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Black Friday: 5 reasons to skip the madness

(MoneyWatch) You're a target. With some analysts predicting a decline in consumer holiday spending, retailers are redoubling efforts to get people into their stores.

Although Black Friday (which may soon need a snappy name now that it is increasingly encroaching into Thanksgiving) is the official start of holiday shopping madness, you don't have to join the insanity. Here are five great reasons to skip Black Friday.

False savings. The main reason people hit the stores on Black Friday is, of course, to save money. Just one problem: The savings are often bogus. As the Wall Street Journal explains, the supposed discounts on merchandise are often illusory. 

For one, retailers have suppliers create special lower-end versions of products that, combined with volume discounts, are designed to preserve a store's profit margins. Pre-sale prices are also often artificially pumped up to make markdowns look bigger. Relatively few of the items are actually loss-leaders, where the retailer sells below its cost simply to get people in at the store to buy other products. If that were the case, given that gross margins of major retailers have been flat over the last few years, the other items would have to be relatively expensive to make up the money that was lost.

Unpleasant conditions. Sure, there is a communal aspect to Black Friday that can make it fun to stand in line in the middle of the night with family and friends. But for many people, the crowds, hassle, long checkout lines and odd hours to get in on the rush is more trouble than it's worth.

Selection is rarely what you're promised. Not only do Black Friday sales often not represent true bargains, but popular items frequently run out within minutes of a store opening its doors. Retailers are bank on the fact that consumers spend up to 70 percent of their holiday budget in the first two stores they shop in. So long as you walk in, they know statistically they'll do OK, particularly as people tend to buy large items first.

You might be one of the few to get the handfuls of discounted items, but chances are greater that you will be one of the many who don't. That's when people shift gears and look for an alternate which -- no surprise -- will likely cost more. That increases store margins and consumer costs.

Hidden costs. Not only must you brave the crowds for phony "bargains," but the entire experience can cost you more than what you spend at the mall. Whether it's time burning time and gas sitting in traffic, meals out, parking costs or money for a sitter, savings on gifts can easily be frittered away on these and other ancillary expenses.

Better alternatives -- like every other day of the week. Forget Black Friday. There are plenty of online specials, often from retailers that also have brick-and-mortar stores in case there's a problem with purchase. Specials continue, shipping is often free, and you don't have to stand in line at odd hours in the hope of getting a bargain. Click from one retailer to another and save money from the convenience and comfort of home. And happy holidays.

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