Black Friday is just a memory now. What is left is the smoke from all the shopping frenzy. (You can read about it here and here). Like every year, we have had mile-long lines, huge crowds and super-sized elbows. Especially the elbows. For instance, here is how one buys a digital picture frame on Black Friday:“Worried that the frames would sell out, Cindy Chavez, 36, braced herself, yelped and tossed her body on top of the pile, much to her fellow shoppers’ horror. She emerged from the scrum with six frames.”
In reality, I am not sure who was more desperate- shoppers or stores. Except for a few “door-busters”, many stores had good deals available through Sunday. Yes, quantities were limited, and the deals got sold out quickly. So you would think you have to queue up on Friday morning, right? Wrong. If you like something and we are out of stock, no problem, the sales clerk would tell us. We do rain checks. You can buy it now at the reduced rate, and pick it up next week when we get more stock. Simple, see?
I could see why the sales clerk was so anxious to please. The store had emptied out by Saturday, and he was looking ahead at a month-long holiday season. Any sale was a good sale.
Then on Monday morning, I woke up to NPR announcing, “Today is Cyber Monday, the start of the online shopping season”. Apparently, now that the weekend was over, everyone was supposed to go back to work and spend all day shopping online. Oh, “Monday” is purely figurative, if you look at the Circuit City website you will find that “Cyber Monday” extends through Wednesday.
Surely, you would expect people to shop less this time around? Gas prices are hovering around $3 a gallon. Consumer confidence is already the lowest in 2 years. Housing prices are not getting any better, and unlike last year, people cannot borrow home equity loans to splurge on clothes and plasma TVs. Let us not even talk about sub-prime and prime defaults, foreclosures and interest-only mortgages. All we know is, there is a black cloud at the end of the road, and we are driving towards it. We don’t know what this cloud is called, stagflation, recession or downturn, whatever the name, it does not look good at all.
So it’s no wonder that people are flocking to the discount stores and rushing in to buy marked-down stuff. Neiman Marcus and Coach did not do well on Black Friday; Wal-Mart did.
What I do wonder at is the level of desperation among both shoppers and retailers. I can understand why retailers would go all out – holiday shopping accounts for 30% of annual sales. So as shoppers become more price-conscious, the stores are going to keep marking down prices. Cyber Monday? TeleShopping Thursday? FreeDelivery Friday? We are going to have them all.
But why are people still shopping so much when they cannot afford it? Perhaps it’s because holiday shopping in the U.S. is an annual ritual, like bringing out the warm clothes and stowing the capris. It is less about affordability and more about keeping up with everyone. Or maybe it’s just what people do at this time of the year.
It is like any other dance in the natural world. Shoppers flock to the stores like butterflies to your tulips, only they are driven by adrenalin and Starbucks-supplied caffeine. I imagine stores, on the other hand, are like these spiders that think, “now I have caught this insect, how do I get it to stay forever here and keep spending?”
Stores do not have it easy attracting the shoppers either. Unlike last year, they don’t have any “must-have” product that everyone is pitching tents outside the store for. There is no XBox 720, no Play Station 4, no Wii 2. There are the LCD and plasma TVs and the GPS systems, but the TVs are not exactly as affordable as an Xbox is.So the only way people will buy is if prices go down.
In short, expect deeper discounts through December. If the deals dry up, so will the shoppers. I guess, stores only need to see a few days with slow sales to start marking down.
For BlackFriday, my city’s outlet stores had 4 miles of traffic waiting to get in the store. People drove 40 miles and more on Thanksgiving evening to arrive early at stores that opened at midnight. Yet, these were not electronics stores – they were selling apparel and shoes. I can only imagine the madness on Thursday night. By the time we sauntered in on Sunday, the discounts had not changed much, but the crowds had evaporated.
My sense is, we are going to see the same discounts in December, only this time, there will be no lines. There is no going to be no elbowing, no waiting in line at 3 a.m. Just hand over your credit card.
It is going to be interesting to watch, and we all have a free ringside view. So check your favorite deal sites, research what products you want this year, then sit back and wait. If you missed out on Black Friday, congratulations.
The holiday discount wars have just begun.