The Dirty Little Secret Is Out...

"Black Friday" returns...before Christmas.

If you were one of the people who braved the November cold waiting for those day-after-Thanksgiving "bargains", tell me something: was it worth it?

Nationwide, a story put out by the Associated Press this past week noted that, for a lot of those shoppers, it wasn't.

People who bought those "doorbuster" items, priced well below their normal cost (largely electronics) are returning them, even before the post-Christmas return season.

The A.P. reports that the pre-Christmas returns have increased significantly in the years since the 2007-2009 recession.

According to the Associated Press story:

Some reasons for the many unhappy returns:

— Shoppers are binging on big discounts. Stores are desperate to get people in the door. But the same shoppers who find a “60 percent off” tag too good to resist may realize at home that they busted the budget.

— Stores have made it easier to take things back. Nordstrom is letting online shoppers return items at no extra charge this year. It used to charge $6. Other stores are offering more time to return or rolling out “no questions asked” policies — no tag or receipt required. But that can backfire.

“Spurring more returns wasn’t part of the plan,” says Al Sambar, a retail strategist for consulting firm Kurt Salmon.

— Stores are undercutting each other in a tough economy. Wanda Vazquez spent $39.99 at a New York Target on iPad speakers for her 12-year-old daughter, then returned them when she found something similar for $16.99 at Marshalls.

I think the first reason is the most significant.

For example, you see an ad for a $500 TV for $299.95. Sounds great, doesn't it? But only if you were in the market for a new TV. If you weren't, that's more than $300 (including tax) out of your pocket that you probably would have spent on more important things. When you see the credit card bill come in the mail, you may realize you really didn't need that "bargain TV" after all, and it goes back to the store.

I'm not saying I haven't spent a few dollars on something I didn't need. I can think of a couple of things I've seen in a store I "binged" on...but not in the wee hours of the morning, and not sitting in the cold waiting for the doors of a "big box" store to open, waiting with a number of other people looking to buy the same thing.

We're fortunate in the Mid-Ohio Valley that we haven't had a "pepper spray" incident like the one in Los Angeles on this year's "black friday", or where people were seriously hurt.  The biggest problem, according to local police, have been non-injury traffic accidents.

And I also realize why stores do this; it's a stategy which existed long before B.F.: get people in the door, and hope they'll buy stuff, whether it was in their ad or not.

But we all need to be smarter shoppers. I can live with my analog TV for a few more years until it finally gives up the ghost (as long as I can get a signal on it). I have a TV, in fact, that my parents gave me for Christmas in 1985 that's still working.

A bargain isn't a bargain if you don't need it.


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