Beware of Black Friday Bait and Switch

blackfriday Know why they call it “Black Friday?” It isn’t because those sale items push retailers into the “black” (accounting speak for profitability). Those sale items are almost always loss leaders – items sold at a loss in order to lure you into the store in the hopes you’ll buy other, more profitable items. What really pushes retailers into the black are the profitable items you buy because you showed up at 4am and everything you hoped to buy was sold out and you HAD to buy SOMETHING (let’s call this a sunk cost).

Black Friday Bait and Switch

While checking out Black Friday ad scans, I peeked at the Best Buy ad. Most of the great buys they’re touting have limits on your purchase or severely restricted quantities available. To Best Buy’s credit, they DO list the minimum number of items in each store but no rain-checks will be issued.

The Walmart ad has similar language:

“All items in this advertisement are available in limited quantities. Sorry, no rain checks. We intend to have every advertised item in stock. However, we may not offer some items in all locations and quantity or availability may vary due to unexpected demand or circumstances beyond our control. In all cases, we reserve the right to limit quantities to normal retail purchases or one-per-customer or household.”

Neither the Black Friday Walmart ad, nor the Toys-R-Us ad I saw mentioned minimum quantities available at each store but the Staples ad did list them on a few items.

Some bait and switch tactics can be more sinister. Stores may drastically lower the price on slow movers. Others may feature items considered obsolete, unpopular, damaged, or returned for credit and willing buyers will snatch them up simply because it’s Black Friday.

Do YOU participate in Black Friday?

I don’t participate in Black Friday. No, I’m not a Scrooge. I just don’t relish the idea of fighting huge crowds in the hopes of buying stuff. Chances are high that whatever is purchased on Black Friday will become obsolete, won’t be used more than a few days (if at all), or isn’t really needed. One thing I can guarantee is that the things bought on Black Friday will never love you back (unless it’s a puppy!).

One year I did get up early just to drive around and watch the madness as a spectator. It was fascinating.

When someone would walk to their vehicle to stash their stuff, other drivers were racing each other to the soon-to-be-vacant parking spot. Many times the shopper had no intentions of leaving, only relieving their tired arms from the weight of their packages. The drivers would wait, turn signals blinking, only to realize their quest for a parking spot was foiled … again. They would speed away just a little too fast in a show of frustration.

Inside the store, shoppers were willingly herded like cattle through doors and chutes to certain areas, spellbound by the “deal.” They all carried ad circulars and previously purchased packages while speaking loudly of their plans and strategies. Some used their cell phone browsers to look up other deals at other stores, others announced their plans by speaking to “team members” (I’m assuming family) in strategic code over handheld radios with all the crispness and precision of a team of Green Berets. “Did you get the LCD? What’s your location? Send Bobby to get in the DVD player line and I’ll hook up with him there. Send Hannah to either the RC toys line or the GPS line and get back with me when they arrive. Over.”

Buy only what you truly need

If the siren’s song of Black Friday is too much for you to resist, make sure you’re armed with:

  • Cash or your rewards credit card.
  • An ad circular from the store.
  • A Thanksgiving Day newspaper AND a Black Friday Newspaper (to insure you have the right information on their sales).
  • Knowledge of the store’s policies for Black Friday purchases.
  • Comfortable shoes.
  • Bottled water or a thermos of coffee.
  • Snacks?
  • Your browser enabled cell phone or netbook with an air card.

Remember: when it comes to these “loss leaders,” it really is a zero-sum game. Either the store wins or you win. You win when you buy the exact item you want at the price you want or you don’t buy at all and walk away with your cash. The store wins when you buy something else out of desperation or frustration.

Black Friday photo by teejayhanton

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 1091 articles on The Wisdom Journal.

Ron is the founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal. He has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a partner in a national building materials company.

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