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Holiday Sales Mischief

 Maybe this happened because it is the “Trick or Treat” season.

Some of us seem to find out about the dirty little secrets of this business by speaking to consumers. Here’s a classic case and it involves one person’s experience at Wal-Mart.

Last Monday a fellow Reed Business Information employee (who doesn’t work for TWICE) visited me first thing in the morning about his experience trying to buy a Toshiba HD DVD deck the previous day.

He saw on a blog that weekend that Wal-Mart was going to sell the HD-A2 HD DVD player for a great price. He went to a Wal-Mart in the New York metro area. He walked straight to the CE department, which to him was unimpressive, and saw what he described as “several beat-up HD DVD boxes. I took the best-looking box.” On top of the display there was a sign with the Toshiba deck’s model number and the price, $198.

He picked up a deck and went to the self-checkout area to pay for his deal. The readout said, “Not for sale.” A Wal-Mart employee who monitors to the self-checkout area said, “Sorry, sir, this is not for sale.”

Incredulous, he answered, “You have boxes there in the store and a sign with a price on it. How can it not be on sale?” He asked to speak to the manager of the CE department. Around 20 minutes later the manager arrived with the same story. Finally, he spoke to a store manager who said, “Oh, this will be available next weekend. We can give you a $10 gift card for your trouble and hold one for you until then.”

He left the store infuriated that he couldn’t buy a product that was clearly available and disappointed in the service, and he asked me why. The best answer I could come up with is that the store made a mistake and put the decks out too early. The day after Halloween we all found out that this Wal-Mart store manager did my colleague a big favor.

If you saw our coverage on last week or saw it yourselves this past Friday at Wal-Mart, the chain offered what it called “Black Friday prices” on selected CE products. That Toshiba HD DVD player was one of them, priced at $98.86.

Analysts of all stripes are predicting that overall holiday sales will be weaker this year than in 2006, and that national chains have got to pick up volume now. Wal-Mart may see blood in the water and pushed for a competitive advantage.

I guess that’s just what the CE industry needs, an additional Black Friday, this one closer to Halloween than Thanksgiving.

As I said before, “Trick or Treat.” In this case, “Trick and Trick” to the industry’s bottom line. Or as many of you are probably saying now to Wal-Mart, “Boo!”