The last Friday of November was not a normal Friday – it was Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year! Originated in the U.S., its name is derived from a dated method of recording business accounts. Profits were recorded in black ink, thus many business owners considered Black Friday as a turning point in sales for the year. Leaving stores open for more hours, significant discounts, and offering other special deals on Black Friday indeed helps business owners generate huge revenues. In recent years, the promotion period has extended, now lasting from the Thursday before Black Friday, Thanksgiving, to the Monday after, known as Cyber Monday. According to U.S. statistics from 2016, a total of 137 million people went shopping over the five-day Black Friday weekend. Moreover, 22.6 billion visits to retail websites were recorded in 2016 over the five-day period, with $12.8 billion spent online. Like myself, many students shopped during this year’s Black Friday. However, when we calm down from the craze of shopping, do we actually save money? And more importantly, does the discounted shopping really improve the quality of our lives?
Last year, attracted by discounts, I bought a number of items from different online retailers. The first problem was delivery. Due to the overcapacity of most delivery companies, the delivery of my packages was delayed, some of which lost halfway. Therefore, I had no choice but to write emails to those online retailers. After dozens of emails, I finally got all of my items. By that time, however, I was no longer happy about receiving them because of the time I spent trying to get them back. Nevertheless, the arrangement of all those goods became the second problem. Given the space of accommodation for most students and how irrational we are when shopping, we do not consider the arrangement of them. If all the things you buy are small, you are lucky, because you can always find a way to arrange them. If what you bought are coats, boots or even electric appliances and furniture, storage becomes a big problem. Even if you find a place to put them, it can turn your room in a jumble. Frankly, I made little use of the majority of the products that I purchased.
Then, why do we still purchase? The logic behind the purchasing action might be that customers, like myself, believe that shopping during sales and discounts is a sign of frugality and indicates a wise use of money. When you pick up a lot of goods at ‘insanely cheap’ prices, you might be happy about how little you paid for what you bought. While you might think that shopping during sales saves you money and makes you economical, in reality, the opposite is true. A ‘20% off’ coupon may seem good, but it is usually 20% off on a specific amount, like $500. Such offers appear good, but they almost always force the buyer to pick things they do not need. Posters screaming ‘Buy 3, get 1 free’, ‘Hurry! last 2 days’ and discounts on expensive products are similar strategies. If you are not seeking a particular item that you need, but you are simply seeking out low prices and accumulating stuff for the sake of accumulating stuff, you might end up emptying your wallet. Therefore, you can see that discounts, deals and sales have the power to encourage buyers to consume what they do not need, while making them believe that they are being economical. In actuality, this system is most beneficial for the business owners and takes advantage of the customers’ desire for a good bargain. Thinking carefully, you might realize that you not only spend more, but also spend carelessly. However, if you are rational enough to spend money only on the things you already plan to buy, it is definitely a good deal.
Searching for deals, discounts and bargains are a different story: According to some research, consumers expend effort prior to Black Friday by reviewing and evaluating Black Friday information online. Black Friday ads are usually kept secret from consumers until retailer circulars arrive in the mail or in the Thanksgiving Day newspaper. For a few years, advance Black Friday sales information has been posted on special websites. This practice is called “leaking the ads”, and savvy consumers who want to make the effort can google for sale information. It is not surprising that reviewing and evaluating such information is time-consuming and may lead to overspending.
The Black Friday doesn’t really benefit us. If you are buying something you don’t really need and didn’t really want before you saw it, you are wasting your money. It doesn’t matter how good the deal is, you’re just throwing away your money for useless things, and that’s a sure way to put yourself in a worse financial position. If you are spending plenty of time on searching for a good deal, you are wasting your time that you could invest into yourself. The Black Friday has already passed, but the Christmas Sale season is coming. Let’s be a rational customer this time.