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 consumer psychology

12 Ways to Stop Wasting Money and Take Control of Your Stuff

Digging in overflowing closet
Steve Cole Images—Getty Images/Vetta

If you're swimming in stuff, not to mention debt, check out this list of a dozen tips to stop the madness and streamline your lifestyle.

In my work as a consumer psychologist and author, I’ve read countless studies about consumer behavior, and I’ve conducted plenty of research on my own, interviewing hundreds of shoppers about how, when, and why they shop. Here’s what I’ve learned about how to avoid piling up too much stuff and how to stop making unnecessary, excessive, and ultimately unsatisfying purchases.

Do an inventory check. Jenna Suhl, who has worked as a wardrobe stylist in San Francisco for more than a decade, told me, “It’s not uncommon for people to buy new things because they have so much they can’t see what they already have.” Suhl recommends weeding out what’s worn, ill-fitting, unmatchable, or a style that no longer suits. That’s not only true for clothing and accessories, but also tools, household products, and knickknacks. Another woman once mentioned to me that she actually bought the exact same serving platter twice, forgetting that she already owned it. “At least I have consistent taste,” she laughed, “but clearly I have too much stuff.”

Buy good quality—and use it. Perhaps counterintuitively, I’ve found that it’s common for people to almost never use the things they love the most—a favorite pair or jeans, a vintage Mustang—and that give them the most pleasure. Why? Often, it’s because they want to protect the item in question, because they like it so much and don’t want it to be ruined. Instead of using their favorites regularly, they buy cheaper things—sometimes knockoff imitations—for “everyday” use. The unfortunate result is less satisfaction, and that lack of satisfaction often leads to more buying in the misguided hope that some new item will make us happier. In a similar vein, many people spend more money on an outfit they wear once for a special occasion than they spend the entire year on clothing they use every week, such as workout wear, jeans, or sneakers. The smarter approach is to put your money where you’ll see it in action and enjoy it the most, thereby reducing purchasing cravings.

Count your blessings. First and foremost, being grateful—not just for possessions, but also for the people, places and simple pleasures in life—is good for the soul. But an attitude of gratitude is also a proven antidote to impulse purchasing because it creates a sense of abundance within the individual. When you’re feeling full of gratitude, you’re less likely to subconsciously try to fill emotional holes by treating yourself with gifts and accumulating more stuff.

Turn off the temptation. Imagine having a friend who was constantly telling you about seemingly terrific deals (half-off watches!), or that you simply had to try the new pizzeria in town (free dessert!). Hearing about these offers puts you in the position of considering purchases you might not otherwise have noticed. Worse, you’re likely to get worn down over time, so that you end up jumping at some offer partly to reward yourself for all of the times in the past you behaved virtuously and passed on the latest bargain. These are the effects of signing up for email subscriptions from retailers and deal sites. If you’re trying to rein in your spending, simply cancel those subscriptions. Forget the idea that they somehow save you money. You’ll save a lot more by remaining ignorant of all those seemingly amazing bargains.

Play the waiting game. When you’re tempted to buy something on a whim, wait at least 20 minutes. Then, after clearing your head, reconsider how and when you’ll actually use the product. Instead of simply choosing to have it or not have it, think for a moment about what else you might prefer instead—such as the freedom of having less debt or a bigger purchase that requires saving, such as college tuition, a house or retirement. When considering larger purchases of, say, anything more than $100, make the wait period 24 hours. The typical impulse purchase seems a lot less like a “must-have” after sleeping on it.

Learn to share. I’m not talking about the explosion of “sharing economy” businesses that facilitate things like car-sharing and bike-sharing. I’m talking about the old-fashioned DIY method of buying something with a friend or neighbor and owning it jointly. I recently watched two young women negotiate sharing rights for a relatively expensive gold necklace they both wanted and ultimately bought together at Nordstrom. And I interviewed a family that purchased backyard play equipment with their neighbors. That family is also ingenious about repurposing. For example, they decorated homemade birthday cards with buttons taken from worn-out shirts (which were cut up and used as dust rags). I’ll admit these practices can seem time consuming and not commonplace—but they’re inspiring, and perhaps there’s an opportunity to share or repurpose that will eliminate a new purchase in your life.

