MONEY online shopping

Best Black Friday Deals That Are Live Now—No Store Visit Required

Since Black Friday sales now start on Thanksgiving, or even the week before, it sorta makes sense that e-retailers have launched huge Cyber Monday-like sales already.

Websites used to wait for the Monday after Thanksgiving (a.k.a. Cyber Monday) to launch their biggest, across-the-board online sales on all merchandise—deals like 40% off, even 50% off sitewide, with some discounts going even higher.

But in a market in which retailers are aggressively trying to grab shopper dollars earlier and early each year, and when “Black Friday” promotions start at least a week before actual Black Friday—perhaps even occupying all of November—why wait?

Amazon.com, the world’s largest e-retailer, sure isn’t waiting. The site has been rolling out a new Black Friday deal as often as every ten minutes this week. Virtually every other retailer has deals online that were live as of Wednesday, and are especially impressive because they’re so expansive: Instead of offering a select few discounts and “doorbuster” deals, they represent markdowns on virtually everything the retailers are selling.

We’ll update as the epic Thanksgiving-Black Friday weekend progresses, and remember: All of these offers are available online, meaning none requires a trip to the mall.

40% Off
Abercrombie & Fitch: Use the code 15555 for 40% off all merchandise, online and in stores, through November 26.

American Eagle: 40% off sitewide (use code GOBBLEUP) now through November 30, with free standard shipping on all orders—plus a free blanket thrown in with all orders over $60

Ann Taylor: 40% off regular-priced items and 50% off “Sale Styles” with the code SHOPANN at checkout, valid through November 26

Banana Republic: 50% off one full-price item and 40% off the rest of your order with use of the code BRFORTY, on November 27 only

Lucky Brand: A “Pre-Black Friday” sale knocks 40% off sitewide

Tommy Hilfiger: Use the code BF40 for 40% off sitewide, valid through November 30

50% Off
Children’s Place: 50% off everything plus free shipping on all orders, through November 28

Gap: 50% off all merchandise (use code BLKFRIDAY) through November 28

Hollister: 50% off everything starting at 6 p.m. on November 27 (Thanksgiving), through November 28

Fila: Get 50% off nearly everything (there are a scant few exceptions) on the footwear and apparel specialist’s site, now through Black Friday

Lane Bryant: 50% off everything in store and online (use checkout code HOLIDAYLB), through November 30

The Limited: Enter the code THANKS for 50% off and free shipping

J. Crew Factory: 50% in store and online for the Factory line, as well as 30% to 40% off standard J. Crew merchandise

60% Off
Aeropostale: 60% off everything online and in stores through November 30, with a bonus $25 gift card for purchases of $100 or more

MONEY Shopping

12% of Black Friday Shoppers Will Be Drunk (and More Crazy Facts About the Holiday Frenzy)

Customers shop at the Best Buy store, which opened at 1am, in Cambridge, Massachusetts November 29, 2013.
Customers shop at the Best Buy store, which opened at 1am, in Cambridge, Massachusetts November 29, 2013. Black Friday, the day following the Thanksgiving Day holiday, has traditionally been the busiest shopping day in the United States. Brian Snyder—REUTERS

How many people will go shopping this weekend? What day actually has the best deals? How much will the average shopper spend? How many of them are tipsy while they're browsing for gifts?

Read on for answers to the above, as well as other nuggets about what’s in store for consumers during the annual Thanksgiving-Black Friday weekend shopping extravaganza.

Less Than 5% The average discount on Black Friday for 6,000 items tracked last year by the deal-hunting site ShopAdvisor; researchers found that the average discount during the holiday period was highest on December 18 (17.5%).

5 Number of hours that RadioShack will shut down on Thanksgiving (noon to 5 p.m.); it had originally planned to stay open from 8 a.m. to midnight, but decided to close during the middle of the day after receiving complaints from employees.

10 Number of employees at a Virginia Best Buy whose sole job is to restock items as soon as there are gaps on store shelves on Black Friday.

12% Proportion of Thanksgiving Day shoppers who admit to hitting the stores on the holiday while under the influence of alcohol, according to a survey conducted on the behalf of the coupon site RetailMeNot.

16% vs. 50% Respectively, the percentages of shoppers ages 55+ and 18 to 24 and who think it’s “a great idea” for stores to be open on Thanksgiving.

22 Number of days before Black Friday that two women in California began camping out at a Best Buy in order to be first in line for deals. They hope to buy a cheap TV.

25% Amount of extra trash thrown away by Americans during the Thanksgiving-New Year’s period, compared to any other time of the year.

28% vs. 32% Percentages of women and men, respectively, who plan on spending $250 to $500 on Black Friday (yes, more guys than girls).

At Least 3 Dozen Number of national retailers, including Costco, Bloomingdale’s, Dillard’s, and Nordstrom, that have decided to stay closed on Thanksgiving.

38% Percentage of shoppers who plan on purchasing holiday gifts with credit cards, up from 28.5% last year and the highest level recorded since the National Retail Federation has asked the question in surveys.

39% Proportion of Americans who feel pressured to spend more than they can afford during the holiday season.

