The Black Friday Myth

MainStreet

Millions of Americans will brave long lines, overcrowded stores and winter weather in hopes to score the best deals this season, but is the effort really worth it?

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Virginia resident Sue Van Glanden is so committed to shopping on Black Friday that she's celebrating Thanksgiving a day early this year.

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"We're having Thanksgiving on Wednesday, so I'll have the whole day Thursday to rest up, get online to do research and check Twitter," Van Glanden says, adding that she plans to hit three or four major department stores before 9 a.m. Friday. "I am a seasoned comparison shopper, so I'll only go after the very best deals for what I was planning to buy this season."

Van Glanden isn't alone in her quest for bargains. The National Retail Federation estimates that Black Friday bargains will entice approximately 138 million consumers to hit stores during the 2010 Thanksgiving holiday weekend, an increase of 4 million people over last year.

Millions of Americans will brave long lines, overcrowded stores and early morning winter weather in the hopes of scoring the best deals this season. But is the added effort actually worth it?

Is It the Best Day to Shop?

According to experts, not really.

"Black Friday is a promotion and retailers rally around it," Regina Lewis, who works as a consumer adviser for AOL (NYSE: AOL - News), says, adding that you don't need to shop on Black Friday to get the best deals.

Lewis says the competitive climate in which retailers have operated during the past few years has forced them to offer deep discounts throughout the holiday season, most notably on the Saturday before Christmas or on Cyber Monday, the newly minted online shopping day of the year.

[See 5 Ways to Cash In on Cyber Monday]

Toys 'R' Us spokesperson Kathleen Waugh confirmed that while the toy chain plans to offer deals that are specific to Black Friday, it also has plans to run discounts on other products throughout the holiday season.

And according to Brad Wilson, founder of the popular deals websites Bradsdeals.com and BlackFriday2010.com, even when retailers offer top bargains the day after Thanksgiving, the chances of actually scoring them are slim to none.

"You're really looking at a short window opportunity, from about 4 a.m., when the stores first open, until 12 p.m. to get the best deals," Wilson says. After that, stores typically sell all the discounted items and their advertised prices go back up. The idea, Wilson says, is for consumers who missed out on door-buster sales to spend on items that weren't on their wish lists.

While this may seem a bit underhanded, it's not something that retailers keep secret. Early 2010 circulars released by Wal-Mart, Target and Kmart specify that deals are offered for a limited amount of product or that they expire midday.

You'll Save More on the Web

"About 95% of all the deals you find in stores are being offered online," Wilson says, citing Best Buy's (NYSE: BBY - News) plan to honor all of its stores' Black Friday prices on its website. Last year, Bath and Body Works, New York and Co. and Leapfrog.com actually offered their deepest discounts online.

And, experts say, even when retailers have better offers waiting inside their brick-and-mortar stores, the savings don't usually justify the early morning retail run.

"Target (NYSE: TGT - News) has several Apple (NasdaqGS: AAPL - News) products listed for $4 cheaper than you can get through Apple's online store," says Penny Ray, who runs the deal site Budgets.com. "My time is worth more than that $4 savings."

So Why Do We Do It?

Exposing these Black Friday myths isn't likely to dissuade shoppers from lining up outside their favorite stores the day after Thanksgiving. After all, according to Juliano Laran, a marketing professor at the University of Miami and consumer behavior specialist, the lure of deals is actually a secondary trigger. What really drives the consumers in droves is the social component.

"Standing outside at 4:30 in the morning can't only be about saving," Laran says. "We shop because other people shop."

Laran compares Black Friday to Valentine's Day, which is embraced by the masses, despite the fact that it requires consumers to splurge on presents for loved ones.

"There are no deals being offered. It's actually probably more expensive to have dinner at fancy restaurant with your sweetheart," he says. "But people do it because everyone else does."

[See 7 Black Friday Deals Worth Buying Now]

This is not to say that Black Friday shoppers aren't driven by their finances. Laran notes that many consumers not only feel pressure to maintain an established norm, but they're afraid to miss out on the bargains others may score. Even more, they want to feel better about their own spending habits.

"People don't want to seem wasteful," Laran says. The fact that everyone is spending money that day makes us feel better about our own financial choices, even if they're not the best decisions.

While most consumers stop short of acknowledging conformity as a reason for braving Black Friday crowds, some do admit that it's not the discount that drives them.

"I've shopped most of my life on Black Friday," says Cleveland resident Kristine Meldrum Denholm. "It's been something I've been doing for probably 30 years with my girlfriends that I grew up with. It's more of a bonding thing, our girl's day out if you will, away from the husbands, kids and careers."

Michigan resident Sarah Worsham agrees and says she views Black Friday as an opportunity to spend time with her mother. And so does New Jersey resident Nicole Czarnecki.

"Some years we're not even looking for anything in particular," Czarnecki says. "We just like to be out and about, chatting with other shoppers."

For some, Black Friday is about creating memories.

"I think [Black Friday] has really become a tradition for a lot of folks," adds Lewis. "People do it so later they have stories to tell."

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