Friday, November 24, 2006

Madness on Black Friday isn't worth it

Michelle Singletary
The Washington Post

The madness has begun.

One man was shot when he refused to give up his wallet while standing in line to buy the new Sony PlayStation 3. Other shoppers across the country were crushed in the rush to buy the video game console that Sony shipped in limited supply to stores last week.

The ugly vignettes from the front lines of holiday shopping give a sense of what has become a holiday ritual. Change the toy or game or consumer item but the result is the same - shoppers get a little wild in their quest to either be the first to get something or get deep discounts.

And few days of the year offer a better picture of that rowdiness than Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

Nearly a third of respondents - or an estimated 62.7 million adults - will go shopping sometime on Black Friday, according to a Consumer Reports holiday shopping poll. Black Friday traditionally is viewed as a time when retailers go from being in the red (unprofitable) to being in the black (profitable). During the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, many people will leave the company of their friends or families to go shopping, while others will bring the kids along and make hitting the stores a part of the holiday entertainment.

Although Black Friday signals a hallelujah for retailers, it doesn't for me. I want no part of a mall or any retail store from Thanksgiving Day to the Sunday afterward. But if Black Friday excites you, here are a few things you should know:

* The best bargains aren't necessarily on Black Friday. Retailers heavily market the day after Thanksgiving as the time you should get up and out to the stores before sunrise to be the first in line to get the best sales. Black Friday is frequently referred to as the busiest shopping day of the year.

But it isn't.

Last year, Black Friday did not even rank in the top five busiest holiday shopping days, according to a report issued recently by MasterCard Worldwide. The busiest shopping day is either Christmas Eve or the Saturday before Christmas. You have 31 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas to shop. The discounts aren't going anywhere.

* The early bird doesn't always get the worm. Black Friday has turned into Frustrating Friday for an increasing number of shoppers. That's because many stores offering deeply discounted items have only a limited number of those items on hand. So many shoppers go home frustrated. But the retailers still win. Once shoppers are in the stores, they'll likely buy something even if they don't find what they got up so early to purchase.

* That 10 percent discount can cost you. Retailers really put on the full-court press to get shoppers to sign up for their store credit card, often offering a 10 percent discount on that day's purchase or purchases. But don't do it. I know. It's hard to resist. Let's say you are buying a high-priced item for $1,000. You reason you can save $100, which is a pretty penny. But let's look at what that store card can cost you. First, credit cards offered by retailers typically carry a high interest rate - 20 percent or higher. And the stores are well aware that people promise to themselves that they will pay the bill off as soon as it comes in January. But many don't.

So let's say you can't pay off that $900. Cardholders now are typically required to pay at least 1 percent of their balance plus the interest charge. Under that scenario, with an interest rate of 20 percent your first minimum payment would be $23.85 with a starting balance of $900 (I didn't include a sales tax). Pay just the minimum and you end up with $1,108.32 in interest charges over 12 years. Puff. There goes your $100 savings.

OK, so what if you don't take 12 years. What if you find the money to make a lump-sum payment on the item but not until after making minimum credit-card payments for 10 months? In that case, you would have paid $143.54 in interest during the 10-month period.

And what if you do pay it off come January? Well, signing up for another credit offer can lower your credit score.

* Watch out for those no-interest/no-payment-for-six-months-or-a-year deals. Only the most disciplined of consumers should take advantage of these schemes. If you are just one day late in paying off the balance as part of a no-interest/no-payment offer, you will be hit with back interest, which is typically 18 percent to 20 percent or more. Lots of folks don't realize that the interest starts accumulating from the date of purchase, not when the interest-free period ends.

Respondents to the Consumer Reports' poll estimated they would spend an average of 13 hours shopping during the holidays. Retailers are giving people more and more time to buy.

A few retailers - CompUSA and BJ's Wholesale Club, for example - have abandoned the tradition of closing on Thanksgiving and are opening their doors. Other stores don't think customers can wait for sunrise to shop on the Friday after Thanksgiving, so their doors will be unlocked at midnight.

Perhaps, just so people can really shop with ease, retailers should have sleepovers. Sections of the store could be redesigned with private rooms with nice comfy beds and showers so their customers won't even have to go home.

Think I'm mad? It's only a matter of time.

© Washington Post Writers Group

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments will be moderate for content, please be patient as your comment will appear as soon as it has been reviewed.

Thank you