That's a question being asked, and partly answered, in a new report published by Vancouver City Savings Credit Union.
The report, titled White Lies on Black Friday, describes tactics some retailers use to motivate sales, including inflating original prices and creating a false sense of urgency, and consumers' perceptions of the mass retail event.
Mohamed Ladak, vice-president of payment solutions for Vancity, told Gloria Macarenko on the CBC Radio program On The Coast that shoppers should understand product trends when shopping around Black Friday, because deals may not be as good as they seem.
"People feel that they're getting a bargain, or getting a deal on Black Friday. We're not saying there aren't deals to be had out there, there definitely are, but what we're saying is the best thing to do is for everyone to do their research and make sure they're looking at the final price of what they're paying for that product, rather than the perceived savings," he said.
Ladak said some retailers increase prices over the week leading up to Black Friday, and only then apply a discount.
"A more transparent approach would be just to promote the price rather than the discount," he said.
The report also warns about "door crashers," where retailers try to get people in the store by offering huge discounts on products.
"Sometimes they're limited in quantity," Ladak said.
Boxing Day sales are a little bit different because retailers are looking to get rid of existing inventory, and may actually have better discounts, Ladak said.
Ladak's final piece of advice is simply "do the research."
"Find the best price, find the right product, use the deal website and apps out there, bring a smartphone with you, and get some advice from knowledgeable friends," he said.