Many Black Friday Deals Are A Bust

Many Black Friday
Deals Are A Bust

NerdWallet research found 3 out of 4 U.S. adults plan to hit Black Friday sales this year. Consumers are ready to spend more, too, and pay off holiday debt faster. But the deals they're chasing often are just warmed up leftovers from last year.

by Courtney Jespersen

NerdWallet research found 3 out of 4 U.S. adults plan to hit Black Friday sales this year. Consumers are ready to spend more, too, and pay off holiday debt faster. But the deals they're chasing often are just warmed up leftovers from last year.

A NerdWallet analysis of 21 Black Friday advertisements found that 95% of retailers plan to repeat some identical deals from last year.

Still, according to an online survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults commissioned by NerdWallet and conducted by Harris Poll, 76% of Americans say they plan to shop on Thanksgiving or Black Friday and will spend an average of 4.5 hours doing so. Consumers also are ready to spend more — and pay off their debt faster — this holiday season.

In this report, NerdWallet analyzes the reality of Black Friday deals as well as how American shoppers are managing their money this holiday season.

Key Findings

  • In a NerdWallet analysis of 21 Black Friday advertisements, 20 retailers listed at least one product for the exact same price in 2015 as in their 2014 ad. That means 95% of retailers are repeating some Black Friday products — and prices — from year to year.
  • Some major retailers, including Sears and Sam’s Club, offered the same (or lower) prices as their Black Friday deals earlier in November.
  • Our survey found that Americans plan to spend about 20% more this year on holiday gifts compared with last year ($529 in 2015 vs. $440 in 2014).
  • Middle-class income earners plan to pay off this year’s holiday debt a lot sooner than they did last year. According to our survey, Americans who earn $50,000 to $74,999 say it will take 1.3 months to pay off their holiday credit card debt, compared with 2.6 months in 2014.

Some 2015 Black Friday deals are identical to 2014’s

Part of the appeal of Black Friday deals is their limited-time nature. Doorbusters and other big markdowns are typically offered for only a few hours or while supplies last — a retailer technique that makes sale items all the more coveted.

However, those deals might not be as rare and fleeting as they seem. NerdWallet discovered that a large number of big-name retailers are repeating 2014 prices in 2015.

“This is the fourth year we’ve conducted this analysis, and we’re still seeing repetitive deals every year,” says NerdWallet shopping manager Katrina Chan. “Just because a retailer promotes a certain product as a ‘deal,’ consumers shouldn’t take that at face value. Shoppers still have to do their homework early.”

Items With Repeated Prices

Black Friday RetailerSame Price in 2015 as in 2014?
Which Item?Repeated Price
Ace HardwareYesCraftsman 5-Drawer Tool Center$79.99
BelkYesColumbia Northern Bound Jacket$59.95
Best BuyYesApple iPad Air 2 Wi-Fi 16GB$399.99
Dollar GeneralYesToastmaster Stand Mixer$15.00
GameStopYesPlayStation Gold Wireless Headset$69.99
Harbor FreightYesPittsburgh Pro 1/4" Torque Wrenches$9.99
J.C. PenneyYesCooks Microwave$49.99 after mail-in rebate
Jo-Ann FabricYesSinger Sewing Machines$35.99 - $599.99
Kohl'sYesInnovative Technology 40" Bluetooth Tower Speaker$39.99
Macy'sYesShark NV105 Navigator Lightweight Upright Vacuum$78.99
MeijerYesRazor Dirt Rocket Bike$199.99
Michael'sYes7 ft. Pre-Lit Pencil Tree$39.99
PetcoYesTetraFauna 20L Aquatic Turtle Kit$99.99
Rite AidYesPhilips Clear Sound Earbuds$6.00
Sam's ClubYesSports Arena Trampoline$299.00
SearsYesKenmore 4.2-cu. ft. Gas Range with 5 Burners$398.99
Sports AuthorityYesPRO-FORM Endurance 520 E Elliptical$549.99
Stage StoresYesPaula Deen 11-PC Cookware Set$49.99 after mail-in rebate
StaplesYesNETGEAR Nighthawk R7000 Smart WiFi Router$169.99
TargetYesRazor E175 24V Electric Scooter

Some retailers are repeat offenders

At some stores, it’s not just the ghost of one deal from Black Friday past that visits again. We discovered some stores that are filling their 2015 ads with multiple repeat deals.

