Sense and sensibility in the big sales season    

It’s November and the sales season is upon us. Black Friday and Cyber Monday have already started – indeed, November is a month-long sales festival on and offline. And pretty soon Christmas will bring along its own December sales frenzy.  

This end of the year also finds us in the midst of a cost-of-living, energy and housing crisis here in Ireland. That alone is reason enough for many of us to apply common sense to our pre-Christmas shopping spree, but many of us also want to treat ourselves with a bit of shopping therapy to forget about said crises.  

Whatever your attitude is, most of us will need to buy those Christmas gifts, so let us use our cash reserves wisely. It would be a good thing to tackle the sales in a thoughtful and considered way, so have a look at the European Consumer Centre Ireland’s Smart Spending in the Sales guide here.  

Ask The Right Questions

  • Which sale is best? – Black Friday/Cyber Monday is a massive sale event but not much different in nature than all the other sales throughout the year, except in terms of volumes. In late November and early December, most shoppers will be buying their Christmas gifts, so some shopping needs to be done. But if you want something specific, it’s worth taking the time to be organised about it and making sure you are getting the product you want, at the right price, which may be lower in the January sales, for example. 
  • Don’t lose the head. – The first and most important thing is not to get swayed by the sales spiel. We’re buying volumes at Christmas, but should not let ourselves be lured by the promise of huge discounts for what are ultimately poor-value or poor-quality products. Especially at this time, when every cent matters and sustainability is a concern, buying superior-quality and long-durability products means that you are ultimately getting more out of your purchase long term.
  • Need or want? – Raising consumers’ expectations about ever-better, ever-greater discounts and creating a sense of urgency about getting their hands on very limited and heavily discounted stock increases pressure on purchasing decision-making. It is simply how marketing works: creating a sense of need and urgency. Let’s keep some perspective on what we really need and what we simply want because someone told us we need it. When consumption becomes compulsion, it’s time to step back and reconsider your choices. 
  • Summer in November? – Keep in mind that events like Black Friday/Cyber Monday are a way for retailers to shift surplus stock and generate increased sales volumes ahead of Christmas. More often than not, it is an opportunity for shops to clear some warehouse space for new season stock, so the selection of reduced items is not what you may expect or, indeed, worth buying even with the reduction in price. 
  • Don’t assume any advertised deals are the best deals of the year; products go on sale all the time these days, so don’t let the feeling of urgency overwhelm your common sense. As people shop online more than ever before, the price deals generated by increased sales volumes are getting better and more frequent. Go online at any time of the year and you will see quite a large seasonal sale or clearance selection to choose from. 

Put In The Work

  • The Price Is Right. – Is it? At this time of the year, we are told that these are the best discounts of the year, and some offers do appear unbeatable. Keep in mind however that many shops refer to the recommended retail price (RRP) for the discounts they offer. But, even before applying the Black Friday deals, often, the RRP does not correspond to the actual market price; it is higher, which means that the discount will appear more attractive.
  • They’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse. – Sometimes sellers make you an offer that you simply can’t look away from. Make sure you’re getting a real deal though – sometimes retailers simply inflate the prices before reducing them down again in order to give customers the impression of getting “a huge discount”. The way to be sure is to track the price of your chosen product to see if the end price represents a genuine, net reduction after tax and shipping. 
  • It requires a bit of patience and detective skills, but the best way to get the best deal is by comparing prices and retailers for the same product at the time of the big sale. Record the before-sale full price to make sure you really are getting an actual deal on your desired purchase. Always look at the final price rather than the saving discount, and make sure that price comparison claims between competitors are based on like-for-like products/versions. 
  • Massive sales events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday are traditionally great for high-end tech products and entertainment gadgets. But, remember, that the sales are also a way for shops to shift old stock quickly before the technology becomes obsolete. While you might get a great price, you inadvertently might be buying old technology, which comes with limited features and compatibility issues that are outside warranty and/or are no longer supported by the manufacturer. 

Be In The Know

  • You will notice a shift from sales on products to sales on services, such as subscriptions, packages, experiences and vouchers. We are now in an age when many products come with a services package attached and/or many products are now sold as a service. For instance, instead of buying a digital product, you can sign up to a digital subscription for a recurrent fee. This is called “Product as a Service” (PaaS) and is a genuinely sound business model but it can be used deceptively, too, when consumers end up tied into a long-term subscription with detrimental cancellation terms.  
  • Watch out for deals on subscriptions and packages, particularly advertised through free trials and low-cost introductory offers that you get by signing up to a long-term periodic subscription. You will see these mostly online and on social media, in ads for wellness programmes (low introductory club memberships), cosmetics and healthcare (free samples and low-cost trials), dating services (open-end subscriptions), and digital services (cloud-based and streaming subscriptions). Online subscriptions are set up by agreeing to sign up to a subscription that entails a user agreement whereby you accept recurring charges on your debit/ credit card. Recurrent charges cannot be cancelled through the card’s issuer, so you must have the agreement cancelled by the company, which sometimes does not offer easy cancellation terms. 
  • Another sector that heavily promotes “deals” is gaming, which happens on platforms and apps also accessed by children. Gamers should carefully consider new product deals, discounted packages and subscription offers offered on sale, particularly for free-to-play games that can only be enhanced by subsequent purchases. Parents should be particularly careful when monitoring their children’s in-app purchases and access to loot boxes.  
  • Finally, this year more than ever, be mindful when shopping on social media, particularly when live shopping. Online shopping is becoming a generic term nowadays. From websites to platforms, and then mobile apps and social media, what started as “e-commerce”, evolved into “mobile commerce”, then “social commerce” is now “live shopping” (buying directly from and during a live stream on various channels). Whether it’s on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp or TikTok, in-app and live shopping is how younger consumers in particular like to shop these days.