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Don't get ripped off on Black Friday — retail deals are often overhyped

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Is the day after Thanksgiving really a great time to go shopping for unprecedented bargains? Not really, concludes Courtney Jesperson of NerdWallet after examining major retailers' Black Friday promotions. Discounts are available, but they are generally neither as large nor as unique as advertised.

One common tactic is to simply recycle sale opportunities year after year. K-Mart's "lowest price ever" on a floor jack, for example, is exactly the same price they were charging 12 months ago.

Another trick is to lie about the non-discounted price. JC Penney claims they'll be selling a $180 coffee maker for $69.99 on Black Friday. But the actual price they're charging for this thing is $99.99:

It's a $30 discount, in other words, not a $110 discount.

Jesperson also notes that many of the deals require cumbersome rebate processes:

This year, too, Sears is advertising a variety of Kenmore kitchen appliances—the 12-cup programmable coffeemaker, four-slice toaster, four-slice digital toaster oven and six-speed blender—for a low price of $19.99 each. What’s the catch? This price includes a $30 mail-in rebate, which means that if you decide to swipe your plastic on Black Friday you’ll be immediately stuck with $49.99 on your credit card and your discount likely weeks away.

Similarly, the KitchenAid Artisan Series five-quart stand mixer is listed for $299.99 in the Sears Black Friday ad. But if you purchase this mixer on Nov. 28, be prepared to pay the product’s $349.99 sale price. You won’t get the $50 difference back unless you complete the mail-in rebate.

The real scandal here, however, may be that even Sears' discount prices just aren't that great. On Monday, Amazon was selling Kitchenaid Mixers for $289:

Long story short, if you actually want to find a good deal on Black Friday you need to do research in advance and find out what things actually cost. There are very few regulatory controls on advertisers' discounting claims, and a day when people are psychologically primed to expect to see huge discounts is a great time to try to dupe you.