It's make-or-break time for many brands, especially retail ones. Wal-Mart and Amazon have started World War III, and Best Buy needs good numbers. Also, everyone from JC Penney to Sears to Radio Shack to Kohl's needs consumers to loosen the purse strings. A retail brand with nothing to worry about this year? Circuit City.
So, how bad could it be? Check out Gizmodo's Black Friday disaster photoshop contest. Or, you know, for less photoshopped, more "real" disaster potential, check out the stock performance of retailers before the market closes, maybe mercifully, at noon. Target, Sears, Tiffany & Co., J Crew, and Best Buy were all gainers on Wednesday's close but, thanks to the Dubai mess, every stock is down this morning.
Anyway, let's see how it's going so far...
In California, some Best Buys are reporting over 1,000 people lined up for 5:00 am openings. And flatscreen TVs. That's the story so far. People are really after the flatscreen TV deals. One TV deal that nobody will be getting? Sears' a 54-inch 1080p HDTV for $399.99:
"WHOOPS! The email we sent you Monday had the wrong TV offer in it! We are not offering a Panasonic 54" class 1080p 600Hz plasma HDTV for $399.99. We apologize for this mistake and assure you that we are taking every step to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Business Insider has an outstanding round-up of Tweets from this morning's Black Friday openings (warning: a couple feature harsh language). The site also has an early morning collection of reports from the front lines:
"Aurora, Illinois: 'Black Friday shoppers got an early start this year, causing a 2-mile traffic back-up near Chicago Premium Outlets in Aurora...Starting about 11 p.m. Thursday, cars began lining up to get into the mall, according to Illinois State Police...The mall opened at midnight, and the heavy traffic remained for several hours, State Police said.'"
Elsewhere, it appears shoppers are not dissuaded and are doing the rounds:
"The friends said they had been shopping all night, starting at Toys "R" Us, which opened at midnight. They said they arrived there at 11 p.m., but didn’t get in until 12:30 a.m. After that, they stopped at Wal-Mart, which was open all night but had special sales starting at 5 a.m. Even after the full night of shopping, Woodring and Metcalfe said they hadn’t quite checked everyone off their gift-buying lists.
'We’re getting there,' Woodring said."
And those Zhu Zhu hamsters? They just might save Toys "R" Us's bacon. Good grief:
"Zhu Zhu fanatics were so numerous on Thanksgiving night, that they were given their own line in front of the flagship Toys R Us store in New York's Times Square. Hundreds of shoppers queued for hours ahead of the midnight opening, specifically so they could get their hands on the robotic rodents."
But for those shoppers who are getting late starts, the best deals are already gone, including those Zhu Zhu hamsters. Target's Leap Frog Fridge Magnets are gone. Wal-Mart's $98 Nintendo DS Lite is sold out. It's 50-inch TV and Rock Star game deals? Ditto. But Wal-Mart clerks in Georgia said "$2 bath towels, kitchen items and children's toys were also selling well."
So where might late-rising (hungover?) shoppers want to turn now? Amazon.com:
With an estimate of 5% more shoppers participating this year over last, most early estimates are for a better retail season. Early reports from Grapevine Mills in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas indicate stores are already seeing double-digit increase in sales over last year's Black Friday. If that holds even partly true for many other retailers and brands, this could be a very happy holiday indeed.
This will especially be the case if a successful Black Holiday manages to "brand" the retail season. That is to say, if consumers hear positive reports about other consumers being very confident this season, about how the worst is all behind them, about how the deals are too good to pass up, they might be more likely to have a positive outlook themselves. Like any strong brand, it's infectious.
For all Black Friday Live! posts go to the Black Friday Live! tag.