Black Friday is still more than two weeks away, and already two eager shoppers are camping out in front of a Beaumont, California, Best Buy store, hoping to beat the lines and get the very best sale prices on big-screen televisions. It's a familiar scene that has become a Thanksgiving season tradition, and the conventional knowledge suggests that dealing with traffic, lines, and even the occasional fistfight or stampede is worth it because Black Friday sales are truly that good.
But the truth is, many Black Friday markdowns are no better than the other deals that stores offer throughout the year, according to a growing body of evidence. Never mind the fact that most major chain stores' sales actually kick into gear on Thanksgiving or even earlier nowadays, even the ones you'll actually get on Black Friday itself are often nothing to write home about.
Some items, like XBox video gaming consoles, are often cheaper on Black Friday than any other day of the year, but many others, from Samsung TVs and KitchenAid to Elmo plush dolls and Citizen brand wristwatches, are actually least expensive on other dates, according to an analysis of 2011 retail data conducted by consumer research firm Decide Inc. for the Wall Street Journal. The Elmo dolls were actually priced an average of 31 percent more expensive on the day after Thanksgiving than they were in September and October, Decide found.
Winter clothing, jackets and outerwear are often markedly less expensive as the season draws to a close, Apple iPhones are at a low in September and big-screen TVs and jewelry are less expensive in April, according to a shopping guide compiled by Deal News. In fact, November is actually a particularly bad time to buy toys for the young ones, as toy store prices drop in December, according to the guide.
"In the old days, all of the great deals were on Black Friday, but now you see some great deals on Black Friday and lots of offers throughout the season," John Barbour, a former Toys "R" Us executive who is now chief executive of toy manufacturer LeapFrog Enterprises, told the Wall Street Journal.
In other words, waking up early or lining up days ahead of the big day is often a huge waste of time, as retailers learn from examples such as Amazon and the increasing prominence of "Cyber Monday" that offering their deals online is an increasingly important part of any successful retail push.
Now this doesn't mean that all of the doorbusters at big-box retail giants like Walmart, Kohl's, Sam's Club and Costco are there to mislead shoppers. Some of them truly are eye-poppingly low, and the most savvy consumers can save a bundle by shopping on the hottest day of the year.
But the myth that Black Friday is some unique oasis in a desert of high prices is simply not supported by the facts. So if camping out in a frigid Target parking lot isn't your idea of a good time, you can probably just skip it this year. The deals aren't all that great anyway.