Black Friday or Dead Friday?

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Was Black Friday actually Dead Friday? By the looks of it, retail executives may go into shock during this upcoming holiday season. I think my experience in shopping this Friday may be similar to what a whole lot of folks witnessed yesterday.

This year I did something I haven’t done very often — I joined the throngs of people in line at 4am to try and swipe up a super deal on something I really needed to buy. I have been squeezing every last bit of life from my washer and dryer for a couple of years now, that is, until the dryer decided it had its own mind in regards to temperature, and the washer started destroying my clothes. So I waited months for Black Friday, betting on those annual appliance super deals. And the exact set I had my eyes on since last year appeared as a Black Friday Doorbuster SuperDeal at Sears. The pair sells for about $1,900, with past sale prices never getting better than about $1,500. The Doorbuster price was $850 – no strings attached. Now that’s a savings worth the hassle.

I arrived at 3:45 am, and all entrances seemed to have a line of 50+ people. I thought, “Wow, is this what it’s like?” The bulk of the crowd ended up in the appliance and electronic sections, looking to save $$$ on big-cost items, just as I suspected. What I discovered was that the huge mass of shoppers were only there for the early-bird super-duper deals. By 5:15, they had processed all of our purchases, the store emptied, and the whole place was eerily quiet. There was no one around, at all. I talked to a small group of salespeople who were standing around with nothing to do, and they told me the scene was “highly unusual.” They seemed to be very perplexed.

The rest of the day that mall, which is close to me, was about as busy as a normal weeknight outside of the holidays. I noticed the only places with packed parking lots were the discount-cheap retailers — Target, Walmart, Meijers, etc. Everything else was barely business as usual. In years past, I would refuse to leave the house on Black Friday to avoid the crush. Today, which is usually another heavy shopping day, that mall parking lot was consistently 10% filled.

My view of this holiday shopping season – based on a host of personal experiences, observations, and following the news – is that people are buckling down and holding on to their money, partially because they have no choice due to home foreclosure, job loss, and the credit crackdown. Shoppers are going to gravitate to items of necessity, and they will be drawn to stuff they want (but admit don’t need) only when the incentives are huge. Look for retailers to get desperate this holiday season and possibly offer up some mega-discounts.

4:17 pm on November 28, 2009
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