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The 5 Biggest Myths About Shopping on Black Friday

People rush into Macy's department store as they open at midnight (0500 GMT) on November 23, 2012 in New York to start the stores'
This photo is not actually blurry, it’s just your food coma. Photo: STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

Unless I were on quaaludes or being blackmailed by an oligarch, I would never knowingly go Black Friday shopping. I’m too claustrophobic to deal with big crowds, and I don’t even like shopping on normal days, never mind plowing through thousands of frenzied deal-hunters for the last Xbox One on the shelf at Best Buy.

Apparently, millions of people are planning to do exactly that. It’s not exactly a secret that Black Friday has some serious downsides. But capitalism’s favorite day is the subject of some widely held misconceptions. Here are five myths about the informal holiday everyone loves to hate.

Myth 1: Everyone in America goes Black Friday shopping.

Time’s Brad Tuttle lights into a few of the most misleading Black Friday surveys out there. Among them, a report that claimed that “This year, 38% of shoppers are likely to shop on Thanksgiving Day or night,” when the actual survey data was much, much less impressive. Using better data from Nielsen, we find that only thirteen percent of people are actually planning to go to a physical store and buy stuff on Friday – a big chunk of people, to be sure, but hardly everyone you know.

Myth 2: All the best deals are found on Black Friday.

According to research commissioned by The Wall Street Journal, Black Friday isn’t the low-price holiday it appears to be. The research showed, for example, that you could get a better deal on a men’s watch by buying it in March than on Black Friday, and that the best time to buy a flat-screen TV is actually in October. Plus, retail competitiveness means that the discount window has expanded from a few hours on Black Friday to days or weeks. (Walmart is even offering to match competitors’ Black Friday prices a week early.)

Myth 3: Everyone finds good Black Friday items in the stores, then buys the same stuff online for less.

One of the scariest concepts for brick-and-mortar retail stores this holiday season is “showrooming” – the idea that people are browsing stores to figure out what they want to buy, then going to Amazon or another online retailer to find the best deal. But research shows that showrooming is more hype than reality. According to a Columbia Business School study, only 6 percent of people who use their phones inside retail stores are hoping to find a better deal online. Many more of them are looking up product specs, reading reviews, and doing other kinds of research, before they ultimately buy inside the store.

Myth 4: If you go to shop on Black Friday, you will be killed by a ravaging horde.

We here at Daily Intelligencer are adamantly anti-trampling. But it’s also worth pointing out that, statistically, you are probably more likely to become Dutch royalty than be injured in a Black Friday stampede. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (which sends out a yearly letter to stores about how to avoid chaos) doesn’t make data available about the number of people injured in shopping-related incidents. But given the fact that it still makes news when someone is trampled to death at a Walmart, it’s safe to assume that Black Friday shopping is significantly less dangerous than, say, eating a carrot. 

Myth 5: You can beat the system.

As I wrote around this time last year, the entire Black Friday retail complex is set up to take advantage of your mental weaknesses. From implied scarcity to post-purchase rationalization, Black Friday is a minefield of cognitive fallacies, designed to get you to spend as much money as possible. You might have fun scrambling around the aisles of Best Buy, but you’re almost certainly not going to come out ahead. So, from a behavioral economics perspective, you’re better off skipping the mall, and going to see Hunger Games instead.

If you do have to go Black Friday shopping, though, read this essay by a seasonal retail employee about how not to be a jerk at the store. And happy shopping, you crazy diamond.

The 5 Black Friday Shopping Myths