For instance, at Southern-inspired department store Belk, we located at least 80 deals in the 2015 Black Friday ad that are identical to its 2014 ad. Major department store Macy’s isn’t far behind, with more than 60 repeated deals.

Macy’s even seemed to repeat its Black Friday ad layout this year. Take a look at the striking similarities in this side-by-side comparison of pages from 2014 and 2015.

Discounts aren’t always what they appear

And there are other naughty retailer tricks that threaten to spoil the cheer of Black Friday shopping.

In some instances, stores inflate the “original” price of a product, often listing the manufacturer’s suggested retail price rather than the price it was selling for before Black Friday. This makes the discount appear larger — hence all the bold claims of discounts of 60%, 70% and more off.

For instance, this Black Friday, Macy’s offers a Samsonite Luggage Cape May 2 21” carry-on bag for $99.99. This store’s ad contrasts that with the suitcase’s regular price of $260. A big sale, right? Wrong. We found the exact same suitcase on sale for $116.99 at Macy’s earlier in November. After applying a sitewide Veterans Day promotion, the price was $99.44. So instead of getting a perceived discount of $160.01, shoppers will pay 55 cents more on Black Friday.

The story’s similar at Dell, where a Samsung 32-inch LED TV will be on sale for $177.99 during the retailer’s 2015 Black Friday sale. This would appear to be a savings of $142, compared with the advertised “market value” price of $319.99. But we found the same TV available for $197.99 in early November, making the discount only $20. The TV does come with a $50 eGift Card toward a future purchase as part of the Black Friday deal, but it’s still a far cry from the advertised savings off the $319.99 market value.

“It’s important for shoppers to ignore the Black Friday percent-off claims, as it’s very likely that the advertised amount of the discounts may be inflated,” Chan says. “Instead, shoppers should look at the sale price of the item and determine if it’s a price they’re willing to pay.”

Another thing to keep an eye out for — different “original” prices at different retailers. Depending on where consumers shop, they may see different amounts of perceived savings. This is one way retailers essentially trick shoppers into believing they’re saving more than they truly are.

The Keurig K45 Elite Single-Serve Coffee or Tea Brewing System, for example, will be available on sale for $89.99 at Macy’s and Kohl’s this Black Friday and for $89.98 at Stage. But each of these retailers advertises a different regular retail price for the coffee maker: $174.99 for Macy’s, $149.99 for Kohl’s and $119.98 for Stage.

Furthermore, this Keurig model was listed at a sale price of $119.99 at Macy’s earlier in November, not the $174.99 regular price shown in its Black Friday ad. After applying a sitewide Veterans Day promotion, the Keurig model was $107.99, making this Black Friday deal not as big of a bargain as it originally appears.

Repeats fill a majority of the pages of the 2015 Black Friday ad this year at Harbor Freight Tools. Of the store’s 40 deals from 2014, 23 are being repeated in 2015 (approximately 58% of the ad).

The hardware retailer is also inflating prices on a large scale this year. Last year, the store listed “regular” prices for discounted products in its ad to give shoppers a sense of how much they were saving. But this year, Harbor Freight has switched out regular prices for something called “comp” prices. We discovered that many of this year’s comp prices are dramatically higher than last year’s regular prices for identical items. The result is much higher base prices for the same products and overstated savings for shoppers.

Take a look at the US General 44-inch 13-Drawer Roller Cabinet deal from 2014 compared with the same deal in 2015. It’s on sale for $349.99 in both ads, but the savings are shown as $350 in 2014 compared with $680 in 2015. That’s because Harbor Freight switched 2014’s “regular” price of $699.99 to 2015’s “comp” price of $1,029.99.

Black Friday prices come around more than once a year

Not only did our study find that major retailers repeat deals from Black Friday to Black Friday, but we also discovered that some Black Friday prices (or lower ones) can be found earlier in November. This challenges everything shoppers thought they knew about Black Friday being the best shopping day of the year.

For instance, this Black Friday, Sam’s Club is touting its $179 deal on the popular Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8-inch. But we found the same tablet on sale for $169 from the warehouse store on Nov. 14 of this year as part of a one-day-only deal. The 9.7-inch version of the tablet is advertised for $229 in both sale events.

Over at Sears, the Kenmore Elite 23.7-cubic foot French door bottom-freezer refrigerator is one of the retailer’s Black Friday deals, with a sale price of $2,299.99. But that model was sold earlier this November for $2,184.99.

