Black Friday 2017: How Much Did We Really Save?

By ReviewFinch staff / December 13, 2017 12:15 AM

ReviewFinch’s rundown of the good, the bad, and the downright ugly pricing behavior we saw this year.

Presented by ReviewFinch: Black Friday 2017, How Much Did We Really Save?

Black Friday has come and gone another year, promising the hottest and best deals for your wallet. Our inquisitive minds here at ReviewFinch set out to find out exactly how much consumers saved this year—if at all—and what you should look out for to make sure you have the most successful shopping experience next time around.

We looked at over 35,000 products from the end of October (10/30) until mid December (12/11), effectively tracking product data across 6 weeks. We only considered products that did not have a drop in availability and products that were priced over $10. This is to weed out any products with scammy behavior, such as dropping the price to a few cents to exploit price drop alerting systems.

For the weeks leading up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, prices increased by about 1.7% over the consumer retail space compared to prices at the end of October. For the weeks spanning Black Friday and Cyber Monday, prices increased by 3.3% compared to the end of October! Even worse, for the period after the two sales events, we see a 5.9% increase compared to the end of October. In other words: overall prices went up throughout the period leading up to, during, and after Black Friday. Bummer.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. We’ll break down the good, bad, and downright ugly behavior we saw, along with major product categories associated with them. Categories with less than a volume of 1% in each classification are considered noise and were skipped over. Here are the 5 major classifications of pricing behavior:

The five different types of pricing behavior ReviewFinch saw during Black Friday 2017.

Note that the weeks of Nov 20 and Nov 27 cover Black Friday and Cyber Monday, respectively.

1. The Price Dropper

Starting with the most populated category, we found 34% of all products had price drops during the weeks spanning Black Friday and Cyber Monday! To break it down further, 15% of Price Droppers went up in price temporarily before Black Friday, but ultimately was discounted during the sales holiday—it may have been to artificially create an illusion of a better deal. 85% of Price Droppers had price drops both before and during Black Friday. Overall, prices for Price Dropper products dropped 12.4% compared to the end of October. It was reassuring to see that a healthy amount of products fell into this category.

Travelpro Crew 11 Rolling Tote has decreased in price over the month of November. Price drop!

Price history for the Travelpro Crew 11 Rolling Tote revealing price drop after price drop.

We found that 48% of DVDs exhibited this behavior (time to stock up on that Star Wars collection). 48% of Apparel (clothes, luggage, bags) also had Price Dropper behavior, such as this Travelpro Crew 11 Rolling Tote that dropped from $139.99 to $100.79. Another fantastic deal is this Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 Suiter that decreased from $305.99 at the end of October to $222.39 during Black Friday. 42% of Photography related products (lens, DSLRs, tripods, etc) and 41% of Baby Products also were Price Droppers, as were 41% of Camping/Sports related goods. So if you need to buy a new t-shirt to wear while watching director’s commentary as you set up your DSLR to take camping with your baby and a car seat and car toys for your newborn—this is definitely your time to shine.

2. The Price Riser

The Price Riser was one of the most surprising findings from our study. We found that a whole 21% of products increased in price in the weeks leading up to Black Friday and then continued to increase in prices throughout Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We jokingly called this a reverse discount. This behavior can be attributed to sellers taking advantage of overall increased sales volume. Shoppers get lured in by the many deals happening, but may end up purchasing products that aren’t necessarily on sale.

We found that Price Riser products increased by 11% before Black Friday compared to our starting point. Even worse, during the weeks of Black Friday and Cyber Monday prices increased to a whopping 29% compared to the beginning of our comparison period. Price Riser products increased by more than double the rate at which Price Droppers decreased, effectively canceling out the effect of the price drops. This explains why, as a whole, prices increased throughout November.

Video Games and Toys consistently increased in price throughout Black Friday 2017.

These categories had more than 20% of its products increase in price throughout Black Friday 2017, with Video Games and Toys topping the list.

The worst offenders were Video Games with 31% of its products exhibiting this behavior and Toys with 28% of its products increasing in price. This could be in anticipation of the holiday season, as shoppers tend to purchase stocking stuffers. Runner ups include products related to Personal Computers, Music, and Beauty.