Buy only what you need, right now. Part of what makes shopping so alluring is the mental vacation that comes with imagining how a product can be used, such as, “I’ll turn heads in this outfit,” or “We’ll have the wildest parties with this cocktail shaker.” But most homes are cluttered with unused merchandise (often with the tags still attached) purchased for, say, an African safari that never materialized or a slimmer figure that has yet to be acquired. Don’t let your imagination divert attention from the cost and practicality of an object, nor from reality. Before making a purchase, ask yourself if you’ll be using the item in the very near future. If the answer is no or not likely, pass.

Focus on the bottom line, not freebies. “Free” is the four-letter word that always seems to work in marketing. But the free gift with purchase, the free bottle of water while you’re shopping, and the free samples can all cost you. For one thing, getting something for free creates a sense of obligation that makes it harder to say “no” to a persuasive salesperson. Shoppers also often use the free gifts included with purchase to rationalize buying something that’s way beyond their budget. I’ve seen otherwise highly intelligent, logical people spend a fortune to get something for free. And the irony is completely lost on them.

Remember that it’s okay to buy nothing. Shopping takes time, and it can feel like time wasted if a purchase isn’t made. Outlet malls, which typically require a significant drive, are particularly dangerous places for people trying to reduce their consumption. It’s not uncommon for people to purchase something they don’t really need rather than to leave empty-handed, with the feeling like the trip was a total waste. The same phenomenon occurs in upscale “destination” boutiques and at e-retail sites that have drawn shoppers in for significant amounts of time. But don’t fall for the notion that you’ve wasted time if you shop and don’t buy. The truth is that buying something you don’t need only makes for more waste.

Do some quick math as a reality check. If you earn an hourly wage, do a little simple division to see how much of your time, effort, and work is eaten up by a potential purchase. The thought that three hours of your work barely covers the cost of some restaurant meal is likely to inspire you to cook more. The same concept works for salaried workers, just first do the math to break down your roughly per-hour take. Alternately, you could compare the cost of a new purchase to the amount in a savings account, or how long it took to save that amount. Calculating that the cost of a new TV would swallow 50% of the savings that took you two years to compile should be enough to give you pause. Likewise, if you’re really trying to get a better sense of how much you’re spending, don’t use credit cards. Spending with cash feels more tangible, more like you’re spending real money that required your real time, sweat, and effort to earn—and that’s the whole point.

Buy for the right reasons. Research shows that we can think we’re hungry when we’re actually thirsty, think we’re tired when in reality we’re bored, and so forth. In other words, we’re pretty good at identifying when we need something, just not so good at identifying precisely what it is we need. The concept translates directly into the world of shopping and buying: People often buy stuff not because they truly need the stuff, but to fill a variety of other psychological needs, including the craving for human contact, relief from boredom, the opportunity to feel totally competent and in control, and the mental stimulation of something unique or beautiful. To buy less, don’t confuse the real reasons you’re shopping; the tips above about practicing gratitude and waiting for a specified time period before making a purchase should help boost awareness of what it is you truly need.

Shop for stuff you need, not sales. Another of the psychological reasons that many people over-shop and buy is to get a burst of feel-good dopamine that accompanies sale shopping. Snagging a coveted item at 30% off can feel like winning a prize. But sales are nothing special: Virtually everything is discounted at some point in today’s retail world, and at least three-quarters of the purchases shoppers tell me they regret making were bought on sale. They often say they the item isn’t quite the right size, color, shape, or style—but what got them hooked was that the price was right. This is silly, of course. If you don’t like the item, there’s no price that makes it a smart buy. I’ve also found that sale-focused shoppers, ironically, tend to spend more total money than others. Remind yourself when shopping that the point is to seek good-quality items you need, not random stuff that is appealing solely because of a seemingly good price.

MORE: How Do I Set a Budget I Can Stick To?

Hey Impulse Spenders, Here’s a Solution to Your Bad Habit

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Kit Yarrow, Ph.D., is a consumer psychologist who is obsessed with all things related to how, when and why we shop and buy. She conducts research through her professorship at Golden Gate University and shares her findings in speeches, consulting work, and her books, Decoding the New Consumer Mind and Gen BuY.

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.

MONEY Food & Drink

These Coffees Want To Be the Christmas Version of the Pumpkin Spice Latte

Seasonal drinks from Dunkin Donuts
Jim Scherer

Can the pumpkin spice latte phenomenon be repeated, only in winter? Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, and others hope so—and they're heaping on sugar, ginger, cinnamon, and chestnut flavors into new drinks to make it happen.

It’s no wonder coffee chains are trying to replicate the retail magic that appears annually in the form of autumn’s onslaught of pumpkin spice beverages. A hot seasonal beverage is proven to juice sales big time. To milk the PSL (Pumpkin Spice Latte) frenzy even more, Starbucks rolled out the beverage earlier than usual this past summer in many parts of the country, and it boosted sales to the surprise of no one.

