Black Friday discounts lower than advertised

An analysis shows that some prices may have been inflated to create an illusion

The actual discounts from e-shops during the discount Black Friday were significantly lower than what the stores’ advertising implied. The advertisements and actual prices were analyzed by the data research firm Apify. The shops deny that they systematically raised prices to create the illusion of savings.

Black Friday is the day after the Thanksgiving holiday in the US, and it kicks off the Christmas shopping season there with big discounts. Due to marketing by large international companies, the event has spread to Europe and some other regions. While in the US, the discounts last one day, they are often for a full week in other countries.

In the Czech Republic, Alza.cz and CZC.cz advertised up to 80 percent discounts, while Mall.cz claimed up to 75 percent. The real discounts were 20 percent at Alza.cz, 15 percent at Mall.cz and 6 percent at CZC.cz, according to Apify.

Apify monitored prices of all products at these three e-shops for the month before Black Friday. During the discount event itself, it watched the Black Friday product sections four times a day.

The analysis showed that e-shops in many cases increased some prices just before the Black Friday so that the discounts would seem larger than they actually were.

Apify co-founder and COO Jakub Balada said a Black + Decker drill at Mall.cz was sold for an alleged Black Friday discount of 45 percent at Kč 2,650, based on a starting price of Kč 4,899.

“It was only 2 percent off. A month ago it cost only Kč 100 more, precisely Kč 2,749, and at that time it was discounted from Kč 2,799 crowns,” Balada said, according to daily Hospodářské noviny (HN).

Balada added that Mall.cz increased the price Nov.19, just before Black Friday.

The Apify analysis also showers Alza.cz claimed to sell the Urbanstar Uscooter at a 37 percent discount but had inflated the price on Nov. 17. The actual discount over the normal price was only 16 percent.

Some alleged sale prices at e-shops were even higher than the normal prices two weeks before Black Friday, Balada said. According to Apify’s analysis, the three e-shops increased the original prices for 291 products. “The most increases from original prices were at CZC.cz in 212 cases. Mall.cz had 63 cases, and the least was at Alza.cz with 16 cases,” Balada told HN.

The e-shops are rejecting the criticism. Alza.cz’s business director Petr Bena said there was no systematic adjustment of prices. “There were human errors in several of these products; we are sorry for the failure … and we are taking remedial action to prevent such a situation from happening in the future,” Bena said.

Mall.cz also rejected the criticism, saying there were sales already before Black Friday, so some prices did not reflect the original retail price. Mall.cz spokesman Jan Řezáč said there were thousands of items on sale in Back Friday promotion, and the criticism only concerned a few items. “But we apologize to our customers,” he added.

CZC.cz spokesperson Martin Rippl also disputed the analysis. "We did not artificially raise our original prices … and we rely uniformly on the recommended retail prices set by the manufacturers or distributors of the products when we place them on the market,” he said. Some older products, in particular, were already lower than the recommended prices, and the Black Friday sale added to the discount used for the final calculation.

Balada stood behind Apify’s analysis.

Even before Black Friday, analysts warned the sales were illusory. Tomáš Poucha, director of the Marketing Institute, said before the event that Czech retailers often use Black Friday sales to get rid of unattractive goods so they can free up shelf space for better items.

Daniel Blažek, marketing director of Heureka.cz warned that the actual savings advertised in dozens of percent may, in reality, be smaller due to advertising tricks. The Heureka.cz site offers price comparisons.

According to retailers, interest in Black Friday has been increasing in the Czech Republic but is nowhere near what it is in the US, where people camp out in tents in front of large stores. In the US, there have been incidents of violence with people fighting over items on sale, and even several deaths due to trampling in crowds and violence including gun violence.

The term Black Friday began in the United States in the 1952 and it refers to the day that retailers go from operating at a loss, being in the red, to making a profit, being in the black. People have offered other explanations for the origin, though, such as that it refers to traffic jams created by shoppers, and even that it referred to traffic from sports fans, and originally had nothing to do with shopping.

In much of the US, people have the day after Thanksgiving off and spend the day shopping, making it the busiest shopping day of the year.

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