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Some Buzz Behind Black Friday Week

Black Friday Week for 2012 – that’s the best way to call the period between Nov. 19 and Nov. 26 now I guess – seemed to be a ban- ner one for retailers of just about all stripes.

The fiscal cliff and the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy be damned, consumers, God bless them, went out and shopped for that week in larger volume nationwide than predicted.

Weather across the country, especially during Thanksgiv- ing weekend, was fine, so those who wanted to go to malls and stores – vs. the multitudes who stayed home online to shop – were out in volume. What this has to say about our economy going forward, or at least about the balance of the holiday selling season, is inconclusive, but it is a good sign.

However, there is some inter- esting atypical buzz about three of the top merchants in consumer electronics as the season begins, at least I think so.

First off, Best Buy of course. This has to be the most critical holiday selling season for the chain in the past couple of decades. Falling comp sales and losses, new management and the shadow of a take- over bid by founder Dick Schulze all cast a shadow over the final weeks of 2012, and beyond. So far sales seem strong.

At the Long Island City, N.Y., store I visit each year on Black Friday, mid-morning traffic was higher than the previous couple of years. The post-holiday final numbers will show how that anecdotal evidence translates into sales and profits.

Second is Walmart. It reported strong Black Friday sales. But picketing by employees and labor unions for opening on Thanksgiving and overall com- plaints about labor practices was, well, unheard of. Walmart said, probably accurately, that sales were not affected by the protests.

But this is more than just a protest about work- ing on a holiday. Many are looking at the Walmart business model, and more than a few don’t like it — and now have the guts to com- plain about it. We’ll see if these protests are just seasonal or have any legs as 2013 dawns.

Amazon had one of its best Black Fridays in its history, as did many online retailers. It was so frantic at one warehouse that a manager at one of them told CBS News last week, “We have to come up with a new term for ‘busy.’ ”

“Busy,” of course, but what about profitability? I’m certainly not a stock analyst, but Amazon’s earnings have been a lot a narrower in the past cou- ple of years and last week, for the first time in more than a decade, Amazon issued $3 billion in bonds with some saying it is to pay off the purchase of its headquarters.

Amazon is still a darling of Wall Street, and everyone loves volume, but it has also made major investments in warehouses across the country; will be faced state-by-state by Internet sales taxes and probably nationwide if Congress acts in 2013; and must continually compensate for nonexistent mar- gins on its best-selling product, the Kindle.

We won’t know what all this buzz may mean for these three mega retailers until 2013, but in the meantime the industry should at least enjoy the sales volume so far during this holiday season.