42 Number of consecutive hours that Kmart stores will be open, starting at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving and lasting through midnight on Black Friday.

70% Percentage of consumers who say that stores should be closed on Thanksgiving this year, up from 60% in 2012.

70% Percentage of consumers who say that Black Friday is meaningless because “there will be more sales throughout the holidays.”

71% Percentage of consumers who say they may not like the gift they receive over the holidays.

96% Percentage of consumers who say that discounts are important to their shopping decisions during the holidays, up from 94% last year—and three in ten say that they’ll hold out for discounts of 50% or more before making a purchase.

$407 Average amount spent by consumers over Thanksgiving weekend in 2013, down 4% compared to the year before.

$450 Minimum you must spend at one of two malls in southern California in order to receive a free Uber ride home, starting on Black Friday and stretching through Christmas Eve.

140 Million Estimated number of consumers who will shop in stores or online this weekend, according to the National Retail Federation, roughly the same as the expectations leading into the 2013 Thanksgiving-Black Friday period.

 

MONEY Shopping

7 Things to Know About Thanksgiving Shopping Boycotts

Dillards retail department store.
Dillards retail department store. Jim Parkin—Alamy

Hundreds of thousands of Americans are up in arms about stores like Walmart and Target being open on Thanksgiving. What kind of impact will their protests have?

Like it or hate it, Thanksgiving shopping is a growing trend, and based on the crowds of consumers that will surely show up to browse and buy on the holiday, it’s a tradition that is likely here to stay. Here’s a deeper look at which stores are open, which are closed, and why, as well as the campaigns being waged around the country to try to keep Thanksgiving as a sacred, family-first, non-shopping day.

Dozens of national retailer won’t open on Thanksgiving. While stores like J.C. Penney, Walmart, Toys R Us, Kmart, and Best Buy are opening on Thanksgiving and trying to attract the masses with some seemingly terrific deals, at least three dozen other national retailers have vowed to remain closed on the holiday. The Boycott Black Thursday and the Boycott Shopping on Thanksgiving Facebook pages, as well as other Thanksgiving shopping haters are encouraging consumers to support the stores that aren’t opening on the holiday by shopping with them later in the season. Among those staying closed on Thanksgiving are:

Academy Sports + Outdoors
A.C. Moore
American Girl
Barnes & Noble
Bed, Bath & Beyond
BJ’s
Bloomingdale’s
Burlington Coat Factory
Cabela’s
Christopher & Banks
Costco
Crate & Barrel
Dillard’s
DSW
GameStop
Hobby Lobby
Home Depot
Home Goods
JoAnne
Lowe’s
Marshalls
Men’s Wearhouse
Menards
Neiman Marcus
Nordstrom
Orvis
Patagonia
P.C. Richard
PetCo
PetSmart
REI
Saks Fifth Avenue
Sam’s Club
Talbots
T.J. Maxx
Von Maur

Also, let’s not overlook all of the small businesses that wouldn’t even consider opening up for shopping on Thanksgiving.

Some stores say they’re staying closed on principle. A statement released to the press from TJX, the company that owns Marshalls, Home Goods, and T.J. Maxx, makes a point of it being an “associate-friendly” business that is “pleased to give our associates the time to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends.” Similarly, Costco explained its decision to stay closed on the holiday this way: “Our employees work especially hard during the holiday season and we simply believe that they deserve the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with their families. Nothing more complicated than that.”

The not-so-subtle message being sent is that these retailers care about their workers, their workers’s families, and families in general. The implicit flip side is that stores that are opening on Thanksgiving should be shamed because their decisions to open on Thanksgiving demonstrate they don’t care as much about their employees or about American traditions and family.

Other closures seem a matter of practicality. “We’re not a high-volume, low-margin business,” Neiman Marcus spokeswoman Ginger Reeder, told the Wall Street Journal last year when the topic of Thanksgiving store hours arose. “We’re not trying to make some statement. It’s better for us to be closed.” The same line of thinking applies to other upscale retailers that aren’t opening on the holiday, such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom. It’s a no-brainer for these stores to stay closed on Thanksgiving because it wouldn’t be a big money-making day anyway. “Thanksgiving promotions are about necessities that are marked down,” Neiman Marcus’s Reeder explained to the Los Angeles Times recently. “It’s just not a part of what we do.”

Likewise, as the Detroit Free Press columnist Georgea Kovanis pointed out, JoAnn, Home Depot, and many of other stores that will stay closed “aren’t generally known for their door busters … where people stand in line, waiting to pounce on dirt cheap large screen televisions or Lego kits.” Surely, stores like Sam’s Club, which is owned by Walmart—open 24/7 even on Thanksgiving—would open on the holiday if the higher-ups thought it would be worthwhile. So before going out of your way to support stores for remaining closed on Thanksgiving, consider Kovanis’s observation: “It’s not difficult to sit out the World Series or Super Bowl when you were never in the game to begin with.”

