Question of the Week: Black Friday Shoppers Go Online For More Deals, Fewer Crowds

[Editor's Note: Last week we asked readers what their Black Friday shopping strategy entailed. Some of our readers' responses are listed below - along with next week's question, "Is Appealing to Online Shoppers the Key to U.S. Retailers' Survival?"]

"Black Friday" was once known as the day that determined holiday shoppers awoke before dawn to get in line at their favorite retailer for once-a-year discounts.

In recent years, however, Black Friday has morphed into a month-long retailing bacchanalia that's defined by extended in-store hours, Internet-only deals and smartphone-user specials.

The National Retail Federation estimated that 138 million shoppers would hit stores this weekend, and merchants hoped this shopping weekend would mark the full-fledged return of the formerly reticent U.S. consumer.

After two straight seasons of lackluster holiday sales results, eager retailers used their best efforts to jumpstart this year's holiday shopping season, rolling out more Pre-Black Friday deals than ever before. Electronics specialist Newegg Inc. even held a "Black November" campaign starting after Halloween.

"This is our time of the year," said Toys "R" Us Chief Executive Officer Jerry Storch. "We know Christmas is competitive. We plan for it. We are aggressive and competitive with everyone."

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT), Target Corp. (NYSE: TGT) and Best Buy Co. Inc. (NYSE: BBY) offered some of the most sought-after deals, appealing to gadget-hungry consumers with discounts on TVs, e-readers and smartphones.

"Retailers are grasping for anything they can get," Farla Efros, senior vice president at consulting firm PwC, told MarketWatch. "Is Black Friday the silver bullet? No. It's a way to stimulate consumers to physically walk the doors in the hope they get the fever. If retailers miss the season, they are done for the year."

This year, more stores opened their doors on Thursday - Thanksgiving Day - determined to be the first stop for holiday shoppers embarking on the biggest shopping weekend of the year. Sears Holdings Corp.'s (Nasdaq: SHLD) Sears and Kmart stores - as well as The Gap Inc.'s (NYSE: GPS) Old Navy chain - opened Thursday.

"Retailers are trying to be in front of customers 24/7," said Noam Paransky, retail strategist at Kurt Salmon Associates. "It's exploding this year."

This year also underscored the emergence of the "smartphone." Savvy, smartphone-equipped shoppers were able to take advantage of mobile-only deals as they shopped. New mobile applications allow customers to scan barcodes for more detailed pricing and product information, to "check in" as they enter a store to qualify for special over-the-phone coupons, and access inventories online when the most popular items are out of stock on shelves.

"It's about making it easier for customers," said Bridget Trask of relationship-management company Convergys Corp.'s (NYSE: CVG) retail products group. "The buyer has a lot of choices. It's hard to compete on just prices any more."

And competition among stores was more intense than ever this year - much to shoppers' delight. Retailers most successful at raking in revenue this weekend could get back on track after a recession that sent many chains deep into the red.

This prompted last week's Money Morning "Question of the Week:" What's your
"Black Friday" shopping plan? Are you heading out to stores - as early as Thanksgiving Day - or do you prefer to shop online? Have you already started holiday shopping using some of the Pre-Black-Friday specials? Is your smartphone playing a role in this year's holiday shopping?

The following reader responses highlight a shift to online shopping for this year's Black Friday frenzy.

Thrilled With Web Site Ease

I went looking for deals on a washer, a dryer and a dishwasher. I saved $450 from The Home Depot Inc. (NYSE: HD), as the Sears Holdings Corp. (Nasdaq: SHLD) site was not easy. The delivery is in December at a date of my choosing. So thrilled!

- Mary S.

Don't Feed the "Beast"

What's my Black Friday shopping strategy?

I'm not shopping! I'm not feeding the "Beast!" And I'm betting that things are cheaper in January.

- Glen G.

Online Refuge

I hate crowds. I stayed home and changed out the kitchen sink for my wife (a "honey-do" that has been in the works for months.) I did order a couple of items online, but I did not enter a store on Friday.

- Gordon F.

Empty Streets

I usually avoid going out by car at all on Black Friday due to the horrendous traffic. A spilled bottle of juice forced me to head to the local supermarket. I reluctantly took the car because it was cold and raining this New England morning.

I was shocked to find absolutely no traffic at all in the vicinity of the shopping center. I even got a spot near the door, which never happens regardless of the day. Usually, even an ordinary day that is not Black Friday has the roads to the shopping center backed up with traffic for a mile.

Based on the high-end stores that were empty, I don't believe this Christmas will prove to be the bumper-retailing year as predicted.

- Michael C.

The True Reason for Christmas

I quit the holiday present buying game when the kids became adults. The grandchildren get homemade gifts from my wife and holidays away from their homes to be with the grandparents.

They all learn about God and Jesus and the reason for Christmas!

- Burt S.

Busy Malls, Careful Shoppers

I was careful in what I purchased, going for only what we need at the best price and quality. The mall was very busy, busier than last year. It seems that people are spending cautiously just like me.

- H.L.

[Editor's Note: Thanks to all who responded to last week's "Question of the Week" feature regarding Black Friday holiday shopping.

Be sure to answer next week's question about online shoppers: Is appealing to online shoppers the key to U.S. retailers' survival? Have Black Friday and Cyber Monday taught us that an online marketplace is the future's shopping center? As a consumer, would you benefit or suffer from this shift away from in-store shopping? As an investor, will you look to profit from online retailer stocks?

Send your answers to [email protected].!

Is there a topic you want to see covered as a "Question of the Week" feature? Then let us know by e-mailing Money Morning at [email protected]. Make sure to reference "question of the week suggestion" in the subject line. We reserve the right to edit responses for length, grammar and clarity.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to participate - via e-mail or by posting their comments directly on the Money Morning Web site.]

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