2014 deals were better than 2015’s

And if shoppers thought that Black Friday prices could only get lower each year, they should think again. We located several instances on everything from electronics to kitchen appliances in which the Black Friday 2014 price was better than 2015’s.

Last year, office supply store Staples had the Brother HL-L2320d Mono Laser Printer on sale for $49.99; in 2015, the price has jumped to $79.99. Furthermore, we found the printer available on the store’s website for $59.99 earlier in November — $20 less than it will cost on Black Friday.

Similarly, Belk listed the KitchenAid 4.5-quart Classic Plus Stand Mixer for a sale price of $199.99 in its 2014 Black Friday ad. In the store’s 2015 ad, it’s $219.99.

And at Macy's, the Chloe 76" Velvet Sofa that shoppers picked up for just $499 in 2014 is now $100 more expensive, listing at $599 in 2015.

Americans feeling joyful this year with spending

Consumers plan to spend more money this holiday season than they did last year — but they’re also planning to pay off holiday debt more quickly, according to NerdWallet’s recent survey with Harris Poll:

  • On average, Americans plan to spend $529 on holiday gifts this season, up from $440 in 2014.
  • Parents with children under 18 years old in the household plan to spend $709 on holiday gifts this season, compared with $521 in 2014. That’s approximately 36% more this year.
  • Overall, Americans say it will take them 1.4 months to pay off their holiday credit card debt, compared with 1.7 months in 2014.
  • Those who earn $50,000 to $74,999 a year project it will take 1.3 months to pay off their holiday credit card debt — that’s half the time it took the same group last year (2.6 months).
  • 55% of Americans will use cash to pay for some holiday gifts this year, while 48% plan to use a credit card some of the time.

“It appears that Americans are splurging a little more when buying holiday gifts this year,” says Chan. “One could attribute this to a lower unemployment rate compared to last year. What’s also interesting to note is that while consumers may be comfortable spending more, they’re doing so responsibly and plan to pay off their purchases quickly.”

How to maximize your savings this holiday

Follow these tips to get the most bang for your buck this Black Friday and throughout the holiday season:

Be savvy when you shop.
Never make a purchase until you’ve compared prices between retailers and applied any relevant coupon codes. This can be done by downloading price comparison apps or conducting a quick online search.

When shopping online, be on the lookout for retailers that offer free shipping. When possible, bundle your products to reach a retailer’s free shipping minimum. For an even better deal, choose retailers that offer free shipping with no minimum purchase amount on most orders. This year, Best Buy and Target are offering free shipping on almost all holiday purchases.

And no matter where you shop, always know the return policy before you buy.

Don’t let money go to waste, use price protection.
According to NerdWallet’s recent survey, only 28% of Americans have taken advantage of a price match on a purchase they found for less at another store in the past 6 months. This leaves up to 72% of Americans who may be missing out on this cost-saving option.

Certain credit cards offer price protection. Learn the rules for your card's price protection program (sometimes you need to register your purchases ahead of time) and get refunded if the advertised price goes down after you buy.

“Price protection is crucial because it means you won’t have to shop on any particular day to get a great deal,” says Sean McQuay, NerdWallet credit card associate. “You can take advantage of sale prices later by getting a refund of the price difference.”

Take advantage of your credit cards.
If you have a rewards credit card with a high cash back rate or a card with extra rewards on relevant purchase categories, consider using them this holiday season. For instance, consider using a card that gives extra rewards on grocery store purchases to buy gift cards, since many supermarkets sell gift cards to top retailers and restaurants.

Finally, if you’re looking to buy something major (such as a big appliance or a high-end TV), check the details of your credit card to see if your company offers any extended warranty protection.

Ad comparison methodology

For the Black Friday ads portion of this study, NerdWallet chose to analyze ads for which full 2014 and 2015 ad scans were available at the time of analysis. Note that some major national Black Friday ads from 2015 were not available at the time of analysis.

While some retailers repeated more than one item at the same price in both their 2014 and 2015 ads, we chose to list only one item per store in order to simplify our data presentation.

Survey methodology

For the holiday shopping survey portion of this NerdWallet study:

The 2015 survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet Oct. 22-26, 2015, among 2,052 adults (ages 18 and older).

The 2014 survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet Nov. 3-5, 2014, among 2,013 adults (ages 18 and older).

These online surveys are not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact Jessica Ayala at [email protected].