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Black Friday deals start early and seem endless. Are there actually any good deals?

Shoppers walk past sale signs at the Avalon shopping center in Alpharetta, Ga., during Black Friday in 2022.
Jessica McGowan
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Getty Images
Shoppers walk past sale signs at the Avalon shopping center in Alpharetta, Ga., during Black Friday in 2022.

If you're reading this, Black Friday deals are already in full swing.

Yes, we know it's not Friday yet.

But Black Friday isn't just Black Friday anymore. Retailers begin rolling out deals days or even weeks ahead of one of the biggest shopping day of the year, enticing customers with offers long before they've taken their first bite of Thanksgiving dinner.

"If you wake up on Black Friday and that's the first time you're thinking about it, you're late to the game," said Kristin McGrath, editor at the shopping website RetailMeNot.

Which means if you want to score that heavily discounted TV or gaming console, you had better get moving.

But how good can a sale that lasts that long really be? Are there still great deals to be had during the Black Friday season — or is it just a lengthy marketing ploy to get us to buy more stuff?

It's no longer one day. And it no longer starts the day after Thanksgiving

This year, Amazon and Best Buy started their Black Friday sales a full week early on Nov. 17. Target began offering seasonal discounts on Nov. 19.

Lowe's got going with its holiday sale on Oct. 26, advertising it with the paradoxical slogan: Black Friday Every Day.

Retail experts say businesses know that shoppers will spend generously during the holiday season, and longer sale windows give companies more time to go after the at least $957 billion shoppers are expected to shell out in person and online this year.

"They're probably not running longer promotions out of the goodness of their heart," said Kelly Goldsmith, a marketing professor at Vanderbilt University. "They're probably running longer promotions out of a planned strategy in order to recruit more customers and accrue more revenue through doing so."

Competition may also play a role, Goldsmith said. If your competitor starts its Black Friday sale early and threatens to steal away some of your potential customers, you might choose to move up your sale, too.

On top of that, customers themselves are starting their holiday buying earlier. A RetailMeNot survey released in September found that 83% of shoppers said they intended to start their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving — with 64% saying they'd start buying gifts beginning in October or even earlier.

OK, but are these sales actually any good?

The short answer is, yes, products actually are discounted during Black Friday sales.

According to Adobe Analytics data, discounts this holiday season will hit record highs of up to 35% off the list price, with the best deals occurring from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday.

Adobe estimated that discounts could be as high as 20% between Nov. 1 and Nov. 17 and remain elevated — up to 16% off — in the days after Cyber Monday.

One way to know you're getting one of those deals rather than a sale in name only is to use a price comparison tool. Websites like camelcamelcamel, for example, allow you to track the price of an item over time to suss out if the Black Friday cost is truly a bargain and avoid an inflated price tag.

The longer Black Friday sale windows, while they may benefit retailers, can also help consumers by giving them more time to shop around for the best price on a specific item. Shoppers may also take the time to hold out for a steeper discount, since stores may change the price of an item over the course of their sale.

But McGrath says shoppers might want to make their purchases early in a Black Friday sale, especially in the case of high-demand items that could sell out quickly.

You can still find discounts, but Black Friday isn't as simple as it used to be

All in all, consumers can still win out during Black Friday sales, because the abundance of discounts means that people buying a variety of goods will most likely save money overall.

"Throughout the year, a retailer might throw a random sale and those items will hit the same low [prices]," McGrath said.

"But when it comes to these big sale events like Black Friday, the advantage to the consumer is there's a bunch of stuff on sale all at one time, so it's kind of a more efficient way to get things on sale than it is to hunt and peck throughout the year."

Still, that doesn't mean sorting through the thicket of holiday sales is easy for even the most eagle-eyed shoppers. What used to be a one-day sale across the economy is now a constellation of deals, discounts and promotions that each retailer does differently.

And while shoppers may still save money, it's not likely to get any easier for them to navigate the many Black Friday sales anytime soon.

"I wonder if at some point we will hit that tipping point where they just become so long, these sales," McGrath said, "that they're meaningless or that they have so many rounds that it confuses consumers."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Hernandez
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