Retailers apply a number of sneaky strategies to make unsuspecting shoppers spend more than they should. But if you know what to look out for, you can protect yourself and your wallet.
Here, some typical tricks to look out for:
Are You Getting the Promised Price?
Sure, the ad says that that computer desk is selling for only $40. But what will you actually be charged at the cash register? Retailers often require customers to fill out forms for mail-in rebates in order to take advantage of the bargain. That means you’ll have to pay the full – or only slightly discounted – price upfront. To get the rest of your savings, you’ll have to mail in the form for the rebate and receive your refund by mail up to a few months later. It’s kind of like you’re loaning the store your money for the promise of getting it back in the future.
As with a loan, make sure to read the fine print to know what you’re getting into. Many times, stores will set a deadline very soon after Black Friday, in the hopes that you won’t get around to mailing the form. For example, last year Ace Hardware’s Black Friday rebates were good only from Nov. 27 through Dec. 1. With such a short window, it’s not hard to miss the deadline.
In a similar vein, online retailers may require a promotional code to apply a discount. You’ll have to enter the code manually, which is easy to forget as you’re entering your shipping and credit card details. But don’t forget this important step!
In some cases, Black Friday ads will highlight a discount that isn’t available to all consumers. To be eligible, you may have to have the store’s credit card, or you might need to be enrolled in the retailer’s rewards program. In some cases, this is easy to fix. Plan ahead and sign up for any free rewards programs offered by the stores you plan to visit on Black Friday. But when it comes to paid membership programs or store credit cards, you’ll probably be better off just skipping those deals entirely.
Then there’s the “all” markdown: Black Friday ads often feature impressive categorywide discounts: “all boots,” “all kids’ sleepwear” and “all tool kits” are but a few examples. But when you take a closer look, the deal may not be as extensive as it seems, applying in reality to only a few select items. For example, a 50% discount on “all Fisher-Price toys” may turn out to apply only to Fisher-Price toys priced at $12.99. And when you take a look, it turns out that there are only three such items in the store, and not one of them is on your shopping list.
How Much of a Deal Is It, Anyway?
One of the most successful strategies stores use to encourage you to purchase a product is convincing you of how much you’ll be saving. They know customers love being able to compare the original price to a much lower sale price. But before you congratulate yourself on grabbing such a great deal, do a little research.
What does that “original” price really mean? It’s hard to tell what the comparative price listed really refers to. Although we’d love to think it’s how much the item costs every day of the year besides Black Friday, it may actually be the price recommended by the manufacturer – and higher than what the store usually sells the product for. Or it could be a temporary, unusually high price. Sometimes retailers mark their prices up the week before major sales just so that they can “slash” them to apparent bargains – even if that “great deal” is in fact the store’s regular price for the product.
Alternatively, a store may list an estimated “value” of a product much higher than what it sells for. In this case, you may think you’re getting $200 off, but you’re really getting only $10 off, because the store’s estimation of the product’s value and its actual selling price are worlds apart.
Yet another trick retailers apply is highlighting regularly priced items in its ad as if they were discounted. If the product’s regular sale price is the exact same as its Black Friday price, you’re not getting much of a bargain, even if the store attaches a brightly colored “Great price!” label.
Even at a Discount, Is It Worth the Money?
But don’t let your guard down even once you’ve confirmed that the discount is real and you’re eligible for it. Even at the impressive price of $40 instead of $100, that tablet still may not be worth your money. Retailers often highlight the deepest discounts on outdated or poor-quality products, particularly when it comes to electronics, in order to clear their inventory of items they don’t need. Even $40 for a terrible product is $40 more than you need to spend.
Furthermore, Black Friday deals may not include the guarantees offered for non-doorbuster items. Read up on store policies to find out if the same warranty is offered for your item and what you should do if you want to return it. Stores may offer shorter warranties for Black Friday items and impose more restrictions on returning those items.
Are You Buying More Than You Wanted?
When shopping on Black Friday, the goal is to snag the best deals on items you need, not blow your paycheck on junk you could do without. Stores use multiple strategies to encourage you to purchase more than you planned to.
A popular technique is to limit the number of “doorbuster” items so that only the luckiest of customers actually get their hands on them. With your heart set on that $400 laptop, you drive 20 miles to the closest store in your area, where you wait outside for two hours for doors to open. Despite all that work, the last laptop is snatched away before you can get to it. What to do now?
Many shoppers, after missing out on the items they intended to buy, console themselves by buying something else, just to make the trip worth it. But you’re not saving by purchasing an item that you don’t need – and you’re more likely to settle for a higher price than you should.
Another trick is offering the first 50 or 100 customers a free gift. The gift may be small – a bag, a $5 gift card or even just entry in a sweepstakes to win a gift card. At the same time, the merchandise in the store features no discounts or, at most, measly markdowns. If you’ve planned your entire day around making the top 50 list, are you really going to leave the store empty-handed? Yes, you can and should, as long there’s nothing there that you actually need to buy.
Some coupons offer a major discount with a catch: those significant savings come only with significant spending. To apply the coupon, you may have to purchase as much as $100 worth of merchandise. If all you need is really $20 worth of stuff, that 40% discount you’ll get by spending $80 more isn’t going to mean much to your wallet.
Written by Melinda Szell
Black Friday dice image via Shutterstock