Boycotters are focused on shoppers as much as retailers. While boycott organizers and petitioners are actively spreading the word about stores that are ruining Thanksgiving by forcing employees to work—especially ones like Kmart, which is opening early in the morning on the holiday—they’re also targeting consumers who are giving stores a reason to open when they go shopping on the day. “We really just want to encourage people to stay home on Thanksgiving,” Brian Rich, the creator of the Boycott Black Thursday Facebook page, explained to his hometown Idaho Statesman. “If we can eliminate the demand for shopping on Thanksgiving, retailers will go back to staying closed. Retail employees can be at home with their families, and that’s really the ultimate goal we’re pushing for with this movement.”

Recently, a group of protesters at a “ProThanks” rally outside of a mall in Michigan also was simultaneously imploring stores to reconsider their decisions to open on Thanksgiving and asking shoppers to consider staying home. “Our hope is that we can make other people conscious that their choices do affect other people,” one protester said, noting that consumers who go shopping on Thanksgiving give stores a reason to be open—and a reason to force employees to work that day.

Thanksgiving hours don’t necessarily boost sales. Obviously, stores that are open on Thanksgiving boost sales for the day—because they’d otherwise be closed and making no in-person sales. But the idea that opening on Thanksgiving boosts overall sales for the holiday period is dubious. Analysts are quick to point out that retailers “risk cannibalizing” sales by opening on Thanksgiving. The sales transactions that occur that day would otherwise probably be made on Friday, or later in the season, and the net sales change is likely to be zero. A big reason why Black Friday sales have declined in recent years is because stores have been expanding sales earlier and earlier into Thanksgiving.

Retailers feel forced to match the competition. The most promotion-driven retailers—Walmart, Target, Kmart, J.C. Penney, Best Buy, etc.—are constantly trying to beat the rest of the pack to the sale. They’re all battling for the business of shoppers with limited holiday shopping budgets, and so it’s essential to get their money before it’s spent elsewhere. This is why price-matching policies are proliferating, and why early Black Friday sales are popping up earlier and earlier. And it’s a big reason why stores are opening on Thanksgiving: They’re scared that if they stay closed, they’ll be losing business to the competition.

The impact of boycotts will probably be minimal. Even if only a very small portion of consumers goes shopping on Thanksgiving—11% are interested, according to one survey—that represents tens of millions of shoppers heading to the mall. And that’s more than enough justification for retailers to open their doors on the holiday.

As for consumer boycotts of Thanksgiving shopping, “In terms of overall holiday shopping impact, there is none. Zero,” Richard Feinberg, a computer science and retail professor at Purdue University, said this week in the South Bend Tribune. “Even if people did not go out (Thanksgiving weekend), they would not boycott any store that they said they would boycott in the weeks to follow, with the many great sales available. And the people who really do boycott a store are just as likely to shop online during the time they are boycotting.”

MONEY deals

Black Friday Is Already Here

A "Black Friday" advertisement for Walmart is seen on an iPad in Annapolis, Maryland November 16, 2014.
A "Black Friday" advertisement for Walmart is seen on an iPad in Annapolis, Maryland November 16, 2014. "Black Friday" is coming early this year to retailers. Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images

Based on the big discounts already in effect at Walmart, Target, Amazon, Gap, Staples, and plenty of other retailers, it looks like Black Friday sales are well underway.

Many people are upset that dozens of national retailers have decided to launch Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving, thereby ruining the holiday for workers who can’t spend the day with their families—and also ruining the day for families whose shopping-crazed relatives will ditch them for the chance to score cheap tablets, TVs, and fast fashion at the mall. (According to surveys, millennials are particularly likely to go shopping on Thanksgiving rather than continue hanging out at home once dinner is done.)

But based on the proliferation of broad, often substantial discounts that invoke the phrase “Black Friday” days or even a full week before the actual day arrives, it appears as if Black Friday sales are in effect right now. Deal-tracking sites such as TheBlackFriday.com have rounded up long lists of retailers that have already tried to grab shoppers’ attention by launching big holiday sales under names like “Pre-Black Friday Deals,” “Black Friday All Week Long Sale,” and “Cyber Monday Now.”

One week before Black Friday, Amazon kicked off its Black Friday Deals Week, throughout the course of which the world’s largest e-retailer is adding new deals as often as every 10 minutes. Likewise, Walmart launched a “Pre-Black Friday Event” on Friday, November 21, with lots of prices that seem on par with Black Friday’s best bargains: LED TVs for under $150, tablets starting at $40, two-packs of women’s fleece pants for $8, and so on. Similarly, Staples is trying to woo shoppers early with 50% off select merchandise and an array of quirky coupons (a flat $100 off many tablets, laptops, and desk-tops), and Target, Lowes, Sears, and many others are advertising some variation of “Pre-Black Friday” or “Black Friday Now” deals.

Some across-the-board online discounts—the kind normally offered on Cyber Monday—have also surfaced this week, such as 30% off everything at Lands’ End, on top of another 40% off shoes and slippers. On Monday, Gap introduced a sale on denim and cords for $25 and under (normally priced up to $70), on the heels of a 50% off all online purchases (for Gap card members) on Sunday.

