I've never been one for post-holiday early-bird retail sales. My family, however, loves them, having purchased much of their Christmas wrapping paper and decorations at day-after-Christmas specials over the years.
Black Friday (named for day-after-Thanksgiving sales when most retailers finally make it into the "black" for the year) has never been as big an occasion for my relatives for some reason. This year my wife and I changed that tradition, having been suckered in by Wal-mart with the promise of a $198 door-buster deal for a Samsung BD-1500 Blu-ray Disc player.
Last month I wrote about my uncle's sudden discovery of Blu-ray and how Wal-mart apparently had offered him the dazzling demo that made him a believer. Ironically, I was the one waking up at the god-awful time of 4:30 on Friday morning, to line up at that retailer, while my uncle slept in late before heading to a local specialty retailer for a Sony player at the same price.
The real punch in the gut was that our trip wasn't even successful. By the time we had trampled a couple store employees and punched a few other customers in the mouth, we reached the location of our planned purchase just in time to watch two Wal-mart employees carry a large, empty, wooden pallet away. We had slept in too late. Our dream of 1080p bliss appeared to be dead.
Not willing to let our early wake up go to waste, my wife suggested that we head to a couple of other discount stores where Blu-ray wasn't on the menu. We would purchase much-less exciting items like a deeply discounted air mattress and a couple webcams for the grandparents instead.
As we waited in our warm car for the doors at Target to open at the much more civilized hour of 6:00 a.m., I told my wife about the bad feeling that I'd had the night before, thinking that Wal-mart was the wrong place to go for a deal. We were amateurs, I said, compared with the bottom-feeders who line up at a Wal-mart store in the dark. Karen replied, "Well, I gave you an out this morning when we woke up. I asked you if you wanted to sleep in."
I told my wife that we'd actually come to Wal-mart so I could blog about it. I'm a journalist, after all, and I wanted to see for myself if a magic price point had been achieved, making Blu-ray the big holiday seller that the CE industry needed it to be. "You dragged my ass out of bed at 4:30 to write a story?" Karen groused. (I agreed to quote her saying those exact words as my penance for her loss of REM sleep that day.) The truth is, however, that I had actually imagined finding a full pallet of Blu-ray players just sitting there at Wal-mart as deal-hungry shoppers rushed to the Guitar Hero racks and shelves full of discounted video games. I was honestly surprised that anyone at Wal-mart even knew what a Blu-ray player was.
I'm not contending that my "consumer study" was by any means scientific. In fact, later that morning my mom called from a Wal-mart store in Jacksonville, Florida, having found two Samsung players remaining, un-purchased, on the pallet. I'm pleased to report that she snatched one up for my wife and me, ensuring that our home theater rack will be fully loaded for the new year.
According to an article in USA Today, one Sony Blu-ray model recently became Amazon.com's fourth-top-selling electronics device after it cut the price to $222. Consumers, like me, willing to brave the crowds flocking to Wal-Mart also found a Magnavox model for a Black Friday price of $128, down from $198.
The studio-backed Digital Entertainment Group hopes to improve disc sales with a $25 million ad campaign promoting Blu-ray on TV, online and in movie theaters through January.
Black Friday, as it turns out, was a relative success despite an economy that is officially in recession. The problem, however, may lie in how deeply discounted the products sold were versus the volume of goods that went home with shoppers on Black Friday. In other words, low margins apparently moved more goods off the shelves, but still left many U.S. retailers in the red.