Pricing Games in Black Friday 2013 Ads: What to Watch Out For

PHOTO: Here are some tips to avoid Black Friday gimmicks.
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Every Black Friday ad promises fabulous prices on toys, clothes, technology and more. But look closer— what seems like a steal in the heat of your early-morning madness may not save you much at all. When you're shopping, watch out for these Black Friday ad pricing gimmicks:

The "free" game

Among the most common ad ploys is the siren song of "free." The word suggests riskless benefit, but often tricks shoppers into shelling out for items they might not otherwise have bought. Buy-one-get-one-free deals make it seem like the store is giving you a gift, when you're of course still spending money—perhaps too much money—on item number one. Similarly, online stores that advertise free shipping hope you'll take a look at wares you might otherwise have ignored. Even when the offer isn't contingent on a purchase, the retailer benefits: when a shop offers free candy to the first 50 people to arrive, it draws customers in faster and makes them much more likely to buy merchandise.

Read More: Best Black Friday Deals: Where and When to Get Them

Only $99.99

Advertisers call listings that end in .99, .90, or .95 "charm prices" because they have such a powerful effect on would-be savers. This happens for a few reasons: first, because we read from left to right, your brain evaluates $12.99 as $12 before your eyes can catch up. Second, precise-to-the-last-digit prices can seem carefully calibrated, making customers less likely to think about the overall value. If the tag says $49.99, fewer people will pause to consider whether that sweater is really worth $50.


Particularly common on larger items, rebates can seem like a great deal. Pay $300, but get $80 back—it's like free money! But here's how that turns out for most of us: in mid-January, you'll throw down the rebate form in disgust at how hard it is to fill out. You'll find it again around March, expired. Retailers make the rebate process as complicated and deadline-filled as possible, knowing that the holiday crush will prevent most of us from claiming our money. Unless you pride yourself on your bureaucratic zeal, proceed with caution.

Early openings

Bear in mind that stores open early not for your benefit, but because they know that the first store you visit is likely to get the largest percentage of your budget for the day. That's why Walmart, Best Buy, Target and others all open earlier each year for Black Friday. As with free giveaways, retailers are trying their hardest to get you in the door. Be cautious about spending in the first store you hit, and about any advertisement that hinges on urgency. There are plenty of great deals to be had on Black Friday, so don't let anxiety about missing out persuade you to over-buy.

Read More: Some Retailers Rejecting 'Gray Thursday' as Part of Holiday Shopping Ritual

Don't let pricing games ruin your Black Friday fun— or credit score. Instead, come prepared with a shopping list and budget. For larger items, comparison shop ahead of time to find out where the best price truly lies. Armed with a clear set of goals, you can focus on saving. Enjoy your turkey, and get ready.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Matthew Ong is a senior retail analyst for NerdWallet, a financial literacy website based out of San Francisco. He is currently working on reviewing all the Black Friday ad leaks from 2013 and analyzing the best and the worst of the upcoming shopping holiday.

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