Note to my readers: This article from Paul Miller’s blog does a great job of putting discount holiday shopping into perspective. As an aside, I’ve known Paul for many years and for the last 3.5 he’s been my editor at Catalog Success (now All About ROI) magazine. Paul’s position as Editor in Chief recently got budgeted out of existence. Check out his blog here.
Who knows where we’ll be a year from now, but at least for this season of store and online retail bargains, the killer sales are already going on. Although there will still be big store sales this Friday and probably even bigger ones online next Monday, the big retailers already began to duke it out for the lowest prices earlier this month.
As an article on the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times noted about the biggest store retailer (Wal-Mart) and online merchant (Amazon.com), the gloves have already come off. And as the Times article points out, Wal-Mart has used the media to pick apart Amazon.com’s discounting efforts, trying to ensure the public that its prices will always be the lowest. Meanwhile, Amazon.com has taken more of a high road, noting that bargains can come from all over, not just Wal-Mart.
These two “shopping holidays” haven’t been around all that long. Although Wikipedia tells us that the term “Black Friday” dates all the way back to 1966, it also notes that it didn’t take on a true shopping connotation until 2000. Cyber Monday didn’t hit its stride until just four years ago.
Now, however, with cash-strapped consumers perhaps looking to get back in the shopping game this holiday season, they’re hungrier than ever for a good bargain. Retailers, e-commerce merchants and catalog sellers are equally eager to offer the bargains to show some sort of sales gains this season to make up for the miserable time they’ve had throughout the Great Recession.
Then, you have to factor in the tragedy that took place at a Valley Stream, Long Island, Wal-Mart store just 12 months ago when bargain-hungry shoppers trampled over a defenseless Wal-Mart employee as the store opened at the stroke of 5:00am on Black Friday, fighting their way to the store’s sale items. Wal-Mart announced just last week that although its stores will open at 5am again this Friday, it would keep its stores open a full 24 hours thereafter to try to prevent more The Who’s 1979 Cincinnati concert-like stampedes from occurring again.
What this all adds up to is the likelihood of these two shopping holidays expanding beyond just the two days. This year will offer just a taste of it. Next year could see a considerable expansion of sales days at this time of year.
It’s a trend not unlike the so-called “fifth quarter” of retail business that evolved over the past 20-plus years as the holiday shopping season took on greater and greater importance to retailers, catalog marketers and later, online sellers. What started as a surge of sales immediately following Dec. 25 kept expanding week by week over the years, leading all the way back to this very week we’re now in.
If you can date yourself all the way back to the recession of the early ’80s, you might recall the last extended period of time in American retail when cut-throat discounting reached such levels. As the economy picked up in the mid-’80s, discounting eased up, full-priced retailing edged back and service levels improved. Perhaps that could occur as soon as next year at this time, but I’m guessing that the current state of binge discounting will prevail.
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