Consumer Nation

Holiday Shopping, T.J. Maxx & the $399 iPad Scavenger Hunt

TJ Maxx selling the Apple iPad for $399.
Courtesy of Engadget

Discount retailer T.J. Maxx certainly created a lot of buzz this past weekend by offering Apple's iPad for $399—yes, that's right $100 off the tablet computer's usual  price.

TJX Cos.' T.J. Maxx, which is most known for selling designer fashion brands at discount prices, never advertised the limited quanities of iPadsthat were stashed at stores around the country. But the stunt underscores a few things about shopping this holiday season.

First, one of things that's fun about shopping at T.J. Maxx and its sister store Marshalls is that you never really know what you'll find. What better way to drive home that message about the brand than to spark a nationwide scavenger hunt for cheap iPads.

In this way, T.J. Maxx is being very true to their brand and this can help them build loyalty with their core customers.

In fact, that was pretty much the message that was sent by a spokeswoman in an email regarding the event.

"As an off-price retailer, our business provides an ever-changing selection of great finds of famous maker apparel and non-apparel categories at excellent values.  In other words, our mission is to offer a treasure hunt of great values, every day," said TJX spokewoman Sherry Lang, in a statement.

While Lang declined to say whether the company would do another iPad promotion this holiday season, or to provide details about how many iPads there were and where they were sold,  she said that the quantities were "very limited" and the iPads "were sourced from a retailer."

But Piper Jaffray research analyst Andrew Murphy said that there were about 80 iPads that were sold by the retailer. Further, he said since TJX is not an authorized Apple reseller, the company must have bought the tablets at retail and sold them at a loss.

Certainly, the news they've created is worth the money they spent.

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Consumers are hungry for bargainsand they are using every tool they can to track down deals, that includes Twitter, Facebook and blogs, and that's how word of this deal spread.

Another big point driven home by this event is that there really is an absence of must-have products this holiday season. But if there were one that will help get the shoppers out, the iPad is a good bet.

Electronics are supposed to be a hot seller this year, and a clothing store turning to selling an iPad proves that case.

And lastly, when the retail game is so focused on price, as it is now, stores have to be very clever to stand out in the crowd of discounts.

If you have any doubt about how high the stakes are on price this holiday season, watch Walmart . Not only has the company extended its Black Friday shopping hours, but the retailer has announced that it's going to match rivals' prices on Black Friday.

Of course, it's not like the retailer is hurting for its own bargains.

Walmart is advertising more than 90 DVD titles including "Lord of the Rings" and "Ice Age" for $1.96 each, more than 60 Blu-ray titles including "The Dark Knight" and "Superbad" for $5 each, Wrangler Jeans for Men for $9 each, and a Nintendo Wii console with a $50 Walmart Gift Card for $199—and that's just the bargains it is offering at Midnight. Some of the deals 5 a.m. are even sweeter.

The retailer even has something for those who don't want to head out into the cold to stake a place on a long Black Friday line: there will be online-only deals on Thanksgiving day such as a $79 Kodak M530 camera bundle for $79 and a 37-inch LCD HDTV from RCA for $399.

Consumers do appear to be responding to these early deals. According to MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse report, retail and service sales in the first half of November are tracking higher than the year-ago period.

"For now at least, we are seeing some decent growth numbers and while levels are not yet back to 2007, the year-over-year growth stats are helping to get this holiday season off to an encouraging start," said Michael McNamara, vice president, Research and Analysis for MasterCard Advisors .

(Note: The original story was updated to include the comment from TJX.)

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