There is only one true Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), and one Cyber Monday (the Monday after that). But that hasn’t stopped retailers from using the terms—which have evolved into serving as catnip for shoppers—to apply to all sorts of other sales and promotions throughout the year. Often, though, the deals are a dime a dozen.
Soon, it seems, every Friday will be black. Retailers have a history of tacking the “Black Friday” moniker to sales that start weeks before Black Friday, and also sometimes deals one week after Black Friday. Some even roll out “Black Friday” sales in spring or summer.
The most common form of “Black Friday” abuse is the sale pumped up as “early Black Friday” or “pre-Black Friday,” which typically takes place within a few weeks of the actual date, when holiday shopping is on the minds of consumers and the buzz words have the most impact. Are these words just that—mere words?
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Usually, they are just that, according to deal experts: empty words meant to trick shoppers into thinking they’re getting special deals. “Often, they’re just the standard weekly specials, rebranded something like ‘pre-Black Friday,'” says Brad Wilson, founder of deal site BradsDeals.com, told me last year. The retail analysts at dealnews.com have said basically the same thing.
They were talking about the “early Black Friday” sales that tend to pop up in early November, late October at the earliest. Don’t look now, but just as holiday layaway promotions and “hot” holiday toy lists have made appearances in September, retailers are already resorting to the old trick of using “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” too.
Last week, the Mattel toy company, for instance, “Black Friday in September Sale,” promising up to 60% off merchandise, plus free shipping. Sears, meanwhile, launched a “Cyber Monday Now Sale” this week.
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No matter what they’re called, these deals are underwhelming, for the most part. Mattel highlighted discounts “up to” 60% off, but savvy shoppers know that when a retailer or manufacturer uses the words “up to,” most merchandise isn’t being marked down by anywhere near that percentage. In most cases, goods were discounted by 20% or 30%. Similarly, Sears “Cyber Monday” sale included discounts of an “extra” 5% to 15% off of select goods.
What we have, then, are basically sales that resemble any old weekly special. Which means they’re not particularly special, but merely OK. If the actual Black Friday and Cyber Monday represent the retailer’s lowest prices of the year—and that’s a big if—then the early sales are not worthy of the names. They’re also not worthy of your attention.
Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.