Black Friday has become a staple of the festive season since it was imported from the US a decade ago.
The shopping day, held on the last Friday of November, offers customers cut-price deals on everything from electronics to holidays.
After October’s disappointing retail figures, retailers will be hoping that Black Friday sales make up for it. But are customers actually getting a good deal?
Harry Brignull is an expert in deceptive retail design. To help customers sort the dodgy deals from the genuine bargains, he reveals some of the tricks retailers use to push consumers to buy more on Black Friday.
Deal or no deal: Black Friday can lure customers into thinking they’ve bagged a bargain
False sense of urgency
If you’re a regular online shopper, you’ve probably been bombarded by pop-ups that say things like ‘100 people are looking at this’ or ‘Five items left’.
Brignull says this can be a deceptive tactic to encourage people to buy quickly.
‘If a company says only five items left, do they mean in your size, or in that colour?’ he says. ‘Or if they say five people just bought this, what do they mean? Do they mean this second, this hour, this month?
‘They’re trying to give you a sense that the shop is busy – and you need to hurry up and buy it.’
The allure of time-limited offers is particularly strong on Black Friday, where customers might see messages such as ‘sale ends in 15 minutes’ or ‘last chance to buy’.
Brignull says this ‘exploits the human instinct to not miss out on a great deal’.
Analysis of some items on sale on Black Friday tends to show customers aren’t always getting the best deal, but creating a sense of urgency means they’re even less likely to shop around.
Harry Brignull is the author of Deceptive patterns: Exposing the tricks tech companies use to control you
‘On any other day you might say to yourself, “let me check a price comparison site or a price tracker,” and you might read the details of the offer more carefully,’ Brignull adds.
‘Sometimes unscrupulous retailers will jack the prices up beforehand to make the sale discount look bigger, or they’ll bend the truth about scarcity and urgency.’
The countdown to a sale ending is a popular trick, but Brignull says this too can be deceptive.
‘You can have a timer come up and then when the time gets to zero, it just loops back round again,’ he explains.
‘Sneaking’ and hidden costs
Brignull also warns of websites pre-adding items like warranties, accessories or even unrelated products into your shopping basket. A common add-on is cashback rewards, that lead you to websites that you end up paying a subscription for.
Again, with the added time pressure, consumers can often rush through the checkout process without noticing additions.
Similarly, hidden costs for things like shipping or handling are often tacked onto the very end of the checkout process. It means that jaw-droppingly low prices can work out a bit more than you anticipated.
Brignull says: ‘This could make your bargain not so cheap after all. Stop and ask yourself: do these added costs seem fair and reasonable?’
More and more companies are also charging for returns, which consumers should be aware of before they jump into buying big ticket items too.
Don’t fall for Black Friday scams
HSBC UK says criminals are expected to use the traditional shopping discount day of Black Friday to make money from goods and services that do not exist.
Retailers are increasingly looking at moving away from one-off purchases and towards subscriptions. It means they’ll hold quick sales, offering a discount on a one-year subscription or the first few months free .
‘Generally they’ll make it very easy to sign up for a subscription… you might get it by accident when you’re checking out. And when it comes to cancelling, you end up having to speak to someone on live chat, or call,’ says Brignull.
On Black Friday, retailers often offer promotions for signing up to subscription services – for example, an extra 10 per cent off on all future purchases.
Brignull says: ‘These offers make it easy for you to get in, but can make it very difficult to find how to cancel later on. Be cautious about such commitments, especially when they’re used as a lure for a one-time discount.’
Bait and switch
One of the classic tactics used by retailers on Black Friday is to heavily advertise a specific product, and then run out of stock almost immediately.
Brignull says: ‘This tactic capitalises on a shopper’s initial focus on a specific eye-catching product in the hope that you will settle for an alternative which is more expensive or less discounted.
‘Keep your options open and have a list of alternatives that also meet your needs, so you can easily pivot to a well-considered second choice without being pressured into an impulsive purchase.’
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