Keep your eyes peeled for these sneaky Black Friday marketing strategies.

I love Black Friday ads. As a kid, I would eagerly await our unusually plump newspaper the day before Thanksgiving, ready to pull out the stack of thin glossy pages stuffed between the day’s headlines. I still have that childlike anticipation, but my focus has shifted from toys to techniques. All ads that come into our home are analyzed first for marketing strategies and second for deals. Here are several classic marketing techniques you’re sure to see this Black Friday.

1. Limited-time offers

The limited-time offer is the definition of Black Friday shopping. Why on earth would anyone go to the mall at 4 a.m. or stand in line for two and a half hours? Because it’s the only day of the year to get that deal! According to Adage, a good limited-time offer creates urgency in the consumer. Anyone who’s seen a Youtube video of Black Friday shoppers rushing a Walmart knows that urgent is the name of the game. This marketing trick also works with yummy fall beverages.

Black Friday marketing strategies limited time offer Big Lots Kettle Fire Creative black friday 5 Ways You’ve Been Tricked by Black Friday Marketing Strategies Big Lots limited time e1479512815109

I count four references to a limited-time offer in a few inches of ad space.

2. Loss leaders

A loss leader is an item priced below cost to draw customers into a store where they will most likely buy other items with high profit margins. They tend to be a familiar item so customers can quickly understand the value of the deal. They’re also usually kept in limited stock or have a restriction on how many you can purchase to discourage stockpiling. This year Walmart is selling more than 200 DVDs for just $1.96. They’re banking on customers coming in for movies and leaving with a new 3D television. Kohl’s has real diamond earrings for $19.99, marked down from $105. Chances are they won’t make money on those earrings, but you’re probably not willing to standing in line for that touch of bling alone. They know you’ll look around at the Fitbit they have on sale, too.

Black Friday marketing strategies loss leader Kmart Kettle Fire Creative black friday 5 Ways You’ve Been Tricked by Black Friday Marketing Strategies Kmart loss leader1 e1479512770309

You know Kmart is losing money on those $4 toasters.

3. Missing dollar signs

Have you noticed how rarely dollar signs are used anymore? Walk through a grocery store or flip through your pile of ads and count them. They’re getting scarce. The reason is that dollar signs make your brain think about money. Duh. When you look at a price tag with a dollar sign on it, you think, “I’m spending money.” But when you read a tag without one, you think, “That’s a number.” JC Penny and Macy’s have limited dollar signs in their ads, and Sears uses tiny ones. Target’s ad was particularly sneaky this year. They used dollar signs when listing how much money you’ll save and left them off most of the prices – classic Black Friday marketing.

Black Friday marketing strategies no dollar signs Kohls Kettle Fire Creative black friday 5 Ways You’ve Been Tricked by Black Friday Marketing Strategies Kohls dollar signs e1479512692252

I assume these prices are in U.S. currency but who knows!

4. Psychological pricing

This pricing strategy is so common, I almost didn’t notice it in my review of Black Friday ads. Psychological pricing, or odd pricing, is the technical term for the 99¢ philosophy. Its origins are fuzzy. Some think it started with a newspaper owner in Chicago colluding with advertisers to make sure people had pennies on hand to buy his paper. Others think it was a technique to discourage theft among retail workers. Regardless of how it started, the idea caught on strong and today more than 60% of prices end in a nine. Those that don’t may be using other forms of psychological pricing like $5 or $10. When you see these nice round numbers, you think, ”Meh, it’s five bucks. Throw it in the cart.”

Black Friday marketing strategies 99 cents Office Max Kettle Fire Creative black friday 5 Ways You’ve Been Tricked by Black Friday Marketing Strategies Office psych price e1479512648417

A customer could drown in this sea of 99s.

5. Free add-ons

Our final Black Friday marketing trick is the free add-on. When a company really wants to push you over the buying line, they throw something in for free. These days, free shipping is one of the most common give aways. You’ll also see free bonus cash, often a coupon to use on your next purchase. Sears is offering higher points toward their rewards program on certain items next week, and Target is throwing in a $70 gift card with the purchase of a Samsung curved TV.  All to give you that extra push toward a Black Friday purchase.

Black Friday marketing strategies free add-on American Eagle Kettle Fire Creative black friday 5 Ways You’ve Been Tricked by Black Friday Marketing Strategies AmEagle free add on e1479512864161

A snuggly gift to keep you warm at the mall at 6 a.m.

Looking for ways to use Black Friday to your marketing advantage? Read these tips from industry experts!

Are these Black Friday marketing strategies manipulative or just good sales techniques? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.


  • Deb Schaulis says:

    Follett corporation does the 99¢ pricing on clearance items, while the rest of their merchandise generally ends in 5.

    At Redeemed Music and Books, Dennis Eversen noticed there were psychological thresholds at which people would contemplate whether it was a good deal or not–generally at increments of $5, 10, 20, 50, etc. He said, if you price something just below one of those thresholds, folks were more likely to buy it.

    Also, if something is on sale for a limited time or inventory will not be replenished, people will more likely buy now. Whereas, if they know it’s going to be in stock at that price forever or will be offered at that same discount later, they’ll put off the purchase indefinitely.

    Personally, the Black Friday crowds and traffick are too insane for me. I am just venturing out to one fabric store early tomorrow morning to get some of their regular inventory material for curtains at crazy low prices, then I’m hurrying back home. No camping out in line beforehand, though. If they don’t have what I need, I’ll walk away. Not dealing with crazed customers or waiting in long check-out lines for anything else!

    • Megan Schaulis says:

      Many people have stopped going out into the Black Friday crowds. I think that’s why we’re seeing more of these same strategies being used online, online-only prices, lightning sales, etc.

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