December 15 2009|01.55 PM UTC

Samantha Eckles

10 Reasons to Avoid Holiday Shopping Sales

Category: Personal FinanceTags: , ,

There is no inherent reason for running sales during holidays. Aside from Christmas (which is centered on gifts), it makes little sense to get whipped into a frenzy over a Mothers Day sale or, most pointless of all, a Presidents Day sale. More often than not, hyped-up sales events like these generate little more than false hopes, headaches, and needless spending that can and should be avoided. Today, we urge you to be skeptical of holiday shopping sales for the following 10 reasons.

The Savings Can Be Overstated

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A common criticism of sales in general is that the savings are often overstated. Grocery stores, for instance, are targets of ridicule for advertising potato chips normally sold for $2.50 as being “on sale” at the bargain price of two for $5.00. Similar tactics (albeit less obvious) are seen at holiday sales year after year. The reason is simple – retailers know that their competitors will be running sales for every holiday imaginable. Failure to follow suit risks missing out on waves of buying traffic, and as a result, illusory sales are sometimes concocted out of thin air. ThisIsMoney (the UK’s Finance Website of the Year for 2009) contains warnings against “stores exploiting grey areas to advertise sales that never end, and exaggerated discounts.” Again, these tactics are as old as sales themselves, but they bear special repeating during holiday sales because of the heightened desire to buy.

The Crowds Are Brutal

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Crowds for holiday sales are not just pushy or inconsiderate. Often times, they are downright violent. Don’t take our word for it – just Google the words “black friday fight.” The first page of results is stuffed with current 2009 incidents, including such articles as “Top Five Black Friday Shopping Disasters”, “Black Friday Chaos” and, last but not least, “Walmart Temporarily Closes After Fight Breaks Out.” We’re all for saving money and shopping intelligently, but getting a sweet deal on an X-Box 360 is hardly worth risking life and limb for. We’re not kidding – those who doubt how widespread and dangerous these fights are can go five or ten pages deep into the Google results to verify it for themselves!

Store Personnel Can Be More Rude Than Usual

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It’s not just the customers. If you think store personnel are rude throughout the year, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve participated in a massive holiday sale. Surrounded by haughty customers, ordered around by stressed-out managers and overworked by holiday schedules, the lowly clerk or stock boy at your local retailer has less patience than usual. This leads to complaints every year about poor service, snotty sales staffs and the general feeling from shoppers that they are being disrespected. Needless to say, holiday sales are taxing enough for all the reasons listed. Being talked down to by store employees as you try to give them your business adds insult to injury. A complaint entitled “Kohl’s Ruined My Wife’s Mothers Day” sums it up nicely.

Items Sell Out Quickly

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As if the brutal crowds weren’t enough of a deterrent, customers often complain that sale items sell out quickly during big holiday sales. ConsumerAffairs, for instance, reports one man’s story of waiting in frigid, twenty degree temperatures for a $400 HP laptop outside of a Walmart on Black Friday 2005. Unfortunately, despite being given hot coffee by courteous store employees, George found that “all the much-ballyhooed laptops were sold-out in just a minute.” And it’s not as though the enormous crowd gobbled up the several hundred or thousands laptops in stock. According to ConsumerAffairs, “only 30 laptops were available according to many employees” with whom the author spoke. describes a possible cause: store employees hoarding the discounted items before the buying public gets a crack at them. Many similar scandals have broken out at retailers around the nation, further limiting the merchandise actually available to shoppers when the greatly hyped shopping day arrives.

The On-Sale Items Are Often Not Available

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Unfathomable as it may seem, Black Friday sales are particularly notorious for the total absence of advertised sale items on the day of the sale. tells the story of Elena’s Black Friday experience at a store where “fights broke out in the electronics department and employees were yelling for police and store managers over the intercom.” Despite all of this hassle (and danger), Elena nevertheless reports that “advertised toys were not available.” The game “Dream Life” was said by store managers to have never came in, and that furthermore, it was not store policy to issue rainchecks. Additionally, dual DVD portable players were nowhere to be found, nor could Elena “get any answers from anyone in the store where they were or if they had them.” Regardless of whose fault such shortages are, the fact that people routinely put themselves through the hell that is waiting in line for a holiday sale and come home empty-handed is reason enough to reconsider participating.

