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What The Tech: Black Friday has become a sell-out, and not in a good way

Black Friday has never been a particularly pretty sight, but this year has been a particularly disappointing one, lacking deals on hot products and often leaving customers in the lurch.

Black Friday is upon us again, along with a flurry of deals on any type of product you’d care to name – and many you wouldn’t. 

Traditionally, Black Friday is the sales the day after Thanksgiving – which makes some sense in the USA, where this festival is actually celebrated. There you can see how, much like the January sales, retailers must quickly turnaround the highly desired products that didn’t sell out.

Here in the UK – where I hasten to remind you that nobody except homesick Americans actually celebrate Thanksgiving – the sales day always seemed to have the strange air of a hangover from a party to which we weren’t invited.

Rather than selling festive stock that was much in-demand, it seems like more of an excuse to just clear the shelves – or rather the dusty sorting rooms – of anything that happens to be lying around. Price cuts abound for the old Microsoft Surface or games for the PS4 – just after the launch of the new Surface range, and the PS5. By all means it’s understandable that retailers wish to shift this stock, but does a glorified car boot sale really merit the hallowed “Black Friday” moniker, as if it is some kind of national festival?

Even worse, many ‘deals’ are completely contrived, with Which? reporting that a staggering “85% of Black Friday product prices aren’t the cheapest they’ve ever been”, and that in fact only 1% of items were actually cheaper on this day than they had been in the previous six months. Prices are cynically, artificially jacked up by opportunistic retailers, before being cut on the sales day itself to generate demand, in a bizarre materialistic merry-go-round.

One saving grace of a devastating global pandemic is that at least this year we haven’t seen punch-ups between people fighting for the last TV set in the shop. The other side of this coin is that Black Friday sales have been driven by online shopping this year, and while you’re unlikely to get a right hook to the face as you’re browsing Amazon, you still might get beaten the the punch when you try and snatch up a hot deal.

The BBC reports that bots are often ruining the fun by automatically purchasing items when they go on sale – and that this was particularly prominent for the recent launches of the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 graphics card, the Xbox Series X, and the PlayStation 5. According to the article, around 60% of the traffic at GameStop was constituted of bots rather than actual customers – and the result is that the products go out of stock immediately and then often re-sold at mark-up prices.

Failing to buy something you don’t want, for more money than it usually costs – welcome to Black Friday 2020.

 

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