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Kmart was promoting its layaway program and introduced online layaway for holiday gifts in October. Parent company Sears (SHLD) also started running "Black Friday Now" sales in October, with discounts up to 70% off. Wal-Mart (WMT) launched its "100 toys under $10" promotion by rolling back prices at the end of September. Macy's (M) has been running Black Friday style one-day sales with early bird specials since September. Best Buy (BBY) slashed prices of PCs in October to coincide with the release of Windows 7. Stage Stores (SSI) launched a Christmas Club program months ago, which allowed shoppers to load money onto a gift card and earn 10% shopping "interest" on their card balance.
October, 2009, it seems, was not an indicator of 2009 holiday sales, but rather, October numbers actually included holiday sales. And if that is true, then Black Friday may not be the beginning of the 2009 holiday shopping season, but the end of it for many American consumers with tight budgets and frugal shopping lists.
Even though consumer spending behaviors have shifted dramatically this year, the U.S. retail industry is still held hostage by a traditional Black Friday monster of its own creation. To participate in extreme Black Friday sales is to set an expectation for promotional pricing that most retailers are vowing to resist this holiday season. To not participate wholeheartedly in Black Friday discount madness is to risk losing limited holiday budgets completely to competitors' cash registers. When it comes to Black Friday 2009, retailers may be in the red if they do, and in the red if they don't.
But for this year, participate they must and participate they will. Some of the more aggressive Black Friday strategies include:
- Amazon's "Black Friday Week of Deals" - Black Friday discounts started yesterday, and will run all the way through Cyber Monday on Amazon.com (AMZN). The world's largest e-tailer and U.S. retail's biggest winner of the 2008 holiday season has the distinct advantage of being able to peruse the Black Friday specials leaked by brick and mortar stores and pre-empt them with specials of their own.
Amazon has vowed to match or meet all the best Black Friday deals, and add a whole bunch of unique deals of their own, which can't be found anywhere outside of cyberspace. Amazon is hoping to capture a big portion of the American Black Friday budgets before the turkeys are even pulled out of the freezer for thawing.
- Turkey Day Trumps - Gap (GPS) brand stores will be winners of the Black Friday early opening race when they open their doors to bargain hunters on Thanksgiving Day. As if it isn't hard enough to time the Thanksgiving dinner, now a trip to the mall must be factored in as well. Gap stores will open at 9 a.m., Banana Republic at 11 a.m. and Old Navy at noon.
For those who want to risk missing the Turkey Day traditions altogether, Kmart, Wal-Mart, and Sports Authority will also be open for your Thanksgiving Day entertainment.
- Wal-Mart's In-Store Pajama Party - In an effort to avoid a repeat of the Black Friday trampling of 2008, Wal-Mart is keeping its 24-hour stores open for the 24 hours of Thanksgiving as well. With no store closings, there will be no mob-scene openings either. Instead of camping out in the Wal-Mart parking lot, bargain hunters will be allowed to wait inside the store, in a queue line set up beside each Black Friday megadeal. So, theoretically, there could be - and probably are - linoleum squatters in Wal-Marts across the country already.
I guess Wal-Mart executives figure that holding shoppers captive in its stores for a ridiculous number of hours in a row will prevent them from spending money anywhere else. I wonder if the extra queue monitors, restroom attendants, and store security labor hours will make the consumer pajama party worth the effort to the rollback retailer.
- TGI Black Friday iPhone App Participants - The high-tech must-have Thanksgiving newspaper sales flier alternative this year is the brand new "TGI Black Friday" app for iPhone users. All retailers that have their Black Friday deals, doorbusters and specials loaded into the app will be accessible to app users, who will be able to do a global comparison and find the absolutely best deals.
Also this year, since many Black Friday specials will be available online, shoppers might literally be sitting in the Wal-Mart campout queue, find a matching price at Target, make the purchase online, and go home. This phone app gives an amazing advantage to the retailers that truly have the lowest Black Friday prices. The biggest winners with this innovation, of course, are the app-using, bargain-hunting Black Friday fanatics that use it.
- Door Buster Besters - Those with the best limited-time Door Buster deals and showing-up freebies will give online shoppers a reason to drag themselves out of bed to do some offline shopping. But if thousands of people can only be motivated to do brick-and-mortar shopping on the day after Thanksgiving by extreme loss leaders and free gifts, you have wonder what the advantage will be this year for the retailers providing those promos.