The early sales shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the overarching trend of retailers attempting to expand the holiday shopping season and grab consumers’ limited gift-purchasing dollars before their competitors can. Kmart launched its first holiday ad in September, and many studies show that the best deals aren’t on Black Friday necessarily, but can appear weeks before or after Thanksgiving weekend, thanks to retailers’ strategic efforts to boost sales during lulls.

An Adweek story quotes several retail experts of the opinion that “Black Friday” basically occupies all of November nowadays, or at least that Black Friday-type sales appear on the scene earlier and earlier each year:

“We definitely see retailers pushing Black Friday earlier than ever,” said Sara Al-Tukhaim, director of retail insights for Kantar Retail. “This concept of Black Friday is just getting stretched out more” and becoming “more blurry.”

Bear in mind that not all of these early deals are worth getting excited about. The Disney Store rolled out what it’s calling its Black Magical Friday Sale on Friday, November 21, with discounts “up to 40% off,” but most of the deals—16″ dolls for $20 (originally $24.95), play sets from Star Wars, Monsters University, and Toy Story for $10 (originally $12.95)—seem like run-of-the-mill sales, not can’t-pass-up bargains. What’s more, some of the best early Black Friday deals seem all but impossible to buy. For example, Walmart advertised the Skylanders Trap Team Starter Kit for Wii U over the weekend priced at $37 (full price around $75), but it has been out of stock for online orders and isn’t available at most stores either.

To sum up, right now many stores have some genuinely terrific, Black Friday-esque bargains. But many of the advertised deals aren’t all that impressive, and the biggest discounts generally apply only to select merchandise and may not actually be available for purchase. In other words, retailers are already using amazing discounts and other tricks to get shoppers into stores—where the hope is that they’ll buy plenty of lightly-discounted or full-price items while they’re browsing. This is the gist of how and why retailers use Black Friday as a sales-boosting tactic in the first place, and it’s a strategy that is indeed well underway.

MONEY Leisure

Great Ways to Spend Black Friday Not at the Mall

One of the contraptions. The 16th Annual Friday After Thanksgiving Chain Reaction Event held at MIT, featuring 34 teams and their Rube Goldberg machines.
One of the contraptions. The 16th Annual Friday After Thanksgiving Chain Reaction Event held at MIT, featuring 34 teams and their Rube Goldberg machines. Jonathan Wiggs—Boston Globe via Getty Images

Who says you must go shopping on Black Friday? Here's a roundup of suggestions for fun, worthwhile events that take place on the notoriously crazed shopping day—but don't involve shopping at all.

It’s understandable if you plan to steer clear of the mall on November 28, a.k.a. the day after Thanksgiving, a.k.a. Black Friday. A confusing, contradictory string of consumer polls suggests that “only” 11%, or perhaps as many as 28% of Americans will physically go shopping in stores on the day. Even if the true figure is at the low end of the spectrum, it’ll still mean millions and millions of people clogging shopping centers across the land. The National Retail Federation estimated that 141 individual consumers made shopping purchases last year during the Thanksgiving weekend. The majority of the purchases were made in person (not online), and as expected, Black Friday was the weekend’s biggest day for sales.

The point is that there are literally millions and millions of reasons why you might want to consider not going to the mall on Friday. Add in the fact that deal-tracking experts argue that smart shoppers should probably skip Black Friday because, with the exception of a few amazing-but-limited doorbuster deals, stores don’t have their best prices this day, and we’re left with one overarching but illogical reason why people are compelled to shop on the day: They go not in spite of the crowds and the crazed, competitive atmosphere but because of it. In certain circles, Black Friday is considered the “Super Bowl” of shopping, or a “blood sport” of consumerism if you will, and there are shoppers out there who can’t pass up the action—even if it ruins Thanksgiving because Black Friday now starts on Thursday for most national retailers.

In any event, if you decide to not go shopping on Black Friday, congratulations. You pass the sanity test. But just because you sit Black Friday out in terms of shopping doesn’t mean you have to sit at home the whole day. Here are some suggestions for the day that don’t involve elbowing a desperate mom out of the way to get the last cheap TV or video game console in a store:

Parades and Holiday Lights
Portland (OR), Seattle, Estes Park at Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, and San Antonio are among the many spots that traditionally host parades on the day after Thanksgiving. The latter is a nighttime floating parade that spectators view from San Antonio’s River Walk (tickets are necessary), and the elaborate floats feature tens of thousands of lights. Black Friday is also the day that the flip is switched on for the season for holiday light displays in places such as Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo.

Coat Exchanges
In honor of Buy Nothing Day, an anti-consumerism event timed to coincide with Black Friday, charity organizers launched a coat exchange years ago on the day in Rhode Island. Nowadays, coats are gathered and given away all over the state on Black Friday, and similar coat exchange programs have popped up in Utah, Kentucky, and Indiana.

