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By Brad Tuttle
November 19, 2015
J.C. Penney has the biggest average discounts on Black Friday, according to a new study.
Kena Betancur—Getty Images

Now that most retailers have revealed their Black Friday sales, the natural question shoppers have is: Who’s got the best deals?

The question is more complicated than it might appear at first glance. Some of the most seemingly amazing “doorbuster” sales may not, in fact, be good deals because the products are inferior and the list prices are artificially inflated to make the sale price look more impressive.

For example, when a TV has an “original price” of $600 and is selling for $200 on Black Friday, it’ll certainly grab the attention of bargain hunters. But the TV in question might never have actually sold for $600; it could be a totally made-up number that exists solely so that the retailer can manipulate shoppers into thinking it’s a steal at $200. If this TV was always listed at $200, it wouldn’t generate nearly the excitement. That is often how the Black Friday game is played.

All this being said, the percentage discount provides some idea of value for consumers, who like to play the game just as much as the retailers pulling the puppet strings. Now WalletHub has crunched the numbers on Black Friday sales to find out which stores are offering the largest average discounts.

According to the WalletHub study, J.C. Penney is the top discounter overall, with an average markdown of a whopping 68% on Black Friday. Put another way, when you’re holding merchandise that J.C. Penney claims is worth $100, you really should be paying no more than $32 for it. Right behind J.C. Penney is Kohl’s, where the average Black Friday discount is 66.7%.

To savvy shoppers, it won’t come as a surprise that these two retailers lead the pack on discounts. J.C. Penney has come 360 degrees in its approach to discounting in recent years. After announcing the end to “fake prices” in 2012 under the (failed) leadership of CEO Ron Johnson, the retailer reverted back to using inflated list prices and heavy discounting once again over the past couple of years. Back in 2012, Johnson admitted that less than 1% of merchandise at J.C. Penney sold at full list price. Based on how steep the average discount is for J.C. Penney’s sales nowadays, we’re probably back in a situation where 99%+ of what is sold in the stores is discounted, likely heavily. As for Kohl’s, regular shoppers know that the retailer often mails out $5 credits and 30% off across-the-board coupons, and when you combine them with in-store sales it’s a cinch to get 50% or more off purchases.

It’s worth noting that both J.C. Penney and Kohl’s have been sued for false advertising by consumers, who have alleged that the stores engage in deceptive practices by using unrealistic, purposefully inflated list prices that no one ever pays.

The point of this is all is: The biggest discounts and the best deals are not the same thing. Here are some of the best Black Friday deals we could find advertised for this season. The list factors in the percentage discount, but is also based on the item’s value and what competing retailers are charging for it.

As for the WalletHub study, here are the top 10 discounters on Black Friday, with each store’s average markdown cited below:

J.C. Penney: 68% Off
Kohl’s: 66.7% Off
Stage: 63.9% Off
Groupon: 63.7% Off
Belk: 59.5% Off
Macy’s: 56% Off
Kmart: 50.1% Off
Panasonic: 47% Off
Fred Meyer: 45.3% Off
Office Depot/OfficeMax: 42.8% Off

Coming right after the Office siblings is Sears, with average Black Friday discounts of 41.7% off. What may come as a surprise is that Walmart (30% average discount) and Amazon (25.8%), which are generally thought of as providing the lowest prices and best value for shoppers, come much further down the list in WalletHub’s study. But this revelation only serves as proof that the biggest discounters don’t necessarily have the best deals. When a store’s original prices start out low, it doesn’t need to offer huge discounts to provide great value.

A list of the biggest discounters, then, is likely simply a list of the stores with the most inflated and unreasonable original prices. Be warned.

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