Warren Shoulberg -- Home Textiles Today, 11/21/2011 2:00:00 AM
THANKSGIVING USED TO BE all about the turkey. Now it's all about the sitting ducks.
All the recent excitations about Black Friday promotions and stores opening early and crazy deals and general retail mayhem are calling attention to the fact that it's getting to be the most absurd time of the year again. And from all indications, it's going to be particularly absurd this holiday selling season.
Retailers are tripping over themselves to see who can be the first one on the block to open their doors and let in the invading consumer hordes. That old 4 a.m. opening has become so 2010, and the new norm is midnight. Some retailers are starting the night before ... or even the day before.
Rumor has it that at least one retailer is working on a time machine that will take shoppers back in time so they can start buying their door-busters last year and get an even earlier start. We've heard that other stores are offering life-size coupons that can actually be worn, negating the need for customers to even bother getting dressed to do their shopping.
It's going to be that kind of a holiday season.
You can't blame the retailers. Business remains tough, though when you look at monthly retail sales they are not nearly as bad as other parts of the overall economy. One could even make the argument that stores are holding up better than most other segments of American business. Certainly, they are nowhere near as bad as housing or other industries.
And you can't blame the consumers. They are just trying to stretch their dollars as far as they humanely - or inhumanely, in some cases - can go. They have been conditioned like Pavlov's shoppers to respond to all of this promotional noise and you can actually see them start to salivate and twitch when you show them giant sale signs. Who cares if you already have four Blu-Ray DVD players if the devices are only $49.99 to the first 100 people through the door?
So, these Black Friday door-busters actually do work ... at least in the short term. How many sales are made that day that would have been made eventually over the next 30 days - and perhaps at better margins - is anyone's guess. So too is any hard information - at least any hard information that anyone wants to share - on whether that shopper sticks around to buy more higher-margin goods once they've stocked up on the cheap stuff.
But creating an image that you've got the best deals in town - it's the single best vehicle there is for any retailer all year long. There's no disputing that.
But ultimately - and not before too long - Black Friday is destined to become an anachronism, relegated to the retailing junk pile. Eventually shoppers will find another way to get these great bargains without all of the drama of midnight sales, cold waits on long lines and hand-to-hand combat on limited inventory goods and traditional retailers will indeed be sitting ducks. It's happening already.
It's called the Internet. Eventually we'll look back on Black Friday as yet another cute, antiquated experience as shoppers increasingly buy online for these kinds of purchases.
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