Museums (and Drinks!)
Museums around the country give visitors extra reason to absorb some culture and knowledge—both in short supply at the nation’s malls—with special events and discounts on Black Friday. For instance, Miami’s Frost Museum of Science has two-for-one admissions on November 28, while from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. the Oakland Museum of California waives admission for kids and offers half-price entrance and drink specials in the beer garden for those of age. In Milwaukee, the Harley-Davidson Museum is hosting its third annual Black Friday Beerfest, with samples from dozens of craft brewers on hand.

F.A.T. Chain Reaction
Every year, an inventive, entertaining, and admittedly geeky event called the Friday After Thanksgiving (F.A.T.) Chain Reaction takes place in the Boston area at the MIT campus. Teams of kids come with elaborate Rube Goldberg/better mousetrap creations made with any materials of their choosing that, like dominos, set off a wild chain reaction of moving pieces that takes between 30 seconds and three minutes to complete. In the end, each team’s creation is linked together in a giant chain reaction to delight the crowd. Tickets are $5 for children ages 5 to 17, and $15 for adults at the door ($12.50 in advance).

Live Sports
We all know that the NFL is the dominant sport for Thanksgiving Day. The day after, however, has increasingly become a hot day for the other two major pro sports being played right now: A dozen NBA games take place on Black Friday 2014 (including a 1 p.m. tipoff of the Chicago Bulls versus the host Boston Celtics), and three of the 11 NHL games scheduled for Friday get underway during family-friendly afternoon times. Plenty of college football games kick off around the country on Friday, November 28, as well.

 

MONEY Leisure

4 New Ways Movie Theaters Are Filling Seats and Upselling Patrons

People relax in all powered recliner seats at AMC Movie Theater in Braintree.
People relax in all powered recliner seats at an AMC Movie Theater. Jonathan Wiggs—Boston Globe via Getty Images

The next time you go to a movie theater, you may be coaxed into spending a little extra money—perhaps for a beer, a toy your kid is begging for, or the right to watch the film you just saw over and over.

Even with the blizzard of ticket sales for Frozen starting the year, 2014 has been less than stellar at the box office, with a summer of few blockbusters and overall sales that are down 4% compared to last year. In previous years, theaters and movie studios have resorted to raising admission prices (often using IMAX or 3D screenings as a justification) as a way to offset declining ticket sales.

However, fewer 3D films are being released lately—at least partly because theatergoers have come to see the technology as a gimmick not worth paying extra for in an otherwise mediocre movie—so theaters and movie studios have had to become more creative in their efforts to fill seats and upsell patrons. Here are a few of the strategies that have popped up recently:

Unlimited Admission Ticket
AMC Theatres and Paramount Pictures are experimenting right now with a special unlimited admission for Christopher Nolan’s three-hour space epic Interstellar that’ll get customers to turn over an extra $15. Like it sounds, the unlimited admission ticket allows filmgoers to see the movie as many times as they like—which could be quite a few times, considering how confusing some have found it to be. Unlimited tickets are on sale for $19.99 to $34.99, depending on location, or customers can pay $14.99 to upgrade a one-time admission into an unlimited one.

Combo Concessions
To boost revenues, theater concessions stands have increasingly been offering combo packages that generally include popcorn, a drink in a collectible cup, and often some kind of toy or figurine related to the movie such as How to Train Your Dragon 2 or Transformers: Age of Extinction. The Hollywood Reporter noted these combos cost theaters about $1.50 apiece, and they’re sold to customers for as much as $7.95. As one executive involved in the creation and licensing of such products explained, the natural reaction children have when seeing such combos is to whine until a parent gives in and buys one: “The kid sees another kid with this toy and says, ‘Hey, I want that, too.'” And the popularity of these offers isn’t limited to children, as one theater food service manager said: “We didn’t think we would see 35-year-old guys with collectible cups with little toys on them, but they love them.”

Booze, Food, Recliners… and Wind
To attract more customers and simultaneously squeeze more money out of them at the same time, theaters have been adding or expanding amenities and special features so that going to the movies is much more of an “experience” than sitting at home watching Netflix. Regal Cinemas has been adding luxury recliners to theaters, and plans to have them in as many as 350 locations by 2015. AMC’s Dine-in Theatres program allows patrons at select locations to grab beer and wine, as well as lunch, dinner, or some snacks while taking in a film, sometimes from the comfort of a recliner. In June, the country’s first 4D theater opened in Los Angeles, with artificial wind, fog, scents, and sensor-equipped seats adding another dimension to 3D films.

Gamer Competitions
In October, three Cinemark theaters boasted “multiple sold-out auditoriums” for special screenings that took place in the middle of the night and charged a premium over the usual movie admission. Most curiously, the screening that drew these crowds into the movie theaters wasn’t a movie at all, but a video game competition, the Riot Games League of Legends Championships, which were being held in South Korea and live-streamed at theaters in Texas, Illinois, and Washington.

MONEY consumer psychology

Why JetBlue Can Break Your Heart, but Comcast Never Will

JetBlue Planes
Seth Wenig—AP

It hurts to find out that brands like JetBlue want you to love them—but they only love you for your money.

This week, JetBlue announced it’s adding more seats on planes and new fees for checked baggage. The moves are clearly aimed at hiking profits—which is what businesses are supposed to do, right?

