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Last-Minute Surge Helps Holiday Selling Season


Customers came back from their Black
Friday hiatus en mass in the days before and after

The last-minute surge, aided by an extra Saturday
before Christmas, topped off an otherwise disappointing
holiday season for CE dealers that was marked by
steep promotions, flat to lower revenue, and battered
gross margins.

Business was impacted by soft demand for TV,
which was compounded by spot shortages that
spanned all brands, display types and screen sizes,
merchants said. Dealers compensated to some extent
by stepping customers up to larger and better-featured
models, attaching more profitable categories like audio
and home-theater furniture, and offering more non-
CE products.

“We had an uptick in last-minute shoppers in the
store and saw a major surge online,” reported Abt
Electronics president Jon Abt on the eve of Christmas
Eve. The company’s web sales, which were up about
25 percent for the season, remained strong through
the Christmas cutoff thanks to offers of free shipping
and expedited delivery, he said.

Doug Schatz, CE merchandising VP for the
3,000-dealer Nationwide Marketing Group, said members
similarly saw an “unexpectedly strong charge”
the week before Christmas. “A lot of customers waited
to make sure they’re getting the best deals the marketplace
has to offer, and the members are very, very

Schatz said store visits were also driven by an increase
in the number of web-enabled dealers, many
of whom enjoyed incremental showroom traffic as a
result of their new online presence.

But Bill Trawick, president and executive director of
the NATM Buying Corp., the 11-member buying group
for independent big-box retailers, doubted that the
pre- and post-Christmas surge made up for seasonlong
weakness in TV.

“I would be shocked if the December numbers are
big,” he said late last month. “Everyone waited for
Black Friday, and then the door closed.”

To some extent, NATM dealers made up for soft
TV unit and dollar volume with sales of major appliances,
which they promoted aggressively. “December
was a big appliance month,” Trawick said. “The category’s
not exactly flourishing, but it’s showing positive

Dave Workman, executive director and COO of the
Progressive Retailers Organization (PRO Group), said
his buying group’s 16 specialty A/V dealers experienced
similar softness in video. “It would have been
an incredible season except for TV,” he told TWICE,
paraphrasing a member dealer. But the group, which
elected to stay out of the Black Friday fray, enjoyed
solid increases in audio, led by a surge in headphone
sales, and its bricks-and-clicks members benefitted
from the migration to online shopping.

Apple products also performed well for
authorized PRO dealers, Workman said, and
generated “phenomenal traffic” for NATM’s
trio of authorized sellers, Abt, Nebraska Furniture
Mart and P.C. Richard & Son, added

Jon Abt said new non-CE categories like
sunglasses, wristwatches, luggage, fitness
equipment and home comfort helped compensate
for margin declines in TV and video
gaming, while services like free tech support,
and a new test of 24-hour live support,
helped differentiate the company online.

All told, holiday business was up 10 percent
Abt noted, driven in large measure by
headphones (“Amazing,” he said), iPads,
e-readers, ultrabooks and streaming media

Meanwhile, Nationwide dealers bucked
the TV trend by focusing on feature-rich
models and extra-large screen sizes. “The
55-inch to 80-inch displays were very strong
performers for us,” Schatz observed, while
“smart TV was the big feature winner. Awareness
of its benefits was much higher, and it
really came into its own.”

Nationwide also did well with better
soundbars, sales of which were incremental
to, and more profitable than, its HTiB and
component audio business, and dealers
sold a fair amount of A/V furniture, which
customers needed to accommodate the
larger screen sizes.

Schatz added that the strong Christmas finish
and demand for larger, more feature-laden
TVs bodes well for Super Bowl, which is the
“sweet spot for our value-added dealers.”