Peppermint, which is known to increase physiological arousal and heightens alertness, has been a popular flavor in holiday season beverages, and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, McDonald’s, and 7-Eleven, among many others, are bringing peppermint-laced hot drinks back to their winter menus. But the new holiday beverages go far beyond a mere minty twist, with chestnut, cinnamon, gingerbread, sugar cookie, and other sickly sweet flavors providing the rush. (Perhaps that puzzlingly catchy Def Leppard song was really about holiday season coffees?)

When done right, a hot seasonal beverage succeeds for the seller two-fold by 1) drawing in customers early and often, at least partially because any limited-time offer won’t be around forever and people don’t want to miss out; and 2) getting customers to pay more than usual for their caffeine fix. As NPD Group analyst Bonnie Riggs explained of all unique coffee beverages, customers “expect to pay a premium because the specialty drinks … are not something they can replicate at home or easily get at retail.”

All of which helps explain why Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and others have introduced these new contenders for the 2014 winter season:

Starbucks Chestnut Praline Latte
In the same way that pumpkin spice has come to be the dominant, most eagerly anticipated flavor of fall, Starbucks is hoping its brand-new Chestnut Praline Latte becomes inextricably tied to the winter holiday season. “The rich, earthy, sweet, roastiness of chestnut is a perfect foil to espresso. Then we balanced the nutty chestnut flavor with brown sugar and spice,” Starbucks research and development manager Amy Dilger said of the new latte, which is the company’s first new holiday beverage in five years. “It’s a quintessential flavor of the holiday season.”

To get customers to sample the goods early in the season, Starbucks is having a buy-one, get-one-free special on holiday drinks, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. through November 16.

Dunkin’ Donuts Sugar Cookie Latte
Less than a week after Halloween, Dunkin’ Donuts introduced its lineup of sugary winter beverages, including two cookie-flavored lattes: the Sugar Cookie Latte and the Snickerdoodle Latte. They’re both available in hot or cold varieties, as is Dunkin’s Peppermint Mocha, which is back again this holiday season.

Caribou Coffee Gingersnap Cookie Mocha
With “hints of ginger, allspice and clove,” the Gingersnap Cookie Mocha from Caribou Coffee is trying to make its case as the hot caffeinated beverage of the season. Previous seasonal brews also are returning to Caribou’s menu, including the Ho Ho Mint Mocha and special Reindeer Blend coffee—and thank goodness the latter is false advertising. (The coffee contains no real reindeer ingredients, but does have “a hint of caramel and a dash of spice.”)

Peet’s Cinnamon Hazelnut Latte
Peet’s is bringing back holiday beverages such as the Sea Salt Caramel Mocha, Eggnog Latte, and Winter Solstice Tea, while also introducing a new seasonal beverage, the Cinnamon Hazelnut Latte. Follow the link for a coupon granting a free small seasonal beverage with the purchase of any food item, now through November 26.

TIME deals

Amazon Buries the Hachette, Signs New Pact With Book Publisher

An employee places packed goods on a conveyor belt for shipment at Amazon's Brieselang logistics center west of Berlin on Nov. 11, 2014.
An employee places packed goods on a conveyor belt for shipment at Amazon's Brieselang logistics center west of Berlin on Nov. 11, 2014. John MacDougall—AFP/Getty Images

The online retailer and book publisher have ended months of contentious negotiations with a new multiyear agreement

Amazon and Hachette Book Group have put hostilities aside, ending their long-running and very public contract dispute over e-book pricing by signing a new multiyear agreement.

The online retail giant and the book publisher, which have been at odds since May, announced Thursday that they have finally reached a compromise after months of contentious negotiations, the New York Times reported. The dispute saw Amazon delay shipments of Hachette titles and remove discounts previously offered on the publisher’s products. The companies did not release terms of the new deal, the newspaper said. The pact covers sales of e-books and print products.

The reported deal, which goes into effect early next year, will allow Hachette to set prices for its e-books. David Naggar, vice president for Amazon’s Kindle division, said in a statement that the agreement “includes specific financial incentives for Hachette to deliver lower prices.”

“This is great news for writers,” Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch said in a statement. “The new agreement will benefit Hachette authors for years to come. It gives Hachette enormous marketing capability with one of our most important bookselling partners.”