So why, then, has JetBlue’s policy change been met with outrage and a sense of betrayal? Isn’t JetBlue just a business that’s, you know, in the business of making money? Shouldn’t we fully expect these kind of profit-first policies? And if this kind of behavior is to be expected, why would there ever be any sense of surprise or disappointment, let alone heartbreak?

The subject brings to mind the old fable “The Farmer and the Viper,” in which a farmer nurses a freezing snake back to health—and is then promptly bitten and killed by the snake as soon as it has the opportunity. The moral is that you shouldn’t be surprised, and you certainly shouldn’t feel betrayed, when a snake behaves like a snake. A similar takeaway comes from the disturbing 2005 documentary “Grizzly Man,” which tells the tale of a man and his girlfriend who were killed, in essence, because a bear behaved like a bear.

The complication is that consumers don’t necessarily view brands that we interact with regularly as animals that will take advantage of us whenever the opportunity arises. We’re encouraged to “like” brands on Facebook, and marketers spend billions to try to get us to love brands, ideally with a cult-like fervor. We tend to view favorite brands as trusted partners or even friends, and we can feel violated and betrayed to the core when the terms of what can be a very warm partnership are exposed as more “strictly business,” to quote The Godfather.

“Some brands are so good at connecting with consumers on an emotional level that the relationship feels incredibly personal, much like a friendship,” explains Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist and TIME and MONEY contributor. “In most cases the consumers feel they share the same values as the brand, which they see as manifesting human characteristics.”

This certainly seems the case for JetBlue and its longtime customers. The brand resonated and indeed became beloved because of the perks (free TVs and snacks for everyone) and amenities (leather seats and plenty of legroom all around) as much as because of its overriding ethos that all customers were valued—and valued equally. What helped make JetBlue stand out and become an industry darling is that its competitors in the airline business are notorious for exceptionally poor customer service, especially in regards to passengers who are paying the least for their flights.

Slowly, though, JetBlue tweaked its business model—adding a business class and adding more fees recently—and with this week’s announcement about shrinking legroom and the addition of baggage fees, it’s clear that the values originally embraced by the brand have changed as well. For the people who loved and were loyal to JetBlue specifically because of its egalitarian, customers-first approach, the latest moves serve as a big slap in the face with the cold-hearted reality that shouldn’t really come as a surprise, but hurts nonetheless: Brands like JetBlue want you to love them, but they only love you for your money.

Experts who study marketing and company-consumer relationships believe that brands that have developed cult-like followings for supposedly doing things the right and honorable way—Chipotle and Whole Foods come to mind—are likely to feel greater backlash if and when they appear to violate customers’ trust. “Our theory is that the people who feel most betrayed are the ones who were most attached to the brand in the first place,” says Debbie MacInnis, a marketing professor at the USC Marshall School of Business who is researching brand betrayal with colleagues.

By and large, consumers tend to get most attached to scrappy smaller brands with a streak of independence—brands they can identify with and feel good about supporting. “We love underdog stories,” says MacInnis. “We see ourselves as underdogs. We love the little guy, so there’s a natural brand connection.” It’s a connection that goes beyond a mere mutually beneficial economic transaction.

On the other hand, brands that are monolithic and fail to develop long-lasting loyalty or affection—big banks, pay TV and wireless providers, and yes, airlines come to mind—are less at risk of betraying customers’ trust because there was little to no trust to begin with. “You’re not likely to feel betrayed when a cable company treats you poorly,” says MacInnis. “You’ll shake it off and jump” to a competitor without blinking (assuming another one is actually available). “The transgressions are par for the course.”

It’s all about expectations: When someone we thought of as a friend turns out to be just another snake, it’s heartbreaking. Hence, the presence of several “Et Tu, JetBlue?” headlines out there, indicating that the once beloved airline’s betrayal is one of epic proportions.

“When consumers sense they’ve been used or manipulated they feel a burn more similar to a human betrayal than simple transactional disappointment,” says Yarrow. However, bigger, widely bashed brands are “lucky” enough to disappoint customers so frequently that there’s no surprise or sense of betrayal when they make yet another profit-first, customer-unfriendly move. “Consumers have such low expectations of Comcast, for example, they are thrilled when there simply aren’t problems.”

MONEY Scams

Price-Matching Scam Had $400 Sony PS4 Selling for $90 at Walmart

Scammers have been trying to take advantage of Walmart's price-matching policy by using fraudulent web pages to get Wii U bundles and Sony PS4 consoles for a fraction of their actual prices.

Leading into the 2014 winter holiday shopping season, Walmart broadened its price match guarantee policy to include prices offered by major online retailers like Amazon, as well as websites for stores such as Best Buy, Sports Authority, Staples, and Target. Until the change was made, Walmart would only match the sale prices posted in advertisements and competitors’ weekly circulars.

