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Evaluating Black Friday: Economy Makes for Big Changes to Shopping Frenzy
By Jeff Westover -- Editor, My Merry Christmas.com

In the dog days of summer we posted these bold predictions for Black Friday 2009. What we thought then was that a recessionary economy would make Black Friday 2009 as crucial for the Christmas shopper as it has traditionally been for retailers. We thought the prices and the offerings would be white hot.

We were not even close. Yes, we were mostly right about the prices. But we had no idea that Black Friday would loom so large on the selling landscape.

Mark 2009 as the year when Black Friday changed.

Yes, the early morning openings and the frenzied crowds were all there. But economic indicators and stingy consumers caused early seasonal panic amongst retailers of all kinds - and that changed the buying landscape on the day after Thanksgiving. Here are some historic things that happened in 2009 that have never happened before and may repeat in the future:

1. WalMart versus Amazon - in perhaps the biggest surprise of the selling season was the early face off between WalMart and Amazon. WalMart triggered the fight when they touted 100 hot priced toys - they had only 10 last year - and then announced dozens of similar markdowns on books and movies. Amazon matched them item for item, extending Black Friday to a week-long online event featuring "lightning deals" such as the new movie releases of Star Trek and Angels & Demons on Blu Ray for under $20 and recent releases on DVD like Iron Man or Transformers for $5.

2. Black Friday at Halloween - Sears and Kmart made early headlines by bringing back layaway programs…and then jumped the gun by offering doorbusters as early as Halloween day and continuing every weekend through Thanksgiving.

3. Specialty Retailers jump on the BF Bandwagon - Toys R Us is fighting for survival against WalMart and they promoted Black Friday like never before. But they weren't the only category-specific retailer fighting for a piece of the BF pie. Specialty retailers like Microsoft, Flower Petal.com, Dell, Borders and Radio Shack all had a higher profile this Black Friday. More unusual were travel specialists like Princess Cruises offering Black Friday deals or HP, Paul Frederick or Land's End offering exceptional deals to compete with traditional big box stores.

4. Midnight Openings - Malls around the country started this trend a few years back, opening at 12:01 a.m. in order to compete with the traditional frenzy dedicated to the Targets and Walmarts of the world. Now retailers like Kmart and Toys R Us open at midnight in an effort to jumpstart the buying.

5. New Participants in Black Friday Madness - Black Friday has traditionally belonged to the big boys of Target, Walmart and the department stores like Macy's, Dillards, and Sears. But now they have to deal with new competitors who want in on the action. This year, for the first time, QVC offered Black Friday programming. Also, online Overstock.com, Amazon.com, and ZipZoomFly.com all went crazy with timed promotions to coincide with the lines in the stores.

With all that being said, how did our predictions fare?

1. We said netbook computers would be priced as low as $129. We were close. Sam's Club had one at $149.

2. Laptop computers were predicted at $249. Most had them at $299 but Best Buy had one at $197.

3. We predicted Blu-Ray players at $59. Again, we were close. Target, Shopko and others had them at $69 with the average price being closer to $99. Some movies were priced at $4.99 at Amazon and Walmart.

4. LCD flat screen televisions in a 46-inch size were thought to come in around $599. No other category saw such competition with 32 inch screens coming in as low as $299 and 46-inch screens being hyped between $549 and $599 at several retailers.

5. We said Apple would discount their entire line by 5%-15%, which they did. We predicted their sales to be flat and that result is yet to be revealed. For the record, we now say that flat sales will be optimistic for Apple.

6. Predicted with a price point of $199 was the Nintendo Wii with plenty of availability. This will a widely advertised BF special, dead on target.

7. GPS units were predicted between $49 and $99 for BF. Another winner as Sam's Club, Costco, WalMart and others all had $59 units.

8. Free shipping was predicted online and that has come to pass. Expect it to last until at least mid-December in many cases.

9. We were right about the Mickey Mouse snow globes at JCPenney and are proud to announce that we got TWO of them this year. But we were wrong about their opening time. Penneys pushed it back to 4am in a desperate reach for sales.

10. We predicted digital camcorder sales at $350. We were wrong. Some came in as cheap at $149 (Sam's Club).

~ The Future of Black Friday ~

In recent years Black Friday has been spoken of in the media as a has-been of American retailing. If the lessons from 2009 are clear it is that Black Friday is more relevant than ever.

The melding of Black Friday and Cyber Monday will continue. Each of the traditional Black Friday players has websites and they change the way discounting and driving holiday sales are engineered. Will there come a time when shoppers won't be asked to get up in the dead of night to buy?

In a word: no.

In fact, Black Friday is becoming one long week or more of continuous deal making, requiring shopper to be at their computers constantly to get the best deals. And that is the future for Black Friday. Yes, the early morning frenzies will continue. That is as traditional Christmas trees. But those early morning deals will become more targeted to those without computer access and more limited in product availability.

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