Here's How Retailers Are Manipulating You on Black Friday

iStock.com/andesr
iStock.com/andesr

For many people, one of the best parts of Thanksgiving is grabbing a newspaper to check out the retail circulars for Black Friday deals. The internet has influenced this tradition to an extent—many of the Black Friday ads are leaked online days or weeks in advance—but there’s still an undeniable psychological pull behind this national shopping day. For some retailers, the holidays can make up roughly a third of their annual revenue, with consumers spending $720 billion on Black Friday. Clearly, they have mastered the art of prying open our wallets.

How do they do it? According to a recent piece by Chavie Lieber at Vox, Black Friday is an exercise in shopper manipulation. Retailers typically begin by blanketing their email lists with notices of early sales beginning in late October and November, squeezing in valuable extra weeks out of the shopping season. Known as “Christmas creep,” it promotes Black Friday less as a single day and more of a month-long atmosphere.

Retailers also depend on promoting a level of anxiety among shoppers by depicting deals as being singular or exclusive. Insisting a deal is only good on a certain day or window of time creates a sense of urgency—even if that deal might crop up elsewhere during the year. Special “deals” might actually be just a method of creative pricing. Buy One, Get One, or BOGO, infers two items for the price of one, for example, but buying one item at regular price might not be much different than buying two on sale another time. Still, consumers are primed to respond to “free” without stopping to think if they’d consider the list price for the single item a good deal without the bonus.

A 2017 Money.com report made mention of the fact that many BOGO deals and other promotions aren’t exactly novel. Stores often repeat the same deals from one year to the next, making sure the economics of their promotions are in line with their financial goals.

Despite the hyperbole and convenience of online shopping, consumers still seem to make a ritual out of going out on Black Friday. (A 2017 survey estimated 25 percent of shoppers will head out to fight the crowds.) It’s less about the desire for deals than the competitive nature of the day. Snagging a deal with perceived exclusivity is satisfying. So is heading back to your car with bags of stuff you may never have bought otherwise.

Shoppers that are task-oriented feel a sense of fulfillment when they get rung up for an advertised deal. Social shoppers actually enjoy the crowds and feel a sense of camaraderie with bargain-hunters.

How you feel about Black Friday depends on what you’re looking to get out of it. If you’re after once-in-a-lifetime deals, you might be disappointed to find that you can save money during other times of the year. But if you treat the phenomenon as a challenge or a social gathering, then you’re likely to walk out of a store happy. If you're upbeat about having overspent, then retailers—and all of their subtle psychological tricks—have done their job.

[h/t Vox]

LEGO Sets Might Be a Better Investment Than Stocks, Bonds, or Gold

iStock.com/georgeclerk
iStock.com/georgeclerk

The unfortunate part of turning a profit on collectible playthings is that you can’t enjoy them. Slabbed comic books go unread; vintage Star Wars action figures are condemned to their blister-packed prisons. But for people who can somehow resist the urge to rip open that LEGO set, fortune may await. Bloomberg recently reported that the brick building kits seem to serve as a reliable asset that can pay off over time.

Bloomberg cited a 2018 study [PDF] that demonstrated a stronger return for LEGO releases than with stocks, bonds, or gold. The reason is the supply and demand typical of the collector’s market. A new LEGO set will sell for a nominal retail price; as demand exceeds inventory and the sets are discontinued, the price on the aftermarket rises. For example: A 2007 Millennium Falcon kit carried a sale price of $499.99. In 2016, it was selling for nearly $4000.

That would be considered a big score. But the study, conducted by Victoria Dobrynskaya of Russia's National Research University Higher School of Economics and independent researcher Julia Kishilova, looked at 2322 kits dating back to 1987 and found that profit existed across a spectrum of LEGO-branded products. Sets carrying Harry Potter or Star Wars themes yielded an average 11 percent annual return. Some, like a 2014 Darth Revan, went from $3.99 to $28.46 in just one year, earning a return in excess of 600 percent.

Small and large sets tended to have the greatest increase in value, the smaller due to their comparative rarity and the larger ones due to their acquisition price. Licensed sets tend to achieve the greatest returns, though Dobrynskaya found that The Simpsons sets have traditionally failed to turn a profit.

Should you begin to regard LEGO as a potential avenue for retirement income? While the property experienced a resurgence of interest when it grabbed the Star Wars license in 1999 and has remained strong ever since, there’s no guarantee demand will continue unabated. Then again, the fact that the sets have a vibrant community devoted to building means they’re also unlikely to suffer the same fate as short-lived fads like the Beanie Babies.

The bigger problem? Unlike stocks, LEGO sets are tangible, with some coming in massive boxes that need to be carefully stored so they’re not exposed to damage. They’re also subject to the same speculative dangers as conventional investing. If you bought that Millennium Falcon, it's worth bragging about. If you decided to stock up on sets related to Atlantis or the 2010 movie Prince of Persia—which bombed—the price could sink. Like a bad real estate deal, you could be stuck with little more than a pile of bricks.

[h/t Bloomberg]

Determined to Save Money This Year? Try the App That Invests Your Spare Change Automatically

iStock.com/PeopleImages
iStock.com/PeopleImages

If you just started getting into the habit of putting money into a savings account, the thought of investing that cash can feel intimidating. But investing a tiny bit is often better than not investing at all, even if you only have literal pennies to spare. That's the idea behind Acorns, an investment app that invests your spare change automatically without you having to think about it, according to NerdWallet.

To use it, you link your debit or credit cards to your Acorns account. The app then keeps track of every purchase you make, and with your permission, it rounds up those transactions to the nearest dollar, transferring that spare change to an Acorns investment portfolio.

These individual investments are almost too small to notice, and that's the point. Instead of investing an intimidating portion of your savings all at once, you invest small amounts that add up over time—hopefully making your money back and then some, with little risk or effort on your part. Acorns also gives you the option to choose how risky you want to be with your investments, with levels ranging from conservative to aggressive.

If you ever decide you're ready to start investing more than a few cents at a time, Acorns allows you to transfer larger amounts of money into your investment account, too, as long as it's more than $5. And if you ever feel like you're letting go of too much, you can shut off the automatic feature and choose which transactions to round up and invest manually.

To sign up for the service, you have to be willing to put down a little more than pocket change. Investing in one of its pre-built portfolios requires a minimum balance of $5. On top of that, you need to pay $1 a month for a taxable investment account, $2 a month for an IRA account, or $3 a month for both types of investment accounts and an Acorns checking account. (College students with a functioning .edu email address are eligible to try the taxable investment service free for four years.)

Now that your investments are taken care of, check out these other apps that can make being an adult less stressful.

[h/t NerdWallet]

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