Well, it didn’t take long for opportunists to try—and, in some cases, succeed—to take advantage of price matching from Walmart and other stores. Earlier this week, Kotaku reported that a pricing glitch over the weekend on the Sears website showed Wii U bundles listed at $60 when they normally sell for upwards of $300. Sears fixed the mistake, and it appears as if no one was actually able to buy the console bundle for that price at the retailer’s site. But that didn’t stop many shoppers from trying to get the same deal from Sears’ competitors such as Walmart, Toys R Us, and Best Buy by way of their price matching policies. It’s unclear how many consumers were able to get the price honored, but several showed off their receipts at Reddit—one Toys R Us receipt notes the customer “Saved $240″ on the purchase—and surely many more succeeded and kept things quiet.

Then scammers took things a step further by creating fake Amazon.com pages that appeared to list Sony PS4 game consoles, which normally run $400, for under $100. As Consumerist.com explained, anyone with a registered account for selling things on Amazon can list an item at whatever price they choose. Amazon tries to root out obviously fraudulent or misleading price listings—such as a new Sony PS4 for $90—but it can take some time to catch up with the fraudsters. Before that happens, someone can take a screen shot and bring what appears to be a perfectly legitimate image into a store and ask that the price be matched.

That’s what happened at Walmart this week. By Wednesday, Walmart caught up with the scam, and some stores posted signs stating that the “PS4 Amazon.com Ad will not be Ad matched Due to Fraud.” The world’s largest retailer alerted CNBC and others that its price-matching policy has been updated to clarify that stores will not honor “Prices from marketplace and third-party sellers” such as those Amazon pages that were manipulated by users. “We can’t tolerate fraud or attempts to trick our cashiers,” a statement from Walmart explained. “This kind of activity is unfair to the millions of customers who count on us every day for honest value.”

So the scam appears to be dead, but not before an unknown number of consumers were able to take advantage of it and snag ultra-cheap PS4 consoles and, in some cases, cut-rate Xbox Ones and video games. If you think that the only ones hurt by this kind of behavior are Walmart and other major retailers, consider how much more difficult and time-consuming it’s going to be for perfectly honest customers to get genuine prices matched. Now that retailers are on the lookout for scams, be prepared to get the third degree when seeking a price match, even if you’re completely on the up and up.

MONEY Airlines

A New Era Has Begun for JetBlue, and Travelers Will Hate It

Customers check in at JetBlue's counter at John F. Kennedy Airport in the Queens borough of New York City.
Andrew Burton—Getty Images

At JetBlue, legroom is disappearing and checked baggage will soon cost extra. In other words, the airline you fell in love with is following the playbook of airlines that everyone hates.

When word spread back in September that JetBlue CEO Dave Barger was stepping down from his post in early 2015, two interesting things happened: 1) The company stock soared, rising 5% immediately after the news; and 2) travelers who loved JetBlue for its customers-first policies began to panic.

As Fortune put it, equity analysts tended to view Barger “as being ‘overly concerned’ with passengers and their comfort, which they feel, has come at the expense of shareholders.” With Barger and his pesky, stubbornly customer-friendly policies out of the way, JetBlue—under the leadership of new CEO, former British Airways executive Robin Hayes—could hop on the pathway to higher and higher profits by implementing more fees and cost-cutting measures on par with other airlines.

Consequently, the change at the top was welcomed by investors and dreaded by flyers and travel advocates who loved JetBlue specifically because it didn’t engage in the very nickel-and-diming policies analysts were pushing for. Even before it was announced that Barger was out, Marketwatch foresaw the likelihood that JetBlue would soon begin “putting customers second,” while first and foremost pleasing investors by jacking up fees and cutting back on amenities. Frequent flyer expert Tim Winship described Barger’s departure as “the beginning of the end for JetBlue as we know it,” while noting the risks inherent in the airline’s likely policy shift:

Such changes would be wrenching for JetBlue loyalists, for whom the roomier seating and relative absence of nuisance fees have been key reasons to book JetBlue over the competition. Even the number-crunchers acknowledge that a remodeled JetBlue would jeopardize the considerable brand equity the airline has built up over the years.

Nonetheless, this week JetBlue announced that it is reducing average legroom and introducing a new fare structure that means passengers buying the lowest-price tickets will have to pay extra if they want to check luggage. The changes, which will be instituted starting in 2015, will leave Southwest Airlines as the only domestic carrier to grant free checked bags (two of them, in fact) for all passengers.

Shrinking legroom will come as a result of 15 more seats being added to JetBlue’s Airbus A320 planes. Even after squeezing in the new rows of seats, JetBlue’s average legroom will be 33.1 inches, which is still slightly more than what the typical passenger on Southwest or Virgin America can expect. The real heartbreaker to travelers is likely to be the new “Fare Families” structure, which consists of three bundled options that travelers must choose from when booking a flight. At the low end of the pricing spectrum, tickets do not include a checked bag. Passengers who pay higher fares are entitled to checked bags (one at the middle level, two at the high end), and also get bonus loyalty points.

Exact details on pricing and what specific amenities are and aren’t included in the various fares haven’t been released yet. JetBlue became immensely popular among travelers for perks including free snacks and free entertainment on seatback screens. Presumably, even at the low end JetBlue passengers will get more than the “Bare Fares” of Spirit Airlines, which include with almost nothing other than basic transportation—even water and seat reservations cost extra. But JetBlue’s moves certainly seem inspired by the example set by Spirit, which is widely known as one of the simultaneously most hated and most profitable airlines.