Amazon earned itself something of a public relations black eye as a result of the strong-arm negotiating tactics, causing a backlash among authors, many of whom backed a boycott of the online retailer that was led by television host Stephen Colbert. Amazon was looking for a larger share of e-book revenues, but was met with resistance from Hachette.

Authors under contract with Hachette publicly complained about a drop in their book sales, causing them to worry about a loss of royalties. In July, Amazon tried to make peace with Hachette authors by offering them 100% of digital book sales for as long as talks with Hachette dragged out — a proposal that Hachette had already turned down in negotiations.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Companies

Hasbro in Talks to Acquire DreamWorks Animation

Deal would combine the makers of Transformers and Shrek

Hasbro is in talks to buy DreamWorks Animation, in a move that could help it reclaim its position as the world’s No. 1 toymaker from Lego, according to the Hollywood website Deadline.com.

The deal would combine the maker of the Transformers set of toys (as well as board games like Monopoly, Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit) with the studio that produced the Shrek and Madagascar series of films, allowing the toys and movies operations to feed off each other. Deadline said the deal would take at least two months to wrap up.

Deadline reported that Hasbro’s board had visited the DWA campus recently, and had agreed in principle that DWA co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg would chair the combined operation.

At the same time, Deadline said, DWA is also looking at a joint venture with Hearst Publishing including its AwesomenessTV, valuing it at around $300 million. The mooted JV would aim to launch three new digital channels, targeting mothers and children.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME deals

Warren Buffett to Buy Duracell from Procter & Gamble

Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett during an interview in Omaha, Neb. May 2014.
Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett during an interview in Omaha, Neb. May 2014. Nati Harnik—AP

Deal comes after the consumer-products giant said it would shed the asset

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway has agreed to buy the Duracell battery business from Procter & Gamble, a deal that comes less than a month after the consumer-products giant said it would shed the asset.

Berkshire Hathaway, a conglomerate that owns insurance, railroad, retailers and other businesses, said it expects the deal to close by the end of the second half of next year. The deal terms are a bit complex: P&G has agreed to pump about $1.7 billion in cash into the Duracell company at closing, and in exchange, will receive about $4.7 billion in P&G stock currently held by Berkshire Hathaway.

Berkshire Hathaway is one of P&G’s top investors, owning 52.8 million in shares, or just under 2% of the total P&G stock outstanding according to Morningstar data.

“I have always been impressed by Duracell, as a consumer and as a long-term investor in P&G and Gillette,” Warren Buffett said in a prepared statement.

P&G late last month had indicated it would shed its Duracell brand, part of the company’s plan to slim down its product slate. P&G’s exit from Duracell began with an agreement to sell its interest in a China-battery joint venture, a deal that occurred in late August. Terms of that transaction weren’t disclosed, though P&G said it booked a charge of $932 million, which was related to that deal.

At the time, the second step hadn’t been finalized. P&G said it hoped to split off Duracell into a stand-alone business, but also said it would consider a sale or other alternatives if they “generated equal or better value.”

“I’m confident this new ownership structure will provide strong support for Duracell’s future growth plans,” said P&G Chief Executive A.G. Lafley.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Retail

Target Announces Earliest Ever Black Friday Opening

After Target Lowers Sales Forecast, Shares Plummet
The exterior of a Target store July, 18, 2006 in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson—Getty Images

Latest in stores opening earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving

Target on Monday announced its earliest ever Black Friday sale with plans to open doors at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, in an aggressive bid to boost holiday sales after a year of lackluster earnings and store closures.

The big-box retailer joined a growing list of stores that have pushed their Black Friday openings from post-dinner to pre-dinner hours, including Macy’s, Kohl’s and Sears.

“We know our guests are pulled in a million different directions as the holidays get underway, so we’re helping them save time and money by offering more access to Black Friday deals,” Target said in a statement.

The movement has also triggered a backlash from labor advocates and from competitors that have vowed to keep stores closed during the Thanksgiving holiday, including Coscto, Home Depot and Nordstrom.

MONEY Odd Spending

A Brief History of ‘Pay What You Want’ Businesses

hand holding up quarter
ballyscanlon—Getty Images

A pay-what-you-want investing service? Yes, it's here—and it's hardly the only business bold (crazy?) enough to allow customers to pay whatever they feel is appropriate, even $0.

