Sunday, November 22, 2009

Black Friday Bargains Sound Too Good to be True: And Often Are

"Dirty secrets of Black Friday 'doorbusters' "
"Here are a few things bargain-hungry consumers need to know before they hit stores before dawn the day after Thanksgiving."
CNN Money (November 20, 2009)

"Here's a Black Friday reality check: Of the hordes of pre-dawn shoppers who line up for hours outside stores on the day after Thanksgiving, most will not bag the best bargains that appear in merchants' circulars.

"Look at the fine print that appears next to an advertised 'doorbuster deal' at the bottom of the page in this year's circulars.

"It will either say 'While supplies last,' 'Minimum 2 per store,' 'No rainchecks' or 'All items are available in limited quantities.'

"A quick scan through a few of this year's Black Friday circulars show quantities as low as a "minimum of 5 per store" on some models of large plasma and HDTVs and popular brands of home appliances such as a washer-dryer pair...."

Sometimes what you get isn't quite what you think it is. The article says that your new HDTV, for example, may be a "derivative" model. Back to that article:

"What do you mean this HDTV is a 'derivative?' Some of the holiday electronics with those low sale prices are derivatives, models that have a few less features than a standard model in that product line, said [consumer advocate and Consumer World's editor, Edgar] Dworsky.

"The difference can be subtle. 'The image contrast ratio might be 20,000 in a derivative model versus 30,000 in a standard model," he said. 'Most consumers probably won't even notice the difference.'

"A report earlier this month in Consumer Reports called attention to HDTV models from Samsung and Sony advertised in Black Friday deals that appear to be 'derivatives.' The report said these one-off TVs 'with unfamiliar model numbers' are usually cheaper than the standard model in their class.

"Dworsky cautions that retailers usually don't advertise these models as derivatives. 'There's no way the average consumer will know that the TV model they are buying is not the standard one unless they are savvy enough to compare their model numbers,' he said...."

I'm not sure that it's all okay, if most buyers "probably won't even notice the difference."

Although practices like having fewer than a half-dozen units in a metropolitan store advertising a big sale on the things, and having a hint as to just how many there really are appear in fine print, may not be - quite - a case of bait-and-switch: I think the fellow quoted in the article is right: "It's a sleazy practice."

And, in the long run, self-defeating. It's one thing for some guy selling television sets off the back of a truck to keep the motor running, and be creative when he describes product features. His customers don't expect to see him again - not if they've got any smarts.

A retailer like Sears, on the other hand, presumably plans to be around next year. And has competitors. Can a company like that really afford to gamble that all its competitors will work as hard to alienate customers?

Sears, by the way, deserves a bit of credit: although the company engages in this not-quite-bait-and-switch practice, a company spokesperson did say that he wasn't comfortable with the practice. On the other hand, the article doesn't say if he's still working for Sears.

Bottom line? I think the old saying, "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is" applies here. Short-sighted gimmicks like these (not quite fraudulent) Black Friday "bargains" don't seem to be worth the trouble (and occasionally danger) of wading through mobs of crazed shoppers.
A tip of the hat to JessicaSieghart, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this article.

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