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Widlitz: A Black Friday Guide to Turkey Tactics 101

Stacey Widlitz |Retail Consultant and Independent Analyst
Monday, 21 Nov 2011 | 9:53 AM ET
Domesticated Turkey
Domesticated Turkey

Based on what I am seeing in stores leading up to Black Friday (aka 'BF') this year I am wondering if retailers really all view us as just a bunch of turkeys?

With 10% of holiday sales at stake on Black Friday alone retailers have to pull out all the stops or what I call "turkey tactics."

With sales expected to grow only modestly this holiday season, wrestling share away from the next guy is key. Hence the barrage of offers that come in many forms (plain old discounts, money back, reward points, free gift with purchase). Some of these offers are just downright confusing while others simply won’t be available by the time you reach the front door.

Turkey tactic number one. Advertise huge discounts for BF. Get that TV, DVD or smartphone you have been dreaming about at prices too good to be true. And they usually are too good to be true. Before you push back from the dinner table and bid adieu to your family to line up at 10pm for a midnight opening read the fine print. “Quantities are limited”. “While supplies last." In other words if you are not top ten in line chances are you are out of luck. And lets face it the competition this year will be tough. Some Best Buy hopeful shoppers are already setting up camp outside stores.

Turkey tactic number two. Staggered offers. As if 5am is not early enough doors will open early this year at midnight. Retailers seem to be under the assumption that if they open first they will steal market share. Only problem is everyone has jumped on the bandwagon. Reality is we are just stretching out the pain here rather than driving incremental sales. Employees are miserable as their holiday will be cut short (case in point the Target petition and a very sad sales person I spoke with today at Victoria’s Secret ). And it is not enough that employees will be miserable, consumers will also feel duped as many offers this year will be staggered. Maybe retailers believe if they get you there at midnight for a promo that starts at 5am you might hang out for hours and fill you cart with things you do not need?

And Turkey tactic number three. Confuse your consumer AND your sales force so no one can really decipher what a good deal is. Discounts started appearing weeks ago and accelerated into this weekend. For example, Macy’s had no shortage of 50% plus off this weekend. With discounts that attractive I am not sure why I would choose to get trampled on Friday. At Saks there are pre-sale signs. So if I try something on today and like it the sales person will hold it for me and charge my credit card on Black Friday (assuming I have a Saks credit card). Once again I avoid being trampled. Now that is a deal.

But buyer beware one sales associate trying to convince me to buy an on sale item today (they might run out, sure) neglected to mention the item will be an additional 30% off on BF. This information had to be pulled out of her. And at Bloomingdale's when I inquired if on sale items would be marked down further on BF sales associates were not all that clear which items would be on the “BF list”. They did however describe gift cards with credit would be issued if I spent a certain minimum.

Whatever happened to keeping things simple?

Stacey Widlitz is the President of SW Retail Advisors Inc. She has worked at UBS, SG Cowen, Fulcrum Partners and in 2005 was one of three analysts to launch the Research Department at Pali Capital, where she covered Retail and Home Video for 5 years.

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