JetBlue’s changes are clearly aimed at pleasing investors—shares of the company stock jumped more than 4% on Wednesday, nearing a seven-year high—but Hayes, currently the airline’s president, still claimed that the company was focused on delivering “the best travel experience for our customers.” In a statement accompanying JetBlue’s press release, Hayes is also quoted saying that JetBlue remains different from the pack. “As we focus on executing this plan,” Hayes said, “JetBlue’s core mission to Inspire Humanity and its differentiated model of serving underserved customers remain unchanged.”

Travelers seem to feel quite differently about the matter. The very active traveler community at the Flyertalk forum has been bashing the changes because they remove what made JetBlue special and worth seeking out, and turn the carrier into just another (hated, annoying, nickel-and-diming) carrier. “Lovely. The ‘We’ll attract more customers by being exactly like every other airline’ move,” commented one Flyertalk member. “Charging for bags and a crappy FF [frequent flier] program? What a combo!” commented another. “Seriously though, they’ve completely lost their appeal.”

Another highlighted how Southwest will soon be the only major domestic carrier including free checked bags with flights: “Now, especially if I have a bag, Southwest will be the way to go…and I hate Southwest.”

MONEY groceries

Rumors Are Flying of a Thanksgiving Turkey Shortage

Turkeys in a grocery store
Richard Levine—Alamy

You may have heard that there's a turkey shortage, and that prices are rising just in time for Thanksgiving. Hogwash.

Supermarkets have plenty of turkeys, and prices are incredibly cheap right now. How cheap? How about 79¢ per pound? That’s what the Kroger chain of supermarkets is offering in a special deal valid through Thanksgiving, so long as the customer buys an additional $35 or more in groceries.

If that’s too pricey, check out the offer from Meijer: When a customer spends at least $20 in the store, the chain’s own brand of turkeys are 50% off, which translates to 54¢ per pound for frozen birds and 98¢ per pound for fresh ones. In competitive markets such as western Michigan, meanwhile, some local grocery stores are selling turkeys for as little as 49¢ a pound. The latest Stop & Shop circular is advertising frozen turkeys for 59¢ per pound with a $25 purchase, and the chain says it will match the turkey prices of any grocery competitor. Yet another large player in the grocery field, Hy-Vee, has a coupon valid for a free 10- to 14-lb. Honeysuckle White Turkey for customers who purchase a Hormel whole ham. And ShopRite is giving reward club members a free turkey once the customer meets certain spending requirements (usually $400) over a period of a few weeks.

So why are so many headlines are making the rounds lately indicating that turkey is getting expensive?

It’s true that production is down, and that wholesale prices are up for turkey. But the important takeaway for shoppers is that neither of these factors is necessarily translating to rising prices in stores.

Due to long periods of drought and rising prices for feed, production of all manner of livestock has been on the decline in recent years. Beef prices, for instance, have increased to the point that consumers needed smart strategies to keep barbecue costs down over the summer. The Associated Press recently reported that American farmers will produce a total of 235 million turkeys this year, “the lowest since 1986, when U.S. farmers produced roughly 207 million birds.”

It sounds pretty dire. And yet, there’s nothing remotely true about the idea of there being a turkey “shortage,” as some have called it. A shortage means there’s not enough to go around—that the supply can’t keep up with demand. But as no less an authority than the National Turkey Federation noted that Americans collectively consumed 46 million turkeys at Thanksgiving 2012, and 210 million turkeys during the year as a whole. That, combined with the fact that there are ample supplies of turkeys at supermarkets all over the country, should dispel any claims of a “shortage.”

As far as prices go, wholesale prices may be rising—reportedly up 12% in October compared with last year—but, as USDA agriculture economist David Harvey explained to the AP, “There’s really no correlation between what grocery store chains are paying and what they’re selling them at.”

This year—and every year around this time—supermarkets use turkeys as “loss leaders.” The stores advertise exceptionally low prices on turkeys, knowing that doing so will be a draw for customers. The grocers don’t care if they make little or no money, or even if they lose money, on turkey sales; shoppers who come for turkeys almost always buy plenty more groceries when they’re in the stores, especially when they’re required to do so, as the best deals stipulate, and it’s in these purchases where the supermarkets make their money.

What’s more, the idea that there is a turkey shortage and/or that turkey prices are soaring is a myth that pops up regularly around this time of year. Last year’s “shortage” turned out to be hype because, once anyone read past the headlines, it was clear that even as the supply of one particular kind of turkey had declined, the vast majority of turkeys (and consumers) were completely unaffected.

In a story published today by the New Jersey Star Ledger, Ashley Myers, co-owner of Ashley Farms, is quoted laughing off the idea of there being a shortage of turkeys. “They say that every year,” she said.

And every year, everyone who wants to buy a turkey for Thanksgiving is able to buy a turkey very easily, generally at very low prices—or even free. This year is no exception.

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