The last Friday in November is one of the busiest days in the retail calendar and typically marks the start of Christmas shopping season.
But despite the popularity of “Black Friday”, canny retailers have been accused of faking or exaggerating price drops on the vast majority of the most popular presents.
More than 99pc of the 240 most popular items on sale could be found cheaper or at the same price on other days of the year, research from price comparison website PriceSpy found.
By slowly increasing prices in the run up to late November, companies can claim that the price decreases are larger than they really are, meaning that Black Friday is rarely the day that products are cheapest.
As retailers stretch out Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions for weeks leading up to Christmas, it can also be difficult to tell if you are getting the best possible deal.
Are prices really lower?
Although it’s the shopping day of the year, price comparisons suggest Black Friday’s reputation as the cheapest time to buy Christmas presents is dramatically overstated.
PriceSpy found several of the most sought-after gifts, including smartphones and smart watches, were cheaper in the months before Black Friday.
In 2022, the Samsung Galaxy S22 was £519 on November 25, or Black Friday. On October 6, it was on sale for £299.
The Apple Watch Series 7 45mm was available for £349 on the day, compared to £281 on July 14.
PriceSpy also found some items went up in price in the weeks before Black Friday, including smart televisions and Dyson vacuums.
The Dyson V15 Detect Absolute Cordless vacuum increased by 32pc from £475 to £629 on October 5, before dropping to £500 on November 15, the price it would be on Black Friday.
For trainer fans, Nike Air Max 95s were sold for £99 on Black Friday, compared to £65 just over a fortnight beforehand.
A Samsung Oled 65” Smart TV rose from £1,699 to £1,879 on October 20, and kept climbing before dropping back to its original price on November 8.
Just one product on offer was cheapest on Black Friday, the research found, the Oral-B iO Series 9N toothbrush.
Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett [corr], of PriceSpy, warned consumers that shops know that the demand for goods will be high on Black Friday, no matter the price.
“Retailers know they don’t need to discount reliably-popular items on Black Friday – so they often don’t – as, most likely, these products will sell well regardless of their price tag.”
Many retailers now begin their Black Friday discounts more than a week before, while others guarantee that they will keep prices at the same level until Christmas.
John Lewis launched its Black Friday deals in early November, saying that its customers begin preparing for Christmas from November 10.
Sky introduced its own Black Friday price drops on November 3, and will honour the discount until November 30, nearly a week after the day itself.
Consumer expert Martyn James said he felt stung when he bought a new vacuum cleaner on Black Friday last year.
It was sold for £150, discounted massively by Amazon, but the retail giant advertised the original RRP as £300, he said, which was not the real price.
He said: “Sadly, there’s a mish mash of laws and regulations that cover advertising, sales, deals and more, but not one specific bit of legislation governing how long items have to be full price before they can be discounted and no regulator overseeing the retail industry.”
The RRP is set by the manufacturer, but retailers are allowed to discount it.
Mr James added: “But if an item with an RRP of £800 is on sale for £600 nine months of the year, I’d argue that it’s actually worth £600.”
Consumer association Which? reported last year that nine out of 10 Black Friday deals were the same price six months before the sales.
A report released today claims just 3pc of last year’s discounted items were the cheapest on Black Friday.
Of the 208 products included in Which?’s analysis, 98pc were cheaper, or the same price, in the six months before or in the six months after the big sales day.
Ele Clark, retail editor at the campaign group, said while it can be tempting to impulse buy on Black Friday, consumers should not panic on the day.
She said: “Year after year, we find that the vast majority of products are available for the same price or less in the months after and even before Black Friday.
“Prices fluctuate throughout the year and discounts certainly aren’t limited to Black Friday, so don’t feel panicked into buying things you don’t need or hadn’t budgeted for.”
But some products are worth buying on the day in November.
She added: “If you’re in the market for a fridge freezer, tablet or smart TV box you might just score a bargain, as none of the ones in our most recent investigation were available for less than their Black Friday prices at other times of the year.”
Natalie Berg, a retail analyst and consumer podcast host, reminded consumers that something is only a bargain if you need it.
She said: “To avoid buyer’s remorse, I would encourage consumers to make a list beforehand and utilise price checking apps to ensure they are getting a bona fide bargain.”
When should I buy instead?
Some technological products, including televisions, will typically be cheapest if you plump for an older model once the newest ones have launched in the spring.
Shops will heavily discount items at the Boxing Day sales and during the summer sales, when they are trying to offload old stock.
Make sure to look across different retailers, as some will offer price matching if their competitor has the same product at a lower price.
Prices across the most popular goods drop across the year, so it can be worth checking out independent comparison websites, too.
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Christmas for scammers
Wherever there are shoppers looking to spend money, there are scammers.
More than a quarter of parents have fallen for a purchase scam, which is when a consumer pays for something that never turns up, according to trade body UK Finance.
Last year, purchase scam losses surged by 22pc during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, with victims losing an average of £970, according to Barclays bank.
Ben Donaldson, an economic crime expert at UK Finance, said: “More and more criminals are using fake ads and websites to target their victims.
“And particularly at this time of year, too many parents who are trying to bring joy to their children are falling victim to these ruthless crimes.”
He continued: “The consequences go beyond financial, because the deception involved can cause real emotional and psychological damage.”
Shoppers should be wary of deals that seem too good to be true, and ensure that they are buying directly from the correct website.
Barclays urged shoppers to do their own research. It said customers should verify retailers on Companies House, and check that there is a valid address. Additionally, it encouraged shoppers to use reviews sites.
If you get an email offer from a retailer you don’t usually shop at, make sure that you look up the offer separately online, rather than clicking though, as it could be a phishing scam.
Be wary of buying from social media sites, as there are lots of fake versions of designer clothes and toys being sold as if they are real.
If you are buying tickets for a concert or event, avoid using resale sites or social media, where touts will take your money and send you a fake ticket, or not send one at all.
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