Black Friday is historically the series of deep discounts that stores offer on the day after Thanksgiving. But retailers are now asking consumers to shut off their grills, rather than break away from their turkey dinners, to take advantage of midyear deals, called Black Friday in July.
“July is typically a down time in retail,” says Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “Contagious: Why Things Catch On.”
“Back-to-school hasn’t happened yet, and people are on vacation. So they need something to drive consumers to the stores.”
But why brand summer sales with the term Black Friday?
“Black Friday signals to consumers that they’re going to get a good deal,” Berger says. “And if they think they’re getting a deal, they’re more likely to go shop.”
Bringing Black Friday to July
Stores have held summer sales for years. But in 2015, Amazon led the Black Friday in July charge by hosting its first “Prime Day” shopping event. Only members of Amazon Prime, who pay $99 per year or $10.99 per month for a subscription, could take advantage of the 24-hour sale. The company promised it would dish out more deals than it did on the actual Black Friday.
Some markdowns were negligible, but others were substantial. The site discounted the iRobot Roomba 595 Pet Vacuum to $249.99 (regularly $379.99) and the Amazon Kindle to $49 (regularly $79).
And it wasn’t the only retailer making waves. Wal-Mart delivered what it called “atomic deals” on thousands of products and lowered its free shipping minimum to $35 during July 2015. In a direct attack on Amazon, the retailer wrote in a blog post, “You shouldn’t have to pay $100 to get great deals.”
But it didn’t stop there. Forever 21 had a Black Friday in July promotion. So did Groupon and Petco. And so did Best Buy. From clothing to electronics, no product was off-limits.
Many promotions rivaled November Black Friday deals, and others were even better. For example, Best Buy discounted the iPad Air 2 16GB by $100 on Thanksgiving Day in 2015. But during the store’s 2015 Black Friday in July, that same iPad was $125 off.
The Black Friday in July trend continued in 2016. Prime Day came back for a second round. Best Buy hosted mid-month electronics deals, and department store Macy’s threw its hat into the retail holiday ring.
In one example of a deal that beat the real Black Friday, Amazon lowered the price of its Echo speaker to $129.99 on Prime Day 2016. That was better than the $139.99 price it offered on Black Friday 2016.
Bottom line: Although Black Friday in July sales don’t always reach actual Black Friday levels, they come close — and let you avoid the crazed crowds.
Get ready for retailers to compete
This year’s Black Friday in July sales are expected to launch soon. Most notably, Amazon’s Prime Day is expected to come back for a third installment.
If past years are are any indication, get ready for other major retail players to get in on the action.
Will you win when companies compete for your wallet?
“It depends,” Berger says. “Retailers competing can mean lower prices, but sometimes retailers artificially hike up prices in advance to make the sale look better. So it’s not actually a great deal overall.”
Be cautious when you start shopping, as you would during any storewide sale. You’ll need to sift through the lesser deals in pursuit of the few that are worthwhile — it won’t be all Apple products. But judging by 2015 and 2016, we expect an abundance of discounts on tablets, headphones, activity trackers and apparel.
Other things to consider? Shop online. It’ll give you the best opportunity to compare prices, and you can take advantage of free shipping offers.
And use Black Friday in July as a sign of things to come. These midyear sales often highlight some of the same products that stores will discount later in the year.
Black Friday in November likely won’t get dethroned anytime soon, but if you absolutely need to make a purchase before fall, you can buy in July without being filled with remorse when you see real Black Friday prices.
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Courtney Jespersen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @courtneynerd.
This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by USA Today.
Updated June 29, 2017.