Black Friday Bargains Are Becoming a Myth

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Kmart Thanksgiving Day early morning doorbuster deals
John Konstantaras/Kmart/AP
Love it or hate it, the blitz of Black Friday ads is almost here. Some consumer groups have gotten their hands on the advertisements you'll soon be getting, and according to, the deals are underwhelming. Yes, Walmart (WMT), Target (TGT) and others do have some legitimate doorbuster deals that you might want to stand in line for while digesting your holiday meal, but Black Friday has morphed into more of a season than just a single day.

"Not everything is a good deal," said Matthew Ong, senior retail analyst at "Black Friday sales are nothing different on the whole. They're punctuated by a few great deals, but a lot of the items advertised are the same old thing as last year."

Bargains Left Over from Last Year

NerdWallet analyzed 27 Black Friday ads and found that 25 retailers will be promoting at least one item for the same price this year as they did for Black Friday a year ago. Here are some examples:
  • J.C. Penney (JCP) is offering an Oster 16-speed blender for $29.99 (after mail-in rebate), unchanged from last year.
  • Kmart's (SHLD) Plus Start wheeled battery charger is $69.99, unchanged from last year.
  • Kohl's (KSS) KitchenAid Artisan stand mixer is $299.99 (plus an extra 10 percent off after mail-in rebate), unchanged from last year.
  • And Target is advertising Apple (AAPL) TV for $89, unchanged from a year ago.
This means that consumers don't have to rush to get these items. "These are evergreen items that don't get outdated," according to Ong. "They're not bad buys, but nothing to wake up early for." He says this is especially true for electronics and appliances. In essence, you're being teased to buy technology that's a year old for the same price, meaning some of those carryover offers are not such a great deal. For example, Office Depot (ODP) is selling a Brother digital copy wireless printer for $349.97 -- a penny cheaper than it offered the same model for last year.

The First Two Stores Get Most of Your Business

Even though the best deals are now spread out over a period of six weeks leading up the Christmas, retailers want to lure you in right away. "Consumers spend 70 percent of their gift budget from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday," said Ong, "and they generally do it in the first two stores they visit." He says that's why retailers are jumping all over each other to get you into their stores, but it also means shoppers are not doing as much looking around as they should. He urges consumers to resist the urge to over-buy at the outset of the holiday shopping season and continue to watch for new and sometimes better deals that are rolled out in the weeks leading up to and beyond Christmas.

NerdWallet says you should not shop the "percent off" numbers. Very often retailers will inflate the original or "retail" price on certain items in order to make the percent-off discount appear larger. Ong says the markdown may be based on a price the retailer used months ago, or even a price it never sold the item for at all. He says that tactic may be considered "sketchy, but not illegal."

One tool that consumers can use to their advantage is the price matching or price guarantee offers available at many stores. Ong suggests using your smartphone to check on the best price on (AMZN) or comparison shopping sites, while you're in the store. If you find a better price, go to customer service and simply ask for same price. "Price matching has a reputation as a bit of a hassle, but it's not," according to Ong. "It's a very powerful tool."
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