The battle over whether it's smart or evil to shop on Black Friday is kind of like the Gettysburg of America's hyped-up War on Christmas. Those against shopping on the day after Thanksgiving point to everything from the crowds to the day's glorious celebration of consumer consumption, to the worrying trend of Black Friday creeping into Thanksgiving Day itself. Those in favor of subjecting themselves to the shopping obstacle course point to the deeply discounted items as the biggest reason to indulge. But The Wall Street Journal would like to dump a bit of cold water onto the spirit, if not the substance, of those Black Friday price cuts by diving into the open secret of the shopping day's "retail theater."
Here's how most people think Black Friday goes: products have "normal" prices. Those prices reflect what the retailer is wishing and hoping and praying to get for that product. The Journal gives the actual example of a sweater purchased from a supplier for $14.50, and sold for about $50 in the store. $50, a 70 percent markup, is the "normal" price. Then, there are "sale" prices, where you, the smart sale shopper, buy the product for a bit less than that normal price. In the Journal's example, the sale price is $44.99. And then there are Black Friday sales, where the discounts are even deeper, the sort of deal you'd proudly mention in a post-shopping victory monologue. For the sweater, the victory price is $21.99. But that is a lie. Not the prices — those are real. The lie is how you perceive it.