Is Black Friday Really Cheaper? The Truth About Why We Wait in Lines

It seems Black Friday countdowns start earlier each year. We were barely into October this year and I noticed them cropping up.

For the dedicated bargain hunters among us, the lead up to Black Friday involves making a shopping list, coordinating with others and planning a route. Then, on Thanksgiving night, waiting in lines in the freezing cold.

Last year I participated in the Black Friday mayhem for the first time. I was in the market for a new laptop, and figured Black Friday was the time to strike. The cheapest I could find was at a big box store for $159.

So when Thanksgiving came I grabbed my gloves, hat and scarf and ventured out. I must have been out there two hours, but it felt like five. When they let us in at midnight the real chaos started. Everyone (including me) was sleep deprived and zombie-like. Manners were apparently left at home, as people bumped against each other and ran over anything in the way.

I made my way to the electronics department and stood in yet another line to get my ticket, which would then allow me to claim my laptop. About a half hour after entering the store I had my prize in hand. After waiting in yet another line at the checkout, I made my exit.

Why do millions of Americans put themselves through this every year? I only went to one store, but some people visit several into the wee hours.

It’s all about the deals, right? Well what if I told you that Black Friday isn’t necessarily the best time of year to find bargains?

That’s precisely what the Wall Street Journal found. In their article The Myth of the Black Friday Deal, they explain that most items are cheaper earlier in the shopping season, while some go down in price as you get closer to Christmas Day. Flat screen TVs, jewelry, watches, and toys are cheaper in October, while stuff that didn’t sell well during Black Friday is discounted closer to Christmas. Household items like blenders and mixers are often in the latter category.

Now that we’ve proven good deals aren’t a reason to stand in line, how else might we justify it? Let’s turn to our brains to find the answer.

After our basic needs of food and shelter are met, we aim to be accepted by others. One way we’ve found to do this is to seek social proof: We stand in lines so others will see us standing in lines.

Because consumption is king in our culture, people who consume are “cool”. We believe that others’ opinions of us will be positive if they see us in line to buy the newest iPhone or a 55 inch flat screen.

Aha! Who knew a basic concept of psychology could explain one of our culture’s most popular rituals? MarketWatch calls it “queue chic”, and explains that waiting in line is a shared experience. This fits in with another basic human characteristic: We are social beings. It’s in our nature to associate with others and share our lives with them. In our quest to gain their acceptance, we want to be seen as making the right buying decisions.

So if you’re going shopping on Black Friday to prove how cool you are or to share the experience with others, fine. But if you’re going for the deals, don’t bother. As the Wall Street Journal says, you’re probably wasting your time.

As for my laptop, it turned out to be a dud. It froze up every time I played a video, so I returned it a week later and bought an iPad instead. Last year’s Black Friday excursion will be my one and only.

Are you going Black Friday shopping this year?

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10 thoughts on “Is Black Friday Really Cheaper? The Truth About Why We Wait in Lines

  1. You know what the best deal is? Not buying anything at all! 🙂 OK, OK, not always realistic, but you’re right in that we often purchase things to keep up appearances. I’m doing that right now as I lust over the ipad (I’ll take any size, thank you very much). I absolutely don’t need it, and no amount of discount can make me justify it. But I think that’s just how we operate. Kind of sad.

    • The iPad is just that…something we love to look at and play with, but nowhere close to being something we need. But that hasn’t stopped Apple from selling millions of them!

      We have an iPad 2 which we got refurbished from Apple’s website back in April. It’s one of the best purchases we’ve made in recent years, based on how much we use it and the convenience it provides.

  2. I will definitely be out bright and early on Black Friday. However, I won’t be buying much. I’ll plan my shopping and get a few things that are truly great deals. To me, it’s just fun to out and people watch. You’re right that people go crazy, and its kind of neat to just see it live.

  3. We won’t be heading out for Black Friday nor do we enjoy waiting in long line ups for the Only 6 in stock deals. We have shopped the cyber Monday in Canada where we price matched an online deal at Sears Canada. If we see something on line that we know we need then we’d go for it. It’s all about how much can we save. Mr.CBB

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  5. I agree that there aren’t as many true values out there as are hyped however, there are a handful of gems out there. For me Black Friday is just one aspect of an overall annual shopping plan. There are some things I know will be at their lowest price on Black Friday and will budget toward making those purchases on Black Friday / Cyber Monday.

    One example is the AVG anti-virus software update we buy annually. It is always half off for Black Friday so that is the day we buy it for all our computers each year.

    • That’s a great example, Mike. That just shows that if you pay attention to the prices of things your normally buy throughout the year, you’ll always know the best time to buy.

      It’s not always best to buy on Black Friday, as some people assume!

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