It’s that time of year again: the week in the USA where we give thanks for what we have one day and beat each other up for what we don’t have the next. As businesses continually find more and more ways to market Black Friday, it’s practically become a bigger thing than the holiday preceding it. Every year consumers look for steeper price cuts on bigger and better things, and the pressure’s on retailers to deliver according to expectation. Now, competition and capitalism are great things, and there definitely are some great deals to be snagged out of it on November 28, but let’s face it: Black Friday is all about profits, not deals. The enticing offers are there to get consumers into stores buying things they wouldn’t usually buy in greater quantities than they’d usually go for. At its core Black Friday is just one of the world’s biggest gimmicks, and to make it work businesses are oftentimes willing to cut prices at all costs, so to speak, including total honesty. That’s not to say you can’t trust anyone, but if you’re smart, you will keep your eyes open to know which deals to trust and which not to. Here’s a few tips to help you do so.
Beware the BF—no, not your best friend
The first thing to look out for is a sneaky little trick most consumers are probably not even aware of. It’s a practice known as ‘derivative products,’ which basically means that a given model of product is taken, stripped down for cheapness, and manufactured just for Black Friday. This is usually evidenced somewhere in the model or serial number, which will tack a little ‘BF’ (for Black Friday) onto the beginning or end. While this doesn’t apply to products that can’t really be simplified, it’s relatively common practice for TVs, and as cheap tablets and ultrabooks are now all the rage it’s likely we’ll start seeing them join in, too. As the term implies, derivative products are based on existing models and might look exactly the same as the real deal, but under the hood Black Friday models may have lower-quality screens, lack certain peripheral features, or be assembled with a cheaper manufacturing process that results in a generally less reliable product. Who knows, you may be ok with certain deficiencies in exchange for a lower price, but the problem with derivative products is there’s no way to tell what corners have been cut until you take one home and find out the hard way. Chances are it’s not worth it, so if you spot a tech deal that seems too good to be true, check the model number first to make sure that it isn’t.
Beware the third-party e-tailer
Not brave enough to leave the house on Black Friday? Amazon’s cool with that. In fact, they’ve been counting down to Black Friday with pre-Black Friday sales (there is such a thing?) for the past week! They’ve also been in the spotlight lately as the middle man scammers have been using to do their dirty work. While the most recent scams targeted retailers, not online shoppers, it should go without saying that if in your Amazon adventures you come across a sweet deal from a third-party seller with a bad rep or no rep at all then you should probably not hit that ‘Add to Cart’ button. Amazon is always on the lookout for phonies and all things considered they do a pretty good job cleaning up, but the process isn’t instantaneous and some scammers are more obvious than others. On any given listing Amazon tends to show the lowest available price first and foremost, and if you don’t pay attention to who you’re buying from you just might end up with a fraud on your hands. Always be sure to check customer ratings before purchasing from a third-party you’ve never heard of before. Many are perfectly reputable and for a variety of reasons are able to offer better prices than their competitors, but anticipate Black Friday drawing out more scams than normal as con artists seek to capitalize on the big commercial rush. And for heaven’s sake, don’t try and use Amazon to scam other people, yourself!
Be where the smart shoppers are
…and that’s right here, doing your homework, right now! It’s good practice to never enter a store with an open wallet, and never is it more important than on the day for enticing deals. In the end the best weapon against over-spending or buying into scams is yourself. Plan responsibly before you dive in to the sea of shoppers and only go after the deals you’ve thought about ahead of time. If you just like the shopping experience, set a limit on yourself. That way at the very least you won’t be walking away with too much buyer’s remorse if in one way or another you get taken advantage of. In general no one’s out to con you and there’s no reason to be unduly suspicious of the average sale, but it never hurts to arm yourself with knowledge. Fortunately there are a lot of people out there who make it their business to help you with that, too. Take a peek over on websites like BlackFriday.com, BestBlackFriday.com, or BFAds.net. These sites will keep you up to speed on all the best legitimate deals from retailers both physical and online, saving you both the trouble of hunting and the pain of getting into more than you bargained for (or less, as the case may be).
What’s that? Careful planning takes the sport out of Black Friday? Well, that may be true for some Black Friday veterans, but for the rest of us it’s nice to have some options and useful knowledge to stay on top of the game.