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Black Friday Is Over. So Now What?

NEW YORK — The rite of excess that is Thanksgiving weekend has come and gone, leaving consumers to soothe their bloated credit cards and retailers to count their margin-impaired receipts.

What comes next? After the close of Cyber Monday, shoppers traditionally enter a post-turkey lull that carries through to Christmas, which is still more than three weeks away.

Indeed, Best Buy president/ CEO Hubert Joly acknowledged on an earnings call last month that the second and third weeks of December “were quite extraordinarily bad” for the industry last year, compounded by severe winter weather.

“Many of us were perplexed, and there was a bit of overreaction at that time,” he told investors.

This time out Best Buy is prepared for the December slowdown with a focus on sub-$100 gifts, a lessfrantic marketing message, and a more measured, analytics-driven promotional response, Joly said.

But a series of recent studies suggest that lateseason sales may be far more plentiful this year, as consumers increasingly procrastinate and save their biggest splurges for after the holidays.

Specifically, an examination of shopping patterns over Holiday 2013 by Stitch Labs, an online inventory and selling platform, revealed that online sales in the first six days of January were greater than those from Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday combined.

Its advice to retailers: Keep your powder dry, systems in place, inventory intact and “don’t get caught snoozing through the new year.”

And dealers shouldn’t be so quick to write off December. In its annual “CE Holiday Purchase Patterns Study,” the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) found that the overwhelming majority (61 percent) of shoppers still plan to wait until later in the season to start their holiday spending, when they believe the best deals are available.

The findings jibe with a separate study by the National Retail Federation (NRF), showing that despite a surfeit of pre-Black Friday promotions, procrastinators and bargain hunters alike are taking their time getting started with their holiday shopping, possibly to take advantage of deeper discounts late in the season.

According to the trade group’s “Holiday Consumer Spending Survey,” 45.6 percent of respondents said they hadn’t yet started shopping when the poll was conducted early last month.

“Many consumers are going to wait and see how great the promotions will be later this season before making any commitments,” observed NRF president/ CEO Matthew Shay.

The figure mirrors a pre-Thanksgiving survey by Big Four consultancy Deloitte showing that only 18 percent of consumers had completed their shopping before the holiday, and that 41 percent don’t rely on Black Friday or Cyber Monday as much as they used to.

The sentiment wasn’t lost on retail executives. A recent poll of 100 chief marketing officers conducted for consultancy BDO USA found that most were anticipating flat sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday due to tough year-over-year comparisons and the dilutive effect of pre-Thanksgiving promotions.

So given all those holiday shoppers still out there, where should retailers focus their remaining firepower?

According to Asurion, the country’s largest extended- service provider, the top five most-wanted holiday gifts across all consumer product categories are legacy devices: laptops (62 percent), TVs (58 percent), tablets (57 percent), smartphones (43 percent), and video game consoles (35 percent).

CEA pegged the same five products as the expected hits of the holiday, but placed TVs third, after tablets.

Interestingly, one of 2014’s fastest-growing categories – fitness trackers – came in dead last in Asurion’s consumer survey, with 59 percent saying this was the item they least want to receive.

Wearable devices also figured low in a survey of 3,373 tech enthusiasts by Purch, the content commerce platform behind such websites as Tom’s Hardware, Tom’s Guide and Only 9 percent of respondents expressed an interest in smart watches while fitness trackers tracked even lower at 8 percent.