3. The Sitter

We found that 23% of the products we observed moved less than 1% price-wise throughout the whole period. These products are likely not influenced by sales and have a steady demand throughout the year. 35% of Musical Instruments did not change in price throughout our observation period, followed by 34% of Automotive Parts and Accessories, 29% of Business, Industrial, and Scientific Supplies and 29% of PC Accessories. These categories are safer for consumers to purchase year-round and also easier for sellers who might prefer to sell products that have less seasonal fluctuations.

4. The Early Bird

We also found that 15% of products were actually more discounted before Black Friday! During the sales holiday, however, 5.5% of products ended up being more expensive and 9.5% were not as discounted as before Black Friday but were still in sale when compared to the start of our observation period. We saw that Early Birds had a 11% discount before Black Friday compared to the end of October. It may be that prices are being adjusted after gauging for demand in the weeks leading up to Black Friday.

The top category for Early Bird products are Art and Craft Supply with 32% of products exhibiting this behavior. Also, Toys made another appearance in this classification, with 20% of Toys being Early Birds in addition to 28% of Toys being Price Risers. In addition, 18% of Pet Products and 17% of Office Products products were also Early Birds, as were 17% of Music and Health and Beauty (toiletries, humidifiers, cleaning products).

Price history for the 
Glade Jar Candle Air Freshener exhibiting a better deal prior to Black Friday.

Glade Jar Candle Air Freshener exhibiting a better deal prior to Black Friday.

As an example, we found that this Glade Jar Candle Air Freshener, Cozy Autumn Cuddle, 3.4 Ounce was $11.95 at the end of October, dropped to $6.39 before Black Friday, and increased to $8.99 during Black Friday. You can see that you’re still getting a deal, but the price before Black Friday was actually better!

5. The Sneaky Snake

The sneakiest pricing movement we saw occurred in 7% of the products, where prices were raised significantly prior to Black Friday, then dropped on Black Friday to a price that was still higher than the original price. It gives the appearance of a huge discount, but is actually more expensive than the price would have been prior to November! We saw a shocking 26% rise in prices in the weeks preceding Black Friday compared to their starting price at the end of October and a 16% increase during the sales period compared to the starting price.

Sneaky Snake product price history, where prices stayed consistently low until right before Black Friday where the price shoots up. During Black Friday, you see the price drop slightly to create the appearance of a deal.

Price History of a Sneaky Snake product. Prices stayed consistently low until right before Black Friday where the price shoots up. During Black Friday, you see the price drop slightly to create the appearance of a deal.

We saw this behavior in 10% of the Grocery category (cereal, juices, fruit snacks), in 10% of the Consumer Electronics category (printers, headphones, networking devices), and in 9% of Toys. It’s interesting to note that Toys were a top category in Price Risers and is also represented in this classification as well. Based on our data, it would be smart to monitor price history in this category.

Those were the 5 different classifications we found from studying our data around Black Friday: the Price Dropper, the Price Riser, the Sitter, the Early Bird, and the Sneaky Snake. Overall, we were happy to find that 34% of products had price drops throughout the weeks leading up to Black Friday! On the other hand, it was extremely surprising to find that prices rose in 21% of the products we looked at, with an average price increase of 29%. Although the most represented category was the Price Dropper, the products that increased in price went up significantly more than prices fell. It highlights that Black Friday can have great sales—but you have to stay diligent in sticking to the deals that you’ve studied upon. Otherwise, you’re likely to end up adding things to your shopping cart that are actually more expensive than usual!

Now you might ask: how much did I save? Did I get good deals this year? You should have saved 12.4% of what you would have spent without Black Friday deals. If not, you might have to reconsider your Black Friday shopping strategy. But don't worry, we are here to help you shop smarter next year!

Next up—a brand name and keyword analysis to look further into which brands and keywords were associated with the different types of pricing behavior. For example, which of the two keywords is likely to have better discounts: ‘crib’ or ‘playard’? Look forward to our future post where we unpack marketing tricks we discovered by looking through Black Friday data!

Edit: Check out our guide to choosing between baby cribs and bassinets, which features an in depth price trend analysis based on the keywords 'crib' and 'bassinet'!

Data analysis was conducted using data pulled using Presto (a distributed SQL query engine) and wrangled with in Jupyter using the following data science libraries: numpy, pandas, matplotlib, seaborn, and nltk. Stay tuned for a deeper dive into the data and a peek behind the scenes of the engineering behind ReviewFinch. :)