I like a discount as much as the next person, but I have to admit that Black Friday in the UK has me feeling increasingly conflicted. This is for a number of reasons, some of them cultural, and others to do with the feeding frenzy around deals that sometimes turn out to be relatively poor value for money.
That’s not to say there aren’t some good reductions and offers out there, because some retailers do have attractive deals, but I think that bargain hunters need to exercise caution.
Has bargain culture had a strange re-brand?
Where to start? Black Friday and Cyber Monday (seriously, who says ‘cyber’ any more?) are related to Thanksgiving celebrations in the United States so they’re sales that fit around a traditional time of year where lots of our American cousins have time off work. In the UK most Brits don’t celebrate Thanksgiving and we’re mainly at work on that particular Friday and Monday, so the imported Black Friday shopping experience for us is far more fraught.
That said, the last weekend in November has long been the busiest British shopping weekend of the year. It coincides with payday for so many of us, and many shoppers like to use it to spread costs and get ahead of the Christmas rush. With this in mind, most UK retailers already have a long history of attracting customers through the doors with moderate earlybird reductions without giving them weird names. You’ve always been able to save 10%, 15%, 20% or so in late November, plus some older stock in clearance at deeper discounts, and this hasn’t really changed. The smart shoppers always waited for the post-Christmas sales for the big savings.
All that’s happened in the last few years is a peculiar re-brand designed to whip up consumer frenzy. Granted, there are a few big retailers that create ‘doorbusters’ – items on deep discount available in extremely limited numbers – but once those five widescreen TVs are sold out you’ll be hard pushed to find too many other true bargains in store.
You could be forgiven for thinking it’s nothing more than a cynical ploy to get the press to film the queues and the punch-ups at specific high street shops, thus ensuring lots of headlines and incredibly cheap but effective advertising for the retailers… However, it’s also an easy way to get us into their bricks-and-mortar and online shops in the hope that we’ll browse around and do most of our shopping there.
Why consumers need to be careful
Creating scarcity and urgency, and even a feeling of total panic, leads to shoppers acting in an emotional way rather than making genuinely smart decisions. It’s far too easy to grab stuff without thinking too much about it. We forget to ask ourselves: Is this item any good? Does it suit my purposes? Do I really need it? Can I afford it? And just as importantly, how urgent is this purchase, what’s it usually worth and can I find this cheaper somewhere else?
As always, you need a budget and a shopping list. You also need to research individual items to make sure they have the features you need, and are reliable / not a false economy.
Now ask yourself:
- What’s this item usually worth? Find out the RRP and look at historical data to see past price fluctuations for specific goods. Many price comparison sites show this sort of information, including the lowest ever price and the general pattern of ups and downs over time. What looks like a bargain on the day may only be a ‘bargain’ compared with the previous week – but not compared with three months ago – and this sneaky pricing trick is much more widespread than you think.
- How urgent is this purchase? Knowing price histories gives you permission to walk away from an ‘okay but not great’ offer. If you can hold out for longer, say, the New Year sales, then you don’t need to get sucked into an impulse purchase. Obviously if you urgently need a new laptop or washing machine then you’re going to look for the best deal you can find at the time, but otherwise it might be less of an issue.
- Can I find this cheaper somewhere else? Some stores are better at advertising their deals than other shops, and are more skilled at getting customers excited enough to turn up the moment the deals start. However, there might be better deals on identical goods elsewhere at any given moment, it’s just that those other retailers aren’t quite so good at grabbing our attention. By all means chuck that 70%-off item into your shopping basket, but try to remember to open a new browser tab or an app and use a couple of price comparison services to see if it’s cheaper elsewhere before completing the purchase – you’d be surprised at how often this is the case.
So there we have it. You can find some good deals over Black Friday and the rest of this extended shopping weekend, but remember to set limits on spending and take enough time to check deals out carefully.
I’ll be listing a few of the better sales as there are some good offers to be found, but please remember the contents of this article too.
Will you be shopping on Black Friday or Cyber Monday? Or do you think it’s overrated, or something that’s best avoided?