Stores offer the steepest discounts the day before Christmas, not on Black Friday. A Boston Globe study found that the orgy of mindless early-morning consumerism is good for cutesy door prizes and savings on one or two items, but provides no discount for the vast majority of surveyed goods.
Of 52 items the Globe tracked over the five-week holiday shopping season, only five items were cheapest on Black Friday. The vast majority of the products either stayed the same price or fluctuated above and below the Black Friday price from week to week. Seven items were actually cheaper the day before Christmas than on Black Friday.
“If you wait it out, you’ll often do better,” said Joseph Feldman of the New York retail consultancy Telsey Advisory Group.
The Globe tracked prices of items ranging from digital cameras to laptops by checking advertising circulars from stores such as Best Buy, Sears, and Circuit City each Sunday, starting the weekend before Black Friday. To be included in the survey, an item had to appear in the circulars for three of the five weekends before Christmas. Five of the items were cheapest on Black Friday, including a JVC 30GB hard drive camcorder at Best Buy that rose $70 by Dec. 2 to $399, before climbing another $100 the following Sunday. The last time the item was advertised was on Dec. 16 at $399.
The prices for 20 items stayed the same, including a Sony PlayStation 3 from Circuit City that held at $399. On 20 items, the price changed from week to week – meaning some weeks buyers paid more than the Black Friday price and some weeks they paid less.
And late sleepers and the last-minute procrastinators could beat the Black Friday prices on seven items. For example, Circuit City featured a $119.99 AIPTEK camcorder that includes an MP3 player, voice recorder, and webcam on Black Friday. By Dec. 16, it had dropped to $89.99 – a 25 percent savings. And Best Buy offered a Nikon Coolpix navy blue digital camera for $199.99 on Black Friday. It jumped to $229.99 and then $279.99 in the following weeks, only to fall back to $199.99 by Dec. 16. It wasn’t advertised on Dec. 23, the Sunday before Christmas.
As the starting gun for the holiday shopping season, Black Friday is meant to help stores, not shoppers. Procrastination can be an effective shopping strategy—we picked up a $65 Christmas tree for $10 on Christmas eve—but for the best savings, know exactly what you want and relentlessly chase your desired product across the marketplace. Compare prices on the internet, haggle with retailers, and watch for sudden price drops. Skip the cold, outdoor 2 a.m. lines.