Black Friday has a darker edge this year

November 17, 2010

The history of Black Friday sales is, well, black.

The history of Black Friday sales is, well, black. People have literally died or been injured by the crush of crowds seeking deep discounts on limited quantities of advertised items. We know retailers run these promotions to sharpen their price image and draw traffic – yet The Lempert Report has always regarded them as a bounty for the lucky few who score these deals and a frustration for most shoppers.

Still, retailers are great imitators. As long as Walmart, Best Buy, Amazon and other merchants keep this up, they will too. Do they ever stop to think they’re rewarding cherrypickers? Or aggravating loyal customers? Or reinforcing price as the #1 purchase influence?

Regardless, the ominous Black Friday arrives again in the wee hours of November 26. This first day of the season that draws 40% of revenue for many chains reeks of retailer desperation to get an early start on yielding good comp figures over the year before.  Because we understand the pressure, we consider Black Friday and pre-Black Friday sales a barometer of retailer desperation.  

The barometric readings are high right now. Consider that mass merchants, hard goods discounters and online retailers have been offering early holiday discounts for weeks already to attract shoppers. We’re thankful that supermarkets don’t have Black Friday promotional strategies – though we suspect the sedative tryptophan in turkey might have something to do with that. People would rather sleep in than jostle carts for food purchases the morning after the Thanksgiving feast.

A Symphony IRI Group report, Holiday Shopping 2010, indicates that this could be a Scrooge-type Christmas season: six out of 10 consumers (59%) expect to spend less than $500 on gifts this year, 28% will buy fewer gifts, and 25% will slim down their celebratory food and beverage budget. They’ll achieve this with deliberate savings tactics: a vast majority of grocery shoppers will use shopping lists, seek deals before visiting stores, and keep alert to in-store promotions, according to a trade publication account of the study. “Three-quarters of holiday-related food and beverage shoppers will leverage Internet and e-mail coupons with the same or increased frequency [vs. last year], and just under half of shoppers plan to take better advantage of in-store promotions and newspaper/circular coupons,” the account said.

With such spending conservatism ahead, The Lempert Report isn’t surprised that retailers are trying to lure shoppers early and impactfully. We think Black Friday unnecessarily excites and disappoints most shoppers the way it is currently structured. Perhaps if retailers rethink their approach, they could get the lift they want, satisfy more of their followers, and make holiday shopping a more pleasant and less risky experience.