On November 11, a new investment company called Aspiration launches with the goals of “democratizing the financial services industry,” “making elite investments available to everyday investors,” and “building a movement around the idea that you can make money and make a difference at the same time.” The minimum investment is only $500, and the pitch is that at long last, middle-class investors will get access to the kinds of investment products that traditionally have been available only to the rich. The concept is noble enough, and the focus on regular folks is certainly refreshing, yet Aspiration is hardly the only service out there aiming to woo less affluent investors.

No, what makes Aspiration truly unique—unheard of, in fact—is its fee structure. Or rather, the absence of a fee structure. Instead of charging a fee, Aspiration “allows its customers to decide how much to pay the company – even if that number is zero,” the launch announcement explains. “Aspiration calls this approach ‘Pay What Is Fair’ and while it has been tried before in one-off fashion, this is the first time it has been brought to the investment world and the first time a company has built its business model on this approach.”

Whether such a revolutionary business model can work for investing or is little more than a gimmick is impossible to tell right now. For obvious reasons, “pay what you want” is a curiosity that’s intriguing to consumers and grabs plenty of headlines, but thus far other PWYW experiments have yielded results that are decidely mixed. For example:

Restaurants: Bubby’s, an all-American restaurant with two locations in Manhattan, is running a “Pay Whatever You Like” buffet Thanksgiving dinner with some of the proceeds going to charity, and it’s clear the owners expect customers to pay a pretty penny: There’s a “suggested donation” of $75 per person. Another restaurant, a diner in North Carolina called Just Cookin, recently removed prices from the menu, leaving the exact amount paid for food and service up to the customer and God.

In probably the most well-known PWYW restaurant trial, the fast-casual chain Panera Bread opened a nonprofit café five years ago, and the experiment was so successful that in early 2013 the concept was expanded to four dozen St. Louis locations, which offered turkey chili on a pay-what-you-want basis. Roughly half a year later, however, PWYW chili was removed from menus. Apparently Panera received tons of generous donations early on in the program, but interest (and money collected) faded as time passed. Even so, there are still five nonprofit Panera Cares locations in the U.S., where the menus have suggested donations but no set prices.

Payday App: The biggest problem with payday loans is that while the fees might seem small—say $15 per $100 borrowed—the terms represent the loanshark-like equivalent of an APR of 400%. Enter ActiveHours, a payday loan alternative that pays customers immediately for the hours they’ve already worked and, incredibly, has no mandatory fees.

“We don’t think people should be forced to pay for services they don’t love, so we ask you to pay what you think is fair based on your personal experience,” the ActiveHours site explains. Even so, consumer advocates warn that people who become dependent on such a service are more likely to wind up behind on their bills, and they also might wind up (voluntarily) paying tips to the service that are themselves the equivalent of a loanshark’s terms.

Taxis: In 2009, during perhaps the Great Recession’s darkest days, a former Wall Street banker named Eric Hagen introduced Recession Ride Taxi, a PWYW cab service in Burlington, Vt. Hagen offered rides only on nights and weekends as a way to help people out and perhaps make a few dollars. Even though Uber and other ride-share services would seem to be encroaching on Hagen’s idea, Recession Ride Taxi is still running—and still operating on a PWYW basis.

Book, Music, Comedy Downloads: Way back in 2000, Stephen King decided to skip over publishers and sell a serial novel called “The Plant” strictly in digital e-book format using an honor system. Readers were asked to pay $1 per installment, and King said he would keep writing if three-quarters of those who downloaded the book paid up. At one point, less than half of those downloading were actually paying for the book, and the author never completed it—though the author reportedly earned nearly $500 million in the venture. As things now stand, the six existing parts of “The Plant” are available for free download at King’s website.

In 2007, Radiohead began selling digital downloads of an album called “In Rainbows,” and when fans dropped it into the virtual checkout basket, the only price listed was “It’s Up to You.” Some rock-n-roll old-timers, including KISS’s Gene Simmons, were not impressed. “That’s not a business model that works,” Simmons said at the time. “I open a store and say, ‘Come on in and pay whatever you want.’ Are you on f***ing crack? Do you really believe that’s a business model that works?” Nonetheless, Radiohead’s move was probably ahead of its time considering that few artists make money selling their music nowadays anyway.

More recently, the work of Louis C.K., who over the years has been at the forefront of unorthodox direct-sales strategies including selling comedy special downloads for a flat $5 and comedy show tickets with no intermediaries or fees, was featured in a “Humble Bundle” of comedy albums offered on a pay-what-you-want basis. Humble Bundle is known for bundling together several video games and allowing customers to pay whatever they like for the package, with portions of the payment going to the developers, charity, and Humble Bundle.

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