The Surprising Truth Behind Those Black Friday ‘Deals’
Life + Money

The Surprising Truth Behind Those Black Friday ‘Deals’

REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn

You might want to think twice before bolting from your family Thanksgiving meal to snag what appear to be unbelievable door-buster Black Friday bargains.

What you’ll likely find instead is a lot of deals recycled from last year or discounts engineered to look better than they are.

Twenty retailers are offering the exact deals as last year, according to a new NerdWallet analysis of 21 Black Friday advertisements, while others are using tricks to make discounts seem bigger. In three instances, this year’s Black Friday sale prices are higher than the 2014 Black Friday prices, NerdWallet found.

“This is the fourth year we’ve conducted this analysis, and we’re still seeing repetitive deals every year,” said NerdWallet shopping manager Katrina Chan in a statement. “Just because a retailer promotes a certain product as a ‘deal,’ consumers shouldn’t take that at face value. Shoppers still have to do their homework early.”

Related: Here’s Why Black Friday Will Be a Bust This Year

For example, GameStop is advertising the PlayStation Gold Wireless Headset for $69.99 this year just like in 2014, according to NerdWallet. GameStop spokesman Joey Mooring confirmed the repeat deal. 

“It is in high demand and has been one of our best-selling accessories during the holidays,” he wrote in an email, “which is why we are offering such a great deal once again on it this year.”

JCPenney spokeswoman Kate Coultas offered a similar explanation about the retailer’s déjà vu bargain on the Cooks Microwave, which it’s selling for $49.99 on Black Friday, just like last year. Coultas said it was one of several Black Friday deals the retailer is rerunning from past years.

“After several years of Black Friday sales, we know the key items and price points customers will respond to and the kind of deals they will expect from JCPenney each year,” Coultas said in an email.

Related: Here’s the Day That’s Better for Deals than Black Friday

That probably explains why Macy’s is offering 60 bargains it ran last year, while Belk, another department store, is promoting 80 duplicate deals, according to NerdWallet’s analysis.

Apart from repeat deals, NerdWallet also found that retailers went to different lengths to make discounts seem more valuable.

For example, Macy’s is listing a Samsonite Luggage carry-on bag in its Black Friday circular for $99.99, touted as more than half off its regular price tag of $260. But the same bag was available at Macy’s earlier in November for $116.99, and on sale for Veteran’s Day for $99.44, according to NerdWallet.

Some retailers are using so-called “comp prices” rather than their regular prices to make a discount look larger. And in a few cases, shoppers would have gotten a better discount last year or even a few weeks ago for the same item.

For instance, Staples sold the Brother HL-L2320d Mono Laser Printer last year for $49.99 during Black Friday. This year, the Black Friday price is $79.99. Only weeks ago, it was selling for $59.99.

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 “It’s important for shoppers to ignore the Black Friday percent-off claims, as it’s very likely that the advertised amount of the discounts may be inflated,” NerdWallet's Chan said in a statement. “Instead, shoppers should look at the sale price of the item and determine if it’s a price they’re willing to pay.”