching the ‘shopping’ area of Google or price comparison sites for the best of the day’s deals. However, if you can’t find it any cheaper amongst all the ‘wonderful discounts’, wait for Black Friday to pass and you may find the price of the item goes down as Christmas nears.

Price isn’t everything

Competing retailers will set their prices within a few pence of each other for the same product. It therefore doesn’t really benefit the shopper to buy from one brand over another and the numerous ways deals can be presented can make it hard to see which is the best.

As mentioned above, it’s likely that the prices will all be very similar. However, one way to differentiate a good deal from another good deal, particularly with electrical items, is to consider their guarantee period and relative factors. For example, one shop may offer you a two-year guarantee where others will only offer one, or they may give you a refund if you change your mind about your purchase.

Read carefully

Whilst retailers must advertise their discounts in a certain way to ensure they’re not sued, they will still do their best to confuse shoppers in the hope they will be so bamboozled they’ll just hand over their cash without any questions.

For example, a retailer may claim a product is discounted by 50%; however, the higher price they may be taking this discount from could have come from when the product was first on sale, and not necessarily what it was priced at recently. Some products, such as phones and computers, go down in value as time goes by—because newer, faster versions supersede them.

Though Black Friday isn’t our invention, it is now a firm part of the UK retail calendar. I’ve even noticed that, this year, the run-up to the day has lengthened…informally, at least in my area, it’s been ‘Black Friday week’. Every advert I see on screen or hear on the radio seems to be dangling Black Friday deals, but no one I know is rushing out to take advantage.

Maybe we’re just being very British about it and not falling for the hype…

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