Opinion: Why I think Black Friday is for suckers

Earlier this month, I realized I needed to buy a new pair of sneakers. But this being November, I immediately said to myself: “Wait till Black Friday since there’s bound to be a sale.”

Here’s the thing, though: I really needed those sneakers. And when I did a little checking online, I found I could easily snag a 10%-off deal on the pair I wanted. When I combined that with a promotion that Rakuten, the cash-back app and website, was running, I actually got the sneakers for what I considered quite a good price.

All of which leaves me thinking that Black Friday — and by extension, Cyber Monday — is a bit of a myth. Meaning it’s a marketing tool just to goad Americans to shop more than necessary. And the deals it offers aren’t necessarily that out of the ordinary.

I’m hardly the first to point this out. There are rampant pricing games played by stores in connection with Black Friday, observers of the retail scene have noted. Among them: Upping the cost of items in advance of the holiday-shopping blitz, then lowering them for the big day itself. A study by the Wall Street Journal found that prices increased by an average of 8% on many items in the weeks before Thanksgiving — and on toys and tools the increase was around 23%. So the Black Friday “sale” on such items was basically a return to the baseline.

Of course, we also know about those Black Friday doorbuster deals, though they are seemingly less prevalent than they once were. Perhaps that’s a good thing, given the craziness — and even violence — they have often engendered. But we also know that doorbusters are another example of a faux deal in that they are usually offered in limited quantities. Unless you feel like camping out overnight at the mall, you might as well forget them.

We’re simply shopping for sport and potentially going broke looking for bargains.

And yet, my larger point isn’t necessarily about the math of Black Friday deals and whether I could have saved an extra 3% on those sneakers if I had waited for the post-Thanksgiving event. It’s more about how Black Friday corrupts the whole idea of shopping and plays into a financially foolish American sensibility.

Yes, we should always be deal-savvy, and I certainly aim to save. But let’s reserve our shopping for things we truly need, which also means not driving ourselves crazy about the “perfect” time to buy. Otherwise, we’re simply shopping for sport and potentially going broke looking for bargains. A deal is no deal if it adds to our debt.

Consider a 2023 survey from NerdWallet that found 83% of Americans overspend, and 44% of those with a monthly budget say they’re using credit cards to balance those budgets. You have to wonder: How much did holiday shopping — and specifically, Black Friday shopping — contribute to that sorry state of affairs?

Here’s another sobering statistic: about half of American households say they have no retirement savings, and only 9% have savings of more than $500,000. I hate to think how those figures might be different if we weren’t shopping for the television set of our dreams when we’re still digesting our turkey.

And boy, do we spend on Black Friday! Last year, the retail tally topped $9 billion for the big day, an all-time record. Given that consumers have generally been in a happy mood this year — consider all the spending on trips to see Taylor Swift concerts — it’s not hard to imagine that figure could be higher in 2023.

Naturally, my email inbox is already filled with news of all sorts of Black Friday savings. I even received word of a casket company offering discounts. I guess that gives new meaning to the shop-till-you-drop idea.

As for me, I’ll wait to save on a casket until a more, ahem, appropriate time. And I’ll treat Black Friday mostly as a day to sleep late and feast on leftovers. I’m sure there may be a few legitimate deals to be had and I admit I might take a peek at one or two of those promotional emails. But now that I’ve purchased my sneakers, my biggest buying worry of the moment has passed. Plus, I tend to shop for holiday gifts at my own leisurely pace, not because a made-up bargain-hunting day prompts me to do so.

The bottom line: Black Friday is for suckers in my book. Don’t become one of them.

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