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Q: We were having a debate in the staff room around shopping for deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and if the discounts are worth it or not. For the last few years I’ve done some Black Friday shopping, once even convincing my brother to line up with me to get the one big deal. I still have the TV but lining up half the night was hardly worth it. This year I’ve got some gifts I want to buy, but how do I figure out who has the best deals? I hate the feeling of wondering if I made a mistake, if I should have waited or bought somewhere else. What can you suggest? ~Austin
A: Black Friday is a retailer-created marketing event and is seen by many as the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. It started in the States and over the years has made its way up to Canada. Retailers can earn as much as 25 per cent of their annual revenue during the event and the hype around Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals ramps up the closer the date actually comes. Black Friday 2019 is a bit later than usual, falling on Nov. 29. It’s always the Friday after American Thanksgiving, which isn’t until Thursday, Nov. 28, this year.
While retailers are watching out for their bottom line, you need to watch out for yours. There are definitely deals to be had. However, the key to cutting through the hype is preparation, including making a list of what you want to buy, determining how much you can afford to spend, using comparison options to check features and prices, and finding ways to curtail impulsive spending. It can also help to inform yourself through online searches about some of the marketing strategies retailers use to encourage you to spend your cash with them instead of a competitor.
With that in mind, here are four of the worst Black Friday shopping mistakes to avoid:
The lowest-price trick
When you want to get the best value for the money you spend, a better indication of your “best deal” might be the percentage by which an item is discounted, not simply the lowest price. A better model’s 25 per cent discount might actually be a better deal than the base model’s 50 per cent price drop. However, to make the sale price look better for Black Friday, a retailer might raise their “normal” price slightly in the weeks before to make a discounted price look more attractive. Doing your homework before hitting the mall or online equivalent will tell you how much an item’s cost has actually dropped and if you’re facing a deal or no deal.
There’s more to a deal than the price
To help determine the best value for what you’re buying, factor all of the extra features into your buying decision. When you’re comparing prices and deals across several retailers, also consider return policies (including who pays return shipping, if necessary), shipping prices (which can be less if you buy more from that one retailer), guarantees, extended warranties, and even price-matching possibilities. When you shop in person, you might be able to save time and money on gas if you buy at only one or two locations.
If you shop in the U.S. or online at American retailers, be aware that full extended benefits, e.g., warranties on electronics or household appliances, are not always available outside the country of origin. It’s also important to factor in the currency exchange rate, possible credit/debit card fees, duty, taxes and international shipping charges into your buying decisions so that you’re comparing apples to apples.
Buying an outdated model
With the sheer volume of merchandise retailers move through their stores and online portals during the Black Friday, Cyber Monday and holiday shopping season, it’s a great time for them to clear out last year’s models and make room for the new ones. Older models may be discounted the most, so do some research to see which model’s features will suit you best.
Check a manufacturer’s website, online consumer review forums and websites that test the types of products you’re interested in to find this type of information. If all they’re changing is a product’s colour, getting a great price on last year’s model might be your best deal. However, if they’re changing features that consumers have complained about in the forums, your best deal might be waiting for the updated version.
Falling for a pop-up ad or email enticement
Online portals count on impulse buying for sales in much the same way that physical stores do; it’s all about product placement. When you shop in a physical store, products are placed in very specific ways. The goal is to get you in, shopping for more than you came for, and spending more on the items you did come for. Online is no different, but the real estate is only the size of whatever screen you’re using. With such a small space to catch your attention, online retailers count on pop-up and moving ads that draw your eyes away from whatever you were looking at on the page.
If you’ve given a merchant your email address you might also be bombarded with enticing email subject lines. Filter the messages into a separate folder and only look at them when you are doing your research or are ready to do your shopping. Unsubscribe from any that you don’t need or want. Sometimes it’s possible to use a separate email account when you subscribe to a company’s emails. That is an easy way to keep enticing emails out of sight and out of mind until you’re ready to shop.
Some pop-up ads and emails from merchants you know and trust are good deals; others simply aren’t — and figuring out the difference can be a challenge. If you are genuinely interested in pursuing an item, go to that retailer’s website directly, rather than clicking on a pop-up ad. Type the URL into your browser or do your own search for the product. Either of these steps will get around falling for an ad that may or may not give you all the details you need and a price you’re willing to pay.
Cookies, but not the tasty kind
Websites also rely on the use of different types of cookies, which are small bits of code that follow you around as you browse online. It is worth taking steps to curb the effect cookies have on your online experience because they can influence which products you ultimately focus on while you are online.
You’ll recognize that a website placed a cookie in your browser when a website remembers your language preference or login details, for example, or when you are on an unrelated website and an ad for something you looked at elsewhere shows up.
It’s not always worth disabling cookies because a website might not function properly without them, but you can get around cookies affecting your online browsing and shopping. Every browser program, e.g. Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Edge, has settings that allow you to clear cookies. They also allow users to delete all of their browsing history whenever they close the browser. Using a private or incognito browsing mode alters the way a browser behaves; cookies and history are not retained when you close the private browsing window. By limiting which items follow you around virtually as you comparison shop, you also limit their influence on your purchasing decisions.
The bottom line on avoiding Black Friday shopping pitfalls
Shoppers have more time than ever to make their decisions because Black Friday is no longer just one day long. Many of the sales start during the week leading up to American Thanksgiving and last into the following week. The deals may even get better for Cyber Monday or during the holiday shopping season. Unless you are specifically interested in a door-buster item and have done your research to know you’ll be getting great value with the deal that’s offered, avoid buyer’s remorse. Shop when you have the time and energy to make wise spending decisions that you can afford. That will ultimately get you around the worst Black Friday shopping mistake you could make.
Scott Hannah is president of the Credit Counselling Society, a non-profit organization. For more information about managing your money or debt, contact Scott by email , check www.nomoredebts.org or call 1-888-527-8999.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019