Saturday, December 2, 2023

Conor Pope on Black Friday: Yes there are bargains, but don’t be fooled

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Happy Black Friday Month everyone. Yes, we have reached the stage in our consuming evolution where an artificial sales window largely invented by a large British retail chain to encourage customers to gather in its shops to fight over cheap tellies for one day only, is now open for weeks before and after the big day.

But while bargain prices should be good news for consumers, the day has been dogged by question marks almost since it crossed the Atlantic in 2013.

The biggest question mark is whether or not there are genuine savings to be made by shopping in the Black Friday sales or are we being conned – if that is not too strong a word – by canny retailers into spending money we might not have, on stuff we might not need, while thinking we are bagging a bargain.

Every year the British consumer watchdog, Which?, casts a cold eye over the Black Friday sales claims being made by retailers in the UK – many of whom trade in the Republic as well – and every year its findings are much the same.

Its army of researchers said that the majority of products that are supposedly on sale over the pre-festive period were selling for the same price or even less at other times in the six months before and the six months after the big day.

Its 2022 investigation revealed, that “a whopping 98 per cent of Black Friday deals were cheaper not long before or after the end of November and, according to the watchdog’s senior money and shopping editor Ele Clark, while the day “can be really helpful if there’s something you need and it’s on offer – don’t feel pressured into buying in a rush, as our research shows it’s highly likely to be the same price again (or cheaper) in the months after the sales.”

But dodgy deals aside Black Friday is part of our world now and it is not going anywhere.

The research from the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission showed that interest in Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales has been increasing among Irish shoppers

A straw poll by Pricewatch on the platform formerly known as Twitter last week revealed a degree of scepticism about the whole palaver

When we asked what readers make of it, 7.1 per cent of more than 550 voters said they loved it, 21.4 per cent said they loathed it and a hefty 71.5 per cent said they “couldn’t give a rashers”.

While our poll was entirely unscientific, a more professional one was published on the same day from our consumer watchdog.

Research from the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) showed that interest in Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales has been increasing among Irish shoppers although the impact of the cost of living crisis is being felt with spending set to be down.

It found that 45 per cent of people are likely to buy over the sales period – up from 37 per cent last year but the predicted spend has fallen from €398 last year to €343 this year.

Men plan to spend more on average in the sales than women with 29 per cent of men and just 18 per cent of women expecting to spend at least €500. And of those likely to shop in the sales, 48 per cent are planning on buying electronics, with laptops, tablets, phones and TVs featuring heavily.

Young people are particularly likely to go shopping in the days ahead but while they might be clued in to the bargains the research suggests that they may be more vulnerable to fake discounts.

The research suggests that 65 per cent of those aged 15-24 plan on shopping in the sales with 53 per cent of this cohort trusting that advertised discounts are accurate, compared to 36 per cent when spread across all age cohorts.

“Young people are more likely to shop in the sales, more likely to trust advertised discounts and less likely to do research about prices,” noted the CCPC’s Director of Communications Grainne Griffin when the research was released.

Given how embedded it is in our consciousness, it is hard to believe this latest retail wheeze is only celebrating its tenth birthday – at least in this part of the world – this year so comprehensive is the marketing of the day.

Asda launched it in the UK as a stunt in November 2013 and watched – presumably – in amazed delight as people went wild for the notion – sometimes literally.

The following year many other retailers in Ireland and Britain rolled out Black Friday sales of their own and now it is virtually everywhere.

It should not be confused with next week’s Cyber Monday which is an entirely different thing and dates right back to 2005 when a US website called breathlessly announced in a press release that while “traditional retailers will be monitoring store traffic and sales on Black Friday, online retailers have set their sights on something different: Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, which is quickly becoming one of the biggest online shopping days of the year.”

But are there really bargains to be had either on Black Friday or Cyber Monday or on any of the days between now and the end of the month?

The answer is yes … and no.

As with all sales periods – you should approach the promises made about the enormous discounts on the table with a degree of healthy scepticism and there are ways retailers can make themselves seem more generous than they actually are.

One commonly deployed trick sees retailers place sometimes undue influence on the recommended retail price (RRP).

It can be used as a benchmark price to make a discount seem more attractive than it really is. A phone that was released in 2021 with an RRP of €1,000 on day one might be offered for sale this week at €500 with a claim made that the discount is 50 per cent.

But while the RRP might have been €1,000 in 2021, such is the fast-moving nature of our world that the chances are such a device would not be selling for anything close to the price attached to it at launch today.

The actual price might be €600 so a sale price of €500 still represents a discount, just not as substantial a discount as you might have thought.

Another word beloved of sales teams is “was”.

If you see a product that “was” €100 and is now €50 the first question you should ask is when “was” it €100. If it “was” €100 two years ago and cost €60 three months ago the discount is still real but just not as attractive as it is made appear.

It is still a discount but just not as big as it once was.

The good news is it should be harder for Irish consumers to be duped this year. New regulations on sale pricing were introduced in Ireland in November 2022

And of course, it is important to remember how sales work and why certain products might suddenly be heavily discounted while others are not.

Ultimately it is a sign that retail buyers over-estimated the level of demand for certain lines or manufacturers overproduced stock and find themselves forced to sell it at a deep discount to retailers, who decide to sell it at full price for a couple of weeks before a sale period kicks in so they can reduce the price and create the impression they are offering bargains galore.

The good news is it should be harder for Irish consumers to be duped this year. New regulations on sale pricing were introduced in Ireland in November 2022. Aiming to increase transparency and ensure that discounts are genuine, the regulations require retailers to set discounts based on the lowest price a product was on sale for in the previous 30 days.

Businesses that do not comply are subject to enforcement action by the CCPC.

“While we encourage all consumers to shop around, retailers must be aware that it is illegal to mislead consumers,” Griffin said

She pointed out that almost two-thirds of sales shoppers are motivated by discounts and stressed the importance of retailers being honest and transparent about reductions.

“You can’t discount a product from a price it was never on sale for, or hike the price up for a couple of days so you can advertise a discount based on that artificially high price,” she said.

“The CCPC is actively monitoring online and instore discounts to ensure that consumers are not being misled.”

As to what is on offer, the deals – such as they are – have been flooding the Pricewatch email box for weeks although many retailers like to keep their Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals under wraps until very close to the time and then do a big reveal.

We don’t have the space to include the deals here but a tip for when you do your shopping is to Google “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday” and “promo code” and the brand or site you want to shop on and see how you get on.

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