Is Black Friday a Good Deal?

blue denim jeans with tag that says "Black Friday 50% discount." Is Black Friday a Good Deal?
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Is Black Friday a Good Deal?

What should we make of Black Friday? Is it a day of great deals for the frugal shopper? Is it helpful to businesses trying to sell off overstock? Or is it all a scam that merely makes us think we’re getting a deal?

Add to that a question that is on all of our minds: What will Black Friday look like after things “go back to normal” after the restricted pandemic years? 

First, let’s start with whether Black Friday actually provides good deals.

Some Black Friday Sales are Legitimate

Retail researchers have found that there are good deals to be had on Black Friday. But, as savvy consumers have probably guessed, companies are not providing great deals out of the goodness of their hearts.

While many stores will offer a few great deals on Black Friday, they are hoping you will purchase more than just the deeply discounted products. They hope to start a buying frenzy in their stores or on their websites using a sprinkling of good deals.

Kristin McGrath, who writes for RetailMeNot and has spent years tracking Black Friday, lists some of the things most likely to be heavily discounted during Black Friday sales:

  • Computers, laptops, and tablets
  • Small appliances
  • Airpods and their non-Apple competitors
  • Smart home gadgets, such as Amazon Echo and Google Nest
  • Video games (though not so much gaming consoles this year)
  • Smartwatches and fitness trackers
  • Towels and Sheets
  • Massage guns

Select Black Friday deals aside, buyers should also be aware of the generally deceptive nature of sales by many retailers.

Black Friday Isn’t Always a Good Deal

A recent study by a consumer advocacy organization found that big retailers Sears, Kohl’s, And Macy’s had some big ticket items at the “sale price” most or all of the time. And often the sale price wasn’t better than prices regularly offered at other retailers.

There are federal and state laws against deceptive sale practices, but they are rarely enforced and big retailers often find workarounds. The only way to really decide if a deal is good is to compare prices across retailers.

Other questions about Black Friday are heavily influenced by the years at the height of Covid restrictions and supply-chain issues.

photo of womens clothing boutique - Is Black Friday a Good Deal?
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Covid Has Made Things Complicated

Long before Covid, Black Friday deals were concentrated into one day, the Friday after Thanksgiving. Right before Covid, Black Friday was creeping into the afternoon of Thanksgiving itself. People were dipping out of their family dinners to wait in line at big box retailers.

Covid changed all that. In 2020, most big retailers made the decision to close the day of Thanksgiving. In-person sales in general that year were light due to Covid restrictions and widespread fears of encountering the virus. Online shopping grew much bigger that year.

In-person shopping was not as restricted in 2021, but supply chain issues loomed large. Due to products being harder to find, sales were not as good. In order to find the products they wanted, people began shopping earlier and advertising campaigns expanded over a longer period of time. There was a Black Friday season rather than one or two days of sales.

With fears of the pandemic subsiding for many, it is hard to predict what this year will hold. predicts Black Friday will continue to be stretched out over a couple months. Online shopping will continue to be big, and Cyber Monday will likely be just as big, in terms of the quality of sales and the amount consumers spend, as Black Friday. 

Experts further predict that Black Friday spending will be down in 2022 due to inflation. However, higher prices in general may mean people are more eager to take advantage of holiday deals.

women holding shopping bags on street - Is Black Friday a Good Deal?
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Black Friday and Sustainability

It probably doesn’t need to be said that it’s not sustainable to buy things you don’t need or that aren’t useful to you. If you are lured by bargains, be mindful of your motivations. It can be helpful to unsubscribe from promotional emails. If you decide to shop, make a shopping list and set a budget.

When it comes to supporting ethical and sustainable brands on Black Friday, it’s a mixed bag.

Some brands feel coerced into offering seasonal sales in order to compete with conventional retailers. These sales impact their bottom line, and put pressure on small-scale supply chains. Ethical and sustainable retailers already operate with thinner profit margins. So it’s not always helpful to offer sales.

That being said, if you cannot typically afford to purchase goods from brands with more transparent supply chains, it’s perfectly fine to take advantage of the sales they offer.

Other brands wait to put last-season and overstock items on sale until Black Friday. These brands are using seasonal sales in a way that can actually help them get more cashflow and increase revenue before the end of the fiscal year.

Some founders will release statements about their sales that help consumers navigate how to engage with their sales. Others offer “pay what you can” sales so that you can decide what you’re comfortable paying.

The important thing is to be savvy about marketing and make reasoned choices.

A Word of Caution

Black Friday may seem like the one day a year when everything is on sale.

In reality, you should be careful when shopping for Black Friday deals, as some sales are simply smoke and mirrors meant to get you to spend indiscriminately. This sale season also puts extra stress on small businesses who can’t afford to offer huge deals.

Not every advertised sale is a great deal, for you or the brand.

The pandemic has changed the face of Black Friday, stretching the deals throughout the months of October and November, and moving a lot of the sales and buying online.

While this takes the pressure off to some extent, it also means we’re bombarded with “last chance” sales for months at a time. It’s important to be aware of how this marketing impacts our impulse control in order to reduce consumption.

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Leah Wise

Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.

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1 Comment

  1. Growing up, my sister and I went Black Friday shopping with my mom every year. Now, though, I’d rather chew off my own arm than battle insane Black Friday crowds for, like, a slightly discounted candle. Especially post-pandemic, whatever deals I might get is not worth the hit to my peace and sanity. I will support small businesses and if I get a discount on something I was already going to buy around this time of year, that’s great, but I’m never doing in-person Black Friday shopping again.

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