Fears that the weak economy, excess inventory and liquidation sales at Tweeter and some Circuit City stores would lead to a promotional free-for-all on Black Friday proved unfounded, as CE dealers largely stuck to plan the day after Thanksgiving.
What's more, the worst recession in 70 years couldn't keep the consumer down over the holiday weekend, as shoppers turned out in record numbers to take advantage of door-buster deals.
A survey by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) showed that roughly a third of adult consumers shopped between Black Friday and so-called "Cyber Monday," with 54 percent purchasing CE devices, making them the second most frequently purchased product behind clothing. (See story, p. 6.)
According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), more than 172 million people either visited or planned to visit stores and Web sites over the four days, up from 147 million last year. In the process, they spent an estimated $41 billion, or $372.57 per shopper, up 7.2 percent from Thanksgiving 2007.
While apparel also topped the NRF poll, 39 percent of shoppers bought DVDs, CDs, video games and books, and nearly 36 percent purchased CE products.
"Pent-up demand on electronics and clothing, plus unparalleled bargains on this season's hottest items, helped drive shopping all weekend," said NRF president/CEO Tracy Mullin.
The polls were borne out by dealers' own accounts. Conn's, the multiregional CE and appliance chain, said sales on Black Friday rose 64 percent year over year and were up 50 percent for the weekend. The surge pushed net November revenue up 23 percent and same-store sales ahead 12 percent.
Buy.com recorded its seconded-biggest sales day in company history on Black Friday, up 40 percent year over year, bested only by the following Cyber Monday. "Our performance demonstrates that shoppers are looking for the lowest prices and the best return on their dollar," said president/CEO Neel Grover.
Bob Young, principal of Young's Appliance in Alpena, Mich., said he also enjoyed his strongest Black Friday ever. Despite the state's ailing auto industry and real estate market, "Customers came in steadily all day," stoked by direct-mail alerts, newspaper inserts, and cable TV and radio spots.
Sales of flat-panel TVs were especially brisk, Young reported, as consumers responded to 32-inch Sony LCDs for $499 and Panasonic's 42-inch 720p plasmas at $699.
All told, the company may have had a $100,000 day, compared with the typical daily take of $10,000 to $15,000, Young said.
Tom Campbell, who handles the CE side for Linder's Furniture, said the holiday weekend was the biggest in 10 years for the Southern California chain. "It was phenomenal, and totally unexpected," Campbell told TWICE. Flat panel was the shining star, led by LG's 32-inch LCD, which was priced at $488 and came with a certificate for $500 in groceries. The company also enjoyed a "huge bump" from Mitsubishi's $600 in gas and 36-months-interest-free promotion, and completely sold out of all Blu-Ray Disc players, he said.
Bob Serio, owner of Perfect Vision & Sound in Avon, Conn., was able to compete with big-box competitors — including a liquidating Tweeter across the street — thanks to a distributor that passed along deep discounts on Samsung and Panasonic flat-panel TVs and provided an eight-page color flyer to tout them. "With the deep deals offered in our flyer we had better pricing [than Tweeter], and the 23 pieces of plasma and LCD we had, along with accessories, allowed us to sell out on the specials and then some."
Ronnie Bradley, president of Hall TV in Camden, S.C., said Sony-subsidized promotions helped make Black Friday the second best in the company's 51-year history. "Most of the day [we] could not get to all the buyers. I say 'buyers' because almost everybody ended up buying," he said.
Ironically, much of the industry's doorbuster pricing was readily available prior to Black Friday, including 42-inch, tier-one 720p plasma TVs for $700 and 50-inch models for $800. "This year there were no blowout sales to attract consumers," said The NPD Group's industry analysis VP Stephen Baker. "The deals mimicked a typical weekend sale," suggesting that Black Friday may become less a kick-off to the season than a showcase of retailers' holiday plans, he said.