Business & Tech

COMMENTARY

Think twice about shopping on Black Friday

Doug Contreras and Hector Garcia wait in line at the Best Buy in Watertown which opened at 1am on Black Friday in 2014.
Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
Doug Contreras and Hector Garcia waited at the Best Buy in Watertown in 2014. It opened at 1 a.m. on Black Friday.

You’ve probably done it with your family. You may have fond memories. But now’s the time to break the habit.

Don’t go shopping this Friday.

Black Friday sales are often gimmicks, you’ll probably spend way more money than you need to, and it’s not worth the hassle of the lines and packed parking lots. Here are four reasons to stay home.

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Many deals aren’t that good. Most of the best sales are on lower-quality brands, according to Forbes magazine, and many products aren’t at their lowest price. For example, shopping for winter clothes and airline tickets are cheaper in January, according to data and price-tracking firm Market Track and deals website Deals News. Gift cards are better to get in December. Furniture is better to buy during after-summer sales. Clothes are cheaper in post-season clearances. And August is better for laptops and gaming.

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If you have to shop on Black Friday, you should focus on home goods, DVDs, and video games, according to Bankrate, a consumer finance company, and Deal News. And remember that many Black Friday deals don’t allow returns.

Many retailers count on Black Friday to drive profits, not provide you a holiday gift. Companies use several tricks to persuade consumers to spend more than they need to. Many discounts rely on complicated restrictions and math tricks. For example, a $100 sweater marked 20 percent off and then another 25 percent off is only 40 percent discounted, not 45 percent, though many consumers think otherwise.

Sales aren’t designed to clear overstocked inventory anymore; they’re often part of a yearlong marketing plan. For example, a clothing store expects to sell a dress for $100 for two months, then drop the price to $80 for a while, and then sell the remainder at $40. The wholesale cost may have been $20.

Another trick is for stores to increase prices leading up to Thanksgiving, so you think you get a bigger discount on Black Friday. For example, Market Track analysis showed markups of more than 20 percent at some stores prior to Black Friday last year.

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Black Friday is impulsive. The day is all about impulse buying, and stores are good at exploiting our weaknesses. According to Fundivo, a financial services company, the average shopper spent $403 on Black Friday in 2015. American consumers plan to spend an average $936 this year on holiday shopping, according to a National Retail Federation survey. Rather than spending so much, think about better ways to make a gift of experiences or time, plan to DIY some presents, and make sure you need what you’re buying. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans plan to buy for themselves this holiday season, the retail federation survey shows. Do you need those things or is it Black Friday hype and peer pressure?

There are other options. Stores often save their best deals for Cyber Monday, because they know by then what people want to buy. Cyber Monday sales often have easier-to-understand restrictions and sometimes have 30 percent off everything, which is rarely seen in stores. Electronics, like tablets and TVs, are better online. Designer clothing stores often discount later, starting Monday.

Even without Cyber Monday, shopping carefully online and comparing stores and prices over time helps you find better deals and coupons. Amazon runs deals all week, and many stores have already started discounts or will continue them through Christmas. Many online retailers will price-match or will test different prices.

According to Market Track, Amazon changed prices hundreds of times on 180 popular products sold in November last year, which was a huge increase in price volatility from previous years. Check retailers beforehand for deals and compare Black Friday prices; if you do go to the store, go directly for that one thing, buy it and leave.

The best way to spend the day after Thanksgiving is staying at home and being thankful for the things you already have. Save the shopping for next week.

Isvari Mohan can be reached at voice@isvari.com. Follow her on Twitter @IsvariM.