A Christmas display at a Connecticut Wal-Mart that is probably freaking you out already.
Whatever adjustments you make to your Thanksgiving schedule — drinking fewer glasses of wine, not staying up for the pie — so that you can hit the mall before sunrise on Black Friday, know that you can get smashed, sleep in, and not miss out any any deals on fashion and beauty items. If you can control yourself and resist the onslaught of Black Friday marketing and just buy your clothes and makeup and other gifts closer to the end of the year, you’ll probably save more.
“A lot of analysts are forecasting that at the end of December there will be better deals,” says Oona McSweeney, vice president of retail and special markets at Stylesight, a trend forecasting company. “I think for fashion, wait it out.”
McSweeney adds that really, you don’t need to leave your house at all this holiday shopping season. “The deals you’re going to find online are going to be just as compelling as what you’re going to find in the stores,” she says. “I think you should stay at home under your blanket with a glass of wine and shop online.” (The same is not necessarily true of video games and electronics, so if those are high on your list, you might have to actually go out in public and — horrors! — buy them physically.)
Savvy shoppers (you!) should also be aware that a lot of East Coast retailers are stuck with excess inventory that piled up during Hurricane Sandy, which knocked out a week of pre-holiday shopping. So that should lead to great deals as Christmas and New Year’s approach.
So why does Black Friday keep going if it’s no longer the best way to score deals on most gift items? Because it still gets people into stores. Last year’s Black Friday saw the biggest sales of all time, second only to the year prior (2010).
Part of what keeps it going is just the ritual of it. “There are people who have literally built a decade or longer of having a tradition — you have Thanksgiving, you get up early [to shop on Black Friday]. It’s almost like a sport — you’re not going to break them away from it,” McSweeney says. And it really is sport-like — a lot of shoppers going in groups devise elaborate plans so that when they hit Target or wherever they’re going, each shopper can target something different, ensuring no deal is lost.
The other thing that keeps Black Friday alive is aggressive marketing by retailers, eager to get as much foot traffic into stores as possible to end the year — and keep their fourth quarter — in the black.
And shoppers are susceptible to the marketing, of course. April Benson, Ph.D, author of To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop, says many Black Friday shoppers have a “herd mentality.” “Retailers really bank on your being impulsive, and certainly the hype contributes to impulsivity,” she says. This leads to poor buying decisions: “The judgment can go out the window when [shoppers are] under the pressure to keep up with the Joneses, even if what that means is to be on the line at 4 a.m.”
Benson notes that studies show what makes people truly happy are not material things, but experiences, like vacations or going to see a play. “I think the holiday fervor is all disproportionate with reality. I think that there’s entirely too much emphasis on the material aspects of the holidays,” she says. “I think people need to really think about what it is they’re really shopping for — what do they want themselves or the recipient to get out of the gift, and what kind of a gift would be the most appropriate? And often it’s not a thing.”
But if you must shop Black Friday — absolutely cannot resist, just have to go to the mall and buy stuff — you are probably best off going as soon as whatever store you want to go to opens, rather than having a turkey sandwich and going in the middle of the day, when everything’s a big mess. Celebrity stylist Robert Verdi, who worked many years in retail, says that by joining the post-brunch Black Friday crowd, “you’re not going shopping, you’re going pushing and shoving and standing in line.” He adds, “At least at the top of the day, you have first pick. Yes, it’s going to be crowded outside the store before the door opens but when the doors open, that crowd dissipates very quickly. If you said, ‘Let’s go at 11!’ — no, you’re screwed.”
But really, just get drunk on Thanksgiving and sleep in. You’re not missing anything.