Bait and Switch Tactics Abound

Image Source lists a complaint from one man alleging that Kohl’s engaged in false advertising and bait and switch tactics during its 2009 Mother’s Day sale. Despite advertising a certain kind of jewelry as being on sale during the event, the store’s management not only didn’t have it, but aggressively tried to sell the man something totally different in its place. Nor was this (apparently) an issue of the store honestly running out. Per the complaint, the sales flier in question “was for Friday and Saturday”, which left “no way the store could have sold out” by Friday morning. Bait and switch tactics are commonly used during all kinds of sales, but who needs them in addition to all the other headaches unique to holiday sales?

Sale Items Are Usually on Sale For a Reason

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Think for a moment about supply and demand. If an item is truly desirable, why would the seller arbitrarily mark down the price? Let’s face it, a sale in honor of President’s Day is pretty arbitrary. More often than you think, items being marked down to commemorate such holidays (including cars, computer systems and clothes) are items the retailer is eager to get off the shelf – and which they have been unsuccessful at getting off the shelf prior to the sale. The best examples are New Years sales events at car dealerships. Plain and simple, dealers desperately want current year model cars off the lot to make room for shiny new models from the upcoming year. There’s nothing devious or awful about this, but you should be aware of it before getting duped into buying things you didn’t already want or need.

Holiday Sales Tempt Needless Spending

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As alluded to earlier, there’s nothing special about most holidays that necessitates sales events. Rather, sales held in honor of holidays like Mothers Day, Fathers Day and President’s Day are simply excuses for merchants to stir up interest in their products or services. Fair game, but it begs the question of how much needless spending these sales trigger. Put another way – it is likely that people spend money on things they wouldn’t have thought to purchase before hearing about the “great deals” offered for these non-Christmas holidays.

Some Are Downright Cheesy

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In a Thanksgiving article, the Huffington Post unveils yet another holiday sale: Green Tuesday. After stating that it “wouldn’t be very green to follow up your sustainable Thanksgiving with a trip in the SUV to a big box store”, the Post wonders, rhetorically, “what’s a green shopper to do?” Their answer – buying gifts from web retailers like Saffron Rouge, Brilliant Earth and Viva Terra who have agreed to participate in “Green Tuesday” sales promotions. According to the Post, this relatively new holiday sale (dating back to 2005) is intended to allow customers to “vote with their wallets” against the other, presumably “un-green” merchants they might have otherwise bought from. Let’s get real – buying gifts from green merchants once a year is about ego gratification, not savings.

Scammers Can Pose as Online Retailers

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Cyber Monday shoppers need to be especially careful, as scam artists can easily post as online retailers. offers a warning from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott about websites that “unlawfully misleading online shoppers about the quality of certain Internet merchants.” At issue in the warning were “price comparison” websites that, while claiming to offer honest recommendations, allegedly engaged in a “cash-for-ratings scheme in which certain online retailers paid for higher rankings.” Aside from these risks, there are also completely fake retailers who promise savings on popular big-ticket items only to make off with your credit card information once it is entered. These are just some of the risks and hassles involved with participating in Cyber Monday.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Robert December 15, 2009 at 6:39 pm

As a salesman for years, I can say that kindness is something you get when you offer it. And please remember that asking if there are any other discounts is fine, but demanding them or threatening to go elsewhere if you don’t get something that no one else is getting either gets you nothing but contempt from staff. And please don’t lie about products or your problems, for someone who has been at there job for a while can see a lie a mile away.


Neal Gorenflo December 15, 2009 at 11:27 pm

How about shipping holiday shopping altogether and exchanging donations to your favorite causes instead of gifts.


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