Boxing Day sales: Is it all a con?

Are Boxing Day sales a con? We all like a bargain and we get a rush to our brains of the happy chemical called dopamine when we do. But do we really get the best bargains on Boxing Day? Rarely is the answer.

There will always be a few steals on traditional sale days such as Boxing Day, Mother’s Day and Labour Weekend. The reality is, however, that retailers have us trained to drop into buying frenzy when these sales are announced.

Subhead: Sales, sales, more sales and clearance

Boxing Day is the first day of the summer “sales”. Retailers won’t show their best cards – AKA prices – until they have to. We all know that there are further reductions as time goes on.

Retailers get their tentacles on our credit cards on Boxing Day by creating the illusion of scarcity. For summer stock late January or even early February is the time to get the real bargains.

It’s all about whether you’ve got the cojones to wait. You might if you wait miss out on buying the very item you want if it’s a fashion item that won’t be repeated. If it’s electronics or white ware, however, there will always be another sale.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at’s “Price Trend” button. It’s utterly fascinating to see how prices jump around during the year. Click on the “Price Trend” button for the Tom Tom Sportswatch NIKE and see for yourself.

Subhead: inflated pricing

Plenty of the amazing deals on Boxing Day aren’t as remarkable as they appear. That’s because many retailers in New Zealand use the “high low” pricing strategy.

That means that their RRP (recommended retail price) is completely over the top. They then offer 30% or 50% off sales, which bring the price down to what you’d pay elsewhere at full price.

A well-known camping shop, a home ware store and a sports retailer are common examples in New Zealand. The camping shop has great quality merchandise, but I’m not silly enough to buy anything at full price.

When it was first launched one of the shop’s current tents was priced at $1099.98, just before Christmas the price was dropped to $599.98, which was much the same price as you’d buy a similar tent elsewhere.

Buyers don’t mind because they think they’ve got a deal when they see the sale sign. The only way to get a real deal at these “high low” pricing stores is to wait until the discount is more than 50%. The camping store sometimes reduces items at the very end of the season to 70% off.

In America department store JC Penney, which uses high low pricing, admitted that the company was selling fewer than one out of every 500 items at full price, the Wall Street Journal reported. Although discounts of up to 60% are common, customers aren’t saving because the initial price is up 33% on what it was a decade before. High low pricing is the opposite of everyday low prices.

Subhead: other tricks

Not all stores inflate prices. However they may move discounted stock back up to the full price in period just before the big sales. For example, if you go to the mall in the week before Christmas you’re unlikely to find many decent discounts on toys, perfumes, smartphones and all those traditional “gift” purchases. That TV you see on Christmas Eve may have been discounted in November, but back up to full price the night before Christmas.

These manufactured sale prices make me wonder why people bother to get out of bed on Boxing Day, let alone fight the hordes. Wait until the foot traffic slows and the store gets a bit more desperate to shift its stock.

Subhead: it’s not always about the best price.

Here’s a bit of advice. If you really really hand on heart need to buy that item or even want and can afford it, then buy it. Life’s too short to have to get the very best bargain every time. We all deserve a little slurge from time to time.

Finally, the worst con of Boxing Day sales is that we actually need the stuff we’re buying.


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