Black November

Black Friday exists as a point in the calendar where businesses finally started to get “in the black” (e.g. profitable) within a calendar year. Gives you an idea of how tight profit margins used to be – that it takes 11 months of 12. Clearly, this isn’t a date on the calendar, each business is different. Custom eventually slapped this on the the US Thanksgiving Friday.

That unity brought competition between various businesses and the concept of a super-sale. There are enough WalMart videos to show how well that’s gone. Over the years it started spreading to other countries (the sale, not the dumb), yet at the same time it was competing with the online sale market.

A few years ago we started seeing Cyber Monday, where online sites had major sales after Black Friday. This had 2 purposes, ensure the on-site stock was cleared, and collect more money cause who doesn’t like a sale? The smell of money drives nearly everything, so businesses started to think about how they could get more of it, with minimal effort. Never underestimate the power of greed!

See the advent of Black Friday weekend. Then Black Friday week. And now we’re at Black Friday sales all through November. Think about that for a second, a month-long sale on a pile of stuff. We’re broaching Steam Sale timeframes now. Not in the space of 10% off, but the big sticker “50% off” or “$300” off. No business can operate on those margins… so they don’t.

In Canada we have some simple laws when it comes to displaying prices, in that the ring up at the cash has to match the sticker. This is the sort of grocery store fight you see on soup prices – but it actually applies to larger things too. In Ontario at least, the price you see advertised on a new car is the price you pay (+ tax). There are no hidden “delivery fees” or any garbage. Great! Yet, they are build for the brick and mortar model.

What we’re seeing now (more pervasively) is the perception of a sale. There are quite a few businesses that operate on this model (Burlington Coat Factory is one, Winners another). You look at the item and it says Regular $89, Sale $19. Great deal! But the normal price is actually $19 everywhere. Sure, you may find the odd item, but it’s not like that business can operate at 20% the margins of another.

This model applies to online stores too. Amazon is target #1 for this, where it shows a sale, but the actual price is higher than their normal price. What I mean by this is that online retailers will sell say a TV for $900 for the month of October. Then they will add that item to Black Friday sales for the month, but raise the price to $950 and then say that they are saving $500. It’s clearly a lie, you can compare around and see everyone is selling the TV for $900 – but the concept of saving $500! Holy cow! (This is actually illegal in the UK, you need to prove the item was $500 more for at least a month. So they raise the price 1 month before the sale starts.)

While I think this is absolutely despicable behaviour, I also think that this is going to have the same long term effect of window shopping in brick and mortar. Where people today browse furniture in a store then buy online to save money, technology is already starting to catch onto these models. Sites like CamelCamelCamel are popping up and giving you the ability to see prices over time, and set alerts for real sales. Here’s a price history for a “great deal” on an Acer Nitro laptop. Save $200! Or you know, look at the history and see that it sells for this price every 2 weeks, then $200 more the other 2 weeks. Is it a sale when it’s this price half the time?

Technology is so cheap nowadays, that it’s just a matter of time before this gets wider scale use. People are going to window shop on Amazon, visit a price history site, and then make their decisions that way. This won’t stop the mad WalMart rushes though – pretty obvious there’s no saving the people who enjoy that. I’d be quite curious to see how that all works out this year, ya know, what with a pandemic and all.

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