Super Saturday 2011 is shaping up to be yet another dishonored retailing tradition in the 2011 Christmas holiday shopping season. As the last shopping Saturday before Christmas, officially Super Saturday should fall on December 24th, but many retail chains like Wal-Mart (WMT), Target (TGT), and Sears (SHLD) are breaking sacred shopping traditions once again by declaring December 17, 2011 to be Super Saturday.
Besides Wal-Mart, Target and Sears, the list of major U.S. retail chains on the December 17th Super Saturday Deals list is small. The December 24th Super Saturday Deals list is even smaller. So, all in all, Super Saturday is shaping up to be a not-so-super event in 2011 and the U.S. retail industry is proving that a day of deals by any other name smells as sweet to deal-desperate consumers.
Most of these Christmas holiday season shopping events on the annual retail sales calendar were first identified and named by the media, secondly accepted by consumers, and finally exploited by the retail industry. But in order for make-believe shopping holidays to work, both retailers and consumers have to be equally willing to play the game. It's not just that the rules of the 2011 Christmas holiday shopping season have changed, it's that the game itself has changed. Super Saturday is just more proof that it's every store and every shopper for themselves.
Retailers, from their sell-as-much-as-you-can-as-early-as-you-can-or-risk-selling-not-much-at-all stance in 2011 have worked really hard to preempt their own fabricated Christmas shopping season events. Their presumption has been that skittish consumers in an uncertain economy would snatch a good deal whenever it popped up. So retailers have concluded that they'd better have the best deals first in order to win the biggest share of the Christmas shopping wallet.
Consumers, in response, have validated the presumptions and conclusions of the retailers. Christmas shoppers this year have proven that they don't much care about the calendar day or the tradition of any particular shopping "event" as much as they care about the good deals. And perhaps they never did.
According to an LA Times report, 25% of the people who shopped during the Black Friday weekend were already doing so at midnight after Thanksgiving Day, unaffected by the protests about keeping the Thanksgiving holiday pure. These days it seems that if all of the largest U.S. retail chains got together on a random weekend in June and called it "Fuschia Friday," as long as the discounts were deep enough and the merchandise was desirable enough and the buzz was big enough consumer would buy into the "event" and buy the merchandise.
If that's true, though, why is Super Saturday practically non-existent this year? Unlike Black Friday, "Super Saturday" is a phenomenon that will continue to happen all by itself, whether retailers help it along or not. When I was working a Christmas season part-time job in a now-defunct retail chain called "Fashion Conspiracy," I noticed that the closer it got to Christmas, the less discerning customers became. The right size, right color, and right style were less important to Super Saturday shoppers than the availability of free gift boxes and a liberal return policy. As long as there are procrastinators, there will be Super Saturday.
As we move into the last-minute holiday shopping season in 2011, according to an American Research Group survey 40% of Christmas shoppers have declared themselves to be finished with Christmas shopping. Stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and Sears are not only fighting for the remaining shopping budgets of the 60%, they are also trying to see if their Super Saturday deals are good enough to lure the 40% back into the stores for some self-gifting purchases.
It's really not Christmas holiday sales results that the U.S. retail industry has to worry about. If their strategic managerial cleverness continues to succeed in December, it's the first quarter of 2012 that's going to be the Grinch.
More About Super Saturday and the Last Week of Christmas Shopping 2011: