What's With All the Big TVs This Black Friday?
This was supposed to be the "Year of the Tablet" but Black Friday dispatches from the mall keep pointing to strong sales of big-screen TVs.
So what gives? Didn't shoppers get the memo?
One retail industry consultant said she talked to a reporter Friday morning who took a break from interviewing shoppers to snag a TV for herself!
Wow, that must've been some deal.
"The day should really be coined 'Big Screen TV Day' 'cause that's basically all I saw leaving the stores," quipped Brian Sozzi, chief equities analyst at NBG Productions. He said the trend wasn't due to some deal limited to the first 20 people in line either — it was more widespread than that.
But after hours of prowling the stores, Sozzi said he thinks the season is missing that "it" factor.
"Hard to quantify, just something is awry (not seeing the crowds, the bags, the full parking lots, the intensity in the eyes/voices of consumers.)
Several other analysts were more optimistic about the Black Friday traffic, but at least two people talked about consumers being "less stressed."
Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
"Less stressed" consumers may make for a better holiday season if that means they feel more confident to spent. Perhaps, they are more secure about their individual financial situations. (Read More: Less Stress—and More Bags—This Black Friday)
But if by "less stress" they really mean "less intense" — that could be a bad thing, suggesting consumers are just going through the motions and not really getting excited about anything.
Perhaps, the trouble is looking at Black Friday from the vantage point of one or two malls, especially as the duration of the Black Friday madness is stretched out and with more shoppers going online to snag deals.
"The malls are a bit slow, we think, relative to a year ago," said Laura Champine, a managing director at Canaccord Genuity. But she noted that it is difficult to get a true picture with sales shifting online, and said the mall she was at in Queens might not be a good representative of what was going on elsewhere in the country.
That's why Champine said she favors retailers that have a strong Web presence. "The goal is to capture sales no matter where you get it from," she said.
Online sales on Thanksgiving rose 17.4 percent from a year ago, according to IBM research. For Black Friday, through noon Eastern Time, online sales were up 13.1 percent from last year.
PriceGrabber.com EO Steve Krenzer said he was seeing more activity on his price-comparison website as shoppers research product prices. Hourly search volume from midday on Thanksgiving into Black Friday was up more than 20 percent year-over-year, he said.
"I'm optimistic," Krenzer said, about his outlook for the holiday season. "Consumer confidence has certainly been up."
Shoppers have been researching tablets and smartphones on the Pricegrabber website, Krenzer said.
So again, what gives? Many observers at the mall haven't talked about tablets and smartphones flying off the shelves. Perhaps, the Black Friday bargain hunter just isn't ready to commit to a tablet yet, or perhaps they are shopping elsewhere. (Read More: Consumers Seek Eternal Bargains: Tanger CEO)
Another item Krenzer has seen a lot of shoppers researching is lingerie and at least here, there is an example of the real world and the online world meshing, given the large crowds at Limited's Victoria's Secret stores. (Read More: Scenes from the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show)
Maybe that's the "hot" item we've been looking for!
-By Christina Cheddar Berk, CNBC.com News Editor