Leaks, conspiracies and price wars. They don't describe a plot from a James Bond movie. Rather, they portray what the nation's largest retailers are up against as they position themselves for Black Friday steals and deals.
Even though the big retail day is more than two weeks away, the Black Friday promotions are in heavy circulation. Many retailers are saying their flyers were "leaked." But, by whom? Angry employee? Resourceful consumer? Or, an executive in the corner office?
"It's been fascinating to see the Black Friday circular leaks develop over the past five years. Initially, they were from a third party company or disenchanted people inside a retail company that were putting the information out there without the retailers' approval. In the last few years, we've see authorized and unauthorized leaks," says National Retail Federation Vice President Ellen Davis.
Sears' Black Friday flyer "leaked" onto the internet last week. Its specials include a $229.99 24" LED RCA TV and a $399.99 42" Zenith TV. Sears will open at 4am ET that day.
According to Kohl's "leaked" Black Friday flyer, the store will open one hour earlier than Sears. Kohl's is advertising 400 early bird specials on Black Friday from 3am until 1am. The retailer is also revealed it is slashing its entire stock of toys by 50 percent.
The big concern among retailers: those early promotions could give competitors an opportunity to lower their prices on the same items.
Davis says, "Retailers are often changing their Black Friday deals up until Black Friday week. A lot of retailers feel as if they are at a disadvantage if they are released far ahead of Black Friday. Their competitors still have a chance to change prices."
And, that's what happened between Wal-Mart and Target . Wal-Mart decided to revise its holiday toy promotion list after discovering Target's "leaked" flyer offered better deals.
Retailers may be shaken by the phenomenon, but not stirred. Despite the retail game of chicken, branding expert Rob Frankel says there's nothing spontaneous about the leaks and it's all in the companies' master plan.
"It's a win, win, win type of situation. Whatever competition matches the offers or buzz about matching them, consumers get excited or it creates a run on whatever product is out there. Then, it will feed on itself and that is what retailers are hoping for," says Frankel.
It may sound like a cover-up doomed to fail, but retail "leaks" are creating a web of good deals for consumers. And, these deals are expected to get even better - as those frequent flyers continue to take off between now and the holidays
Stephanie is Squawk Box producer and senior NetNet retail correspondent. Follow her on twitter @StephLandsman
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