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What’s In Store, And Online, For Black Friday


Black Friday arrived earlier and with more furor
than ever before this year.

While the day after Thanksgiving has
long been a competition for retailers and consumers alike, the prolonged
economic downturn, a dismal third-quarter for CE, and massive shifts in where
and how customers shop have raised the stakes ever higher.

To drive traffic and reclaim their
hegemony amid significant market share gains by online retailers, leading
brick-and-mortar chains upped the ante with even earlier store openings, free
online shipping and more stunning Black Friday discounts.

In what retailers described as a response
to customer demand, many including Best Buy, hhgregg and Target have
controversially moved up their store openings to midnight on Black Friday,
while Walmart will open at 10 p.m. and Toys “R” Us will open at 9 p.m. on
Thanksgiving (see “


,” ) Kmart, which has opened on
Thanksgiving Day for the past 20 years, will do so again this Thursday, at 6
a.m., while sister chain Sears will reverse its policy from last year and
remain closed on the holiday.

“We are a very family-focused
company, and we understand that our extended store hours place a burden on
employees,” said hhgregg president/CEO Dennis May. “However, we are staffing
our stores strategically on Black Friday and throughout the holiday season to
ensure that all of our employees have adequate time with their families.”

Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn similarly
expressed regrets over his company’s decision to move its traditional 4 a.m.
opening up to midnight in response to similar moves by strip-mall neighbors.
“We made a decision that we need to be where our customers are,” he said
earlier this month at a conference. “I know that the decision has been a bit
controversial with some of our folks. But the truth of the matter is, the
customers will be out there, lined up, for that midnight opening.”

Besides earlier openings, both
retailers and e-tailers began their Black Friday hoopla sooner this year. While
Sears was the first out of the starting gate in 2010 with a Black Friday
promotion before Halloween, the honors go this year to leading online-only CE
dealers and The former launched a “Countdown to Black
Friday” deals page on Nov. 1 offering daily promotions and free shipping on
orders more than $25 through Nov. 25. The same day, Newegg kicked off a “Stop
Mall Madness” holiday campaign featuring an extended 60-day return policy and
online price guarantee for select products.

A day later Walmart followed suit by
pre-announcing some of its Black Friday doorbusters, offering a price-match
guarantee through Christmas, and holding a pre-holiday sale that weekend. It
also played the multichannel card by providing free shipping on 95 percent of
its online assortment and a 10-cent per gallon discount on gasoline at the more
than 1,000 Walmart locations with filling stations.

Best Buy quickly countered with its
own “Shop Early” page on, and announced three consecutive weekends
of pre-holiday sales events. The No. 1 CE chain also sweetened the pot with
free shipping on its entire online assortment through Dec. 27, extended return
and price-match periods, free limited Geek Squad support the week after
Christmas to help get gifts up and running, and free showings of “Harry Potter
and the Deathly Hollows: Part II” outside select stores to ease the wait on
Thanksgiving night.

Whether pre-announced or leaked
online, the actual Black Friday doorbusters were jaw dropping even by CE
standards, with some of the deepest discounts centered on TVs, Blu-ray Disc
players, laptops and tier-three tablets. Highlights of the lowlights include:

• a 42-inch Sharp 1080p LCD TV for
$200, at Best Buy;

• an Internet-ready Toshiba Blu-ray
Disc player for $40, at hhgregg;

• a Velocity Micro Cruz 7-inch
tablet for $100, at RadioShack;

• a 15.6-inch dual-core HP laptop
with 3GB of memory and a 320GB hard drive for $248, at Walmart; and

• a 10.1-inch Acer netbook for $157
at Target.

“This is going to be a very
aggressively priced holiday,” acknowledged Bernard Luthi, marketing, web
management and customer service senior VP at “The customer has the
power here.”

Whether the lures will unleash months’
of pent-up consumer demand remains to be seen, although retailers themselves
are less than hopeful. According to a recent BDO USA survey of 100 chief
marketing officers (CMOs) at leading U.S. retailers, just 27 percent expect to
see an increase in Black Friday sales, down from 38 percent in 2010. Similarly,
only 24 percent project an increase in Cyber Monday sales, with the vast
majority (74 percent) expecting flat results.

Overall, the CMOs project a 1.6
percent increase in Black Friday sales (down from 3.8 percent in 2010) and a
2.5-percent increase in sales on Cyber Monday.

“Black Friday is not disappearing,
but deal-fatigued shoppers have been there and done that,” said Ted Vaughan,
partner in the retail and consumer products practice at BDO USA.

A recent consumer survey by
Accenture bore that out. According to the poll, this year’s turnout at stores
could be the lowest in three years, with only 44 percent of consumers
indicating that they are likely to shop on Black Friday, compared with 47
percent in 2010 and 52 percent in 2009. Instead, a larger proportion of
shoppers will be leaving their holiday shopping until after Black Friday
compared with last year (52 percent vs. 41 percent in 2010), and one-third (33
percent) will leave the bulk of their purchases until December with the
expectation of better end-of-season discounts.

Fortunately for CE retailers,
electronics ranked high on gift lists, with 36 percent of respondents looking
to buy one or more tech devices, compared with 35 percent in 2010.

“Precision shoppers will dominate,”
said Janet Hoffman, managing director of Accenture’s retail practice. “They
will be very targeted about where and what they buy, and will be more inclined
to shop around for the best value.” 

To that end, 54 percent of respondents
who shop with smartphones and 35 percent of tablet owners said they will use
their devices to compare prices while in a store, although the research showed
no significant change in the number of consumers shopping online (66 percent
vs. 69 percent in 2010).

But a new consumer poll conducted
this month by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and BIGresearch suggests
that retailers’ early promotions are having the desired effect, as more than
half of Americans (51.4 percent) have started their holiday shopping, up from
48.9 percent last year. “Consumers across the country are already sampling the
promotions that retailers are offering,” said Pam Goodfellow, consumer insights
director for BIGresearch. “Given shoppers’ hunger for value and good deals,
Black Friday and Cyber Monday will be incredibly important days for retailers
this year.”