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Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday: The Rivalry Is Over, Consumers Won

Friday, 18 Nov 2011 | 3:28 PM ET

For bargain hunters on the prowl for the best deal, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are no longer an either-or proposition — and that’s a huge plus for consumers.

David Kohl

“Over the last year, Cyber Monday has caught up to Black Friday,” says Dan de Grandpre, CEO and editor-in-chief of Dealnews.com, an online consumer resource for retail deals.

That’s a game-changer for die-hard Black Friday shoppers, who traditionally pore over ads for both days to plot a strategy to get the best bang for the buck.

Now, with the proliferation of shopping options both in-store and online over the week of Thanksgiving, Black Friday — the Friday after Thanksgiving — and Cyber Monday — the Monday that follows — seem more like overlapping bookends.

“These days, consumers don’t care whether you call it Black Friday or Cyber Monday — all they care about is the price,” says Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at the NPD Group. “And retailers — increasingly having to grab consumers’ attention during Thanksgiving leisure time — are now so willing to be flexible and move these deal dates around, they don’t seem to care what you call these days either.”

That means consumers may have more opportunities to snag a good deal, and they may be able to pick whether they want to be a night owl, and stake out retailers opening at midnight on Black Friday; or an early bird, and awake before dawn; or eschew the entire thing, and go shopping in their pajamas from their computer at home.

If you’re on the fence, consider this:

1. Retailers have committed to higher quality deals on Cyber Monday. “As recently as three years ago, Black Friday — dominated by Big Store brands — was clearly better than smaller brand-focused and clothing-focused Cyber Monday, in terms of the number and quality of deals, as well as the number of participating retailers,” says de Grandpre of DealNews.

But research conducted by Dealnews reveals that last year Black Friday had only five percent more deals than Cyber Monday did, a drop of five percent from the prior year. Clearly, the deal-gap is closing, which levels the playing field.

2. Range of discounts on both days has become very similar. It’s true that discounts on Black Friday and Cyber Monday do vary, because retailers can manipulate pre-discount pricing, and because the margins on electronic items differ from those on clothing. Nevertheless, the range of discounts is pretty much identical, says de Grandpre, generally from about 30 percent to as much as 75 percent. “More typically, you see maximum discounts at about 50 percent, less for computers and appliances,” he says.

3. Brick-and-mortar and online retailers are fueling each other’s sales. Smart retailers are increasingly unifying their physical and online stores.

“There’s some form of integration between those two channels, whether it’s in terms of language, promotions or pricing,” says Paco Underhill, CEO of Envirosell, a retail-focused research and consulting firm.

Underhill, author of "Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping," notes that a retailer’s online presence allows consumers to gather information about promotions, go into a brick-and-mortar store to examine and handle the product, and then either buy it in store or online at a later date.

4. More people are now buying online. Nearly 68 percent of retailers polled say they expect online sales to grow at least 15 percent or more compared with last holiday season, according to Shop.org’s eHoliday survey. And, says the National Retail Federation, the average shopper plans to do about 36 percent of their holiday shopping online this year, up from 32.7 percent in 2010.

Also, adds de Grandpre of DealNews, five years ago, people weren’t so comfortable entering their credit-card numbers. But many shoppers started with small-value purchases, such as books, and worked their way up to larger-value buys.

5. Black Friday deals are now often available online on Thursday. Very few retailers’ brick-and-mortar stores are open on Thanksgiving, though there are some, but shopping at their online counterparts on Thursday is a big option.

“The vast majority of items you’d want to buy in store on Friday at the big-box retailers are available at the stroke of midnight on Thursday, with slightly different pricing, with more postings added gradually,” says de Grandpre.

Shoppers have lots of ways to check and compare these deals with websites such as Dealnews, www.blackfriday.us, and www.theblackfriday.com, and Black Friday shopping applications on mobile phones. These sites and apps often post leaked Black Friday ads ahead of time, giving shoppers an opportunity to compare deals.

6. Many retailers are now doing good promotions early in the week. “Many promotions — which can be as qualitative as those found on Black Friday — can begin as early as Tuesday,” says de Grandpre. “It’s now really a whole week of retail marketing,” he says, calling these opportunities “Black Friday-quality deals.”

The blurring of language — retailers’ using “Black Friday” to describe deals that happen on days other than the day after Thanksgiving — makes Black Friday less about one day of the year and more about a deal’s perceived value.

And it gets even more confusing when retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores kick-off the shopping eventat 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving day, with deals rolling out over the course of several hours.

The push-up doesn’t only apply to Black Friday. This year, says NPD's Cohen, about 25 percent of retailers will start Cyber Monday deals earlier than its designated day as well. “Two years ago it started on Monday, last year on Saturday, and this year it will likely start Friday,” he says.

“For the last several years, Walmart, Best Buy, Staples and a handful of major Big Box retailers have made extremely limited numbers of doorbusters — traditionally the hallmark of Black Friday — available both in-store and online on both Black Friday and Cyber Monday,” says de Grandpre of DealNews. Those numbers are increasing. Last year, for Black Friday, Target offered doorbusters online for the first time.

Black Friday online deals resonate with consumers. “I’d rather buy something online because I’ll know instantly if I’ve gotten it or not,” says Cohen of NPD, who notes that scoring a Black Friday deal online makes it unnecessary to wait until Cyber Monday. “And if consumers can net a doorbuster online, they won’t have to turn up in store.”

8. Coupons fuel both in-store and online sales. It’s not unusual for retailers, who are keen to drive traffic to their brick-and-mortar stores, to provide consumers who shop online with a coupon to be used in store, generally within a certain time period, says Cohen. He adds, shoppers typically buy more inside a physical store than they do online. The outcome is that retailers wind up promoting both Black Friday and Cyber Monday offerings, without playing favorite.

The main takeaway is that with a little research, consumers can find deals on the products they want, and they may not have to fight the crowds on Black Friday to get it.

Retailers “want to beat each other to the punch, because it’s all about who gets there first,” says Cohen.

And that’s good news for consumers, any day of the week.

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