Nov 232012
Customers wait in line for doorbuster deals at the Kmart on Addison Street in Chicago on Thanksgiving Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012.

Customers wait in line for doorbuster deals at the Kmart on Addison Street in Chicago which opened at 6:00 am on Thanksgiving Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012.

Thanksgiving is over and now Black Friday is here – an American social phenomenon I’ve never quite understood. I get waiting in line for a good deal (though it would have to be a really good deal) yet this seems much more about the mass psychology of the good deal rather than any real bargains. The numbers are fairly staggering: in 2011, an estimated 226 million people spent an average of $398 dollars each.

But did they get a deal?

A study in an October Wall Street Journal article revealed Black Friday shoppers often pay more than they would have if they waited until closer to Christmas or even bought what they wanted three or four weeks prior to Thanksgiving. Yes, there are many cases where there’s an increase in prices in the weeks leading up to the infamous Friday ordeal.

After crunching two to six years’ worth of pricing data for a number of typical holiday gifts, The Wall Street Journal has turned up the best times to go deal hunting — and they almost never involve standing in the freezing cold all night.

It turns out that gifts from Barbie dolls to watches to blenders are often priced below Black Friday levels at various times throughout the year, even during the holiday season, and their prices follow different trajectories as the remaining shopping days tick down.

Watches and jewelry, typical last-minute quarry for well-heeled shoppers, get more expensive as the season progresses, according to Decide Inc., the consumer-price research firm that gathered and analyzed the data for this article. Blenders, which might sit around for months if they aren’t bought in the holiday window, get much cheaper at the end.

The results reveal a lot about how retailers plot pricing strategy ahead of the year-end shopping frenzy that can account for a fifth or more of their sales. They also highlight how the industry has managed to use more sophisticated technology to turn Black Friday into a marketing bonanza by carefully selecting items for deep discounts while continuing to price broader merchandise at levels that won’t kill profits. 

So a few deep discounts can lead to a “marketing bonanza” as prices generally do not fall that much. Quite possibly the scarcity aspect factors into this – that limited quantities create the illusion of value greater than the actual discount.

Decide Inc., the consumer-price research firm, crunched the numbers for the Journal and came up with this chart of daily prices of seven popular products ranging from toys to electronics. Suffice it to say, there were multiple times during the year when prices were cheaper, especially if you’re shopping online:

Chart of Product Prices of Seven Popular Items Throughout 2011

Chart of Product Prices of Seven Popular Items Throughout 2011

So my plans for Friday? Go for a walk, see some art, and spend a little time in a cafe writing. And avoid the stress and the chaos that will be particularly acute in Manhattan. Hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving.

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