By Kelli B. Grant November 22, 2012
Retailers are quick to splash terms like “incredible deals” or “huge savings” on their Black Friday ads, but reporters writing service pieces on the sales should approach them with some skepticism.
With so many offers in play, it can be tough to distinguish the deals worth pointing out to your audience from those that don’t measure up, but that judgment is why readers or viewers come to you. Light the way to a trusted sale, and you can build a reputation. Miss too many hot deals or steer readers to just one bad one, and you can damage your credibility (…unless, of course, the angle of your piece is the worst Black Friday sales. In that case, fire away.).
So what makes for a great Black Friday deal? You’re looking for the same thing your audience is: Good quality, an unusually low price and availability. To find those that fit the bill, here are a few tips.
To research the prices of specific items, check comparison sites like PriceGrabber, Decide.com or Google Shopping (a caveat: Google no longer lists Amazon prices). It’s a fast way to put a sale in perspective and determine whether an offer represents the lowest price currently on the market.
Note that not every product hits its lowest price point of the year on Black Friday. Many comparison sites have a historical component that shows how prices have fluctuated in recent months. If a recent sale beat the current price or the sale isn’t the best price on the item right now, let your readers know.
To assess offers on broad categories like outerwear or digital cameras, look to sale aggregators such as DealNews or FatWallet. They track sales by category and retailer, which can help you compare that “up-to-60%-off” sale to other current and recent offers.
That leads to another good question: up to 60% off of what, exactly? Compare a retailer’s “list” or “regular” price with the suggested retail price on the manufacturer’s site. The discount might be inflated. That said, keep in mind that a good discount is relative. Apple’s 2011 Black Friday sale knocked $101 off most computer models, working out to a discount of less than 10%. But for a company known for rarely discounting, it was still a big sale.
As one colleague of mine put it recently, Black Friday is often “a sale on selected items, and it’s items you’d never select.” Sale items may lack features most competitors include, have a track record of glitches or be older models. Talk to industry analysts and experts at review sites, who can speak to quality (There are typically a few sales they’re excited about.). Check consumer reviews at major retailers and expert reviews from groups like CNET and Consumer Reports. Some price comparison sites, including Decide.com and PriceSpider.com, make note of whether the product has been rendered obsolete or dated by a newer model.
Talking up an expired deal isn’t good service for your audience. Plenty of offers this time of year are flash sales that last only a matter of hours or while supplies last. Make sure the sale will still be on when your piece runs, and note the terms accordingly. Most consumers have come to expect that many Black Friday deals — particularly retailers’ so-called door-busters — will be tough to get, but they can still be worth noting.
Do extra research when referencing leaked ads on Black Friday sale sites. Even with a national chain, deals can vary at the regional or even store levels. Check the details on the ad itself, and confirm them with the company.
Check for sales tricks
Sometimes, the downside of a sale is more about shopper behavior than retailer dishonesty. Studies have found that signage like “limit 1 per customer” or prices that end in certain digits influence how people shop. Professors and other psychology and marketing experts can help point out why retailers use particular tactics. Explaining them to your readers can help them decide which deals to pursue.
Kelli B. Grant is the senior consumer reporter at MarketWatch.com and a contributor to The Wall Street Journal. She has written about personal finance for publications including Real Simple, Good Housekeeping and Family Circle.
This entry was posted on Thursday, November 22nd, 2012 at 5:34 pm. It is filed under On the Beat and tagged with black friday, consumer, deals, personal finance, retail, shopping, spending. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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