Black Friday Intelligence

The cat-and-mouse game over Black Friday ads may be ending. In years past, a number of Web sites have vied to reveal the most the soonest. Somehow, they manage to get to peek at the sales circulars for major retailers in advance of their distribution on Thanksgiving. Reactions to this practice have been varied. According to one report, last year at least one retailer submitted their own ads to one or more of these sites and asked them to post them. I guess it’s good to get a market buzz any way you can.

This year, retailers are varying their reaction. Wal-Mart has threatened to sue anyone who leaks their information. On the other hand, stores are also preempting these sites by releasing their sales information early. The Michigan store chain Meijer has already posted their Black Friday sales on their Web site. And Wal-Mart has promised to post their sales on their Web site on Monday.

CompUSA is going to preempt Black Friday itself by offering shopping hours with special offers on Thanksgiving from 9 PM to midnight. (Offer void in Massachusetts and Puerto Rico where Thanksgiving shopping is against state law.) They’re keeping their deals under wraps, however, until 12:01 AM on Thanksgiving morning.

So what’s the take-away from all this? The retailers want to make sure that you’re standing in line at their store come next Friday morning. And they’re willing to offer deals before the competition, in hopes of parting you from your discretionary income (or available credit) before the other retailers get a shot at it. In a couple of years, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see some mega sales on Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

And I’ll point out once more that this year is shaping up to be a bumpy ride for retailers. The volatile stock market, consumer credit crunch, and general uncertainty among consumers look like they will team up to keep the lid on Black Friday sales. If the lines don’t materialize, expect to see the price tags come fluttering down like autumn leaves.

ADDENDUM: They used to say that by the time something hits the printed page, it’s already wrong. In this case, my electronic entry was wrong before it even got posted. This morning’s email brought an announcement from CompUSA about their “Pre-Thanksgiving Blowout Sale” today and tomorrow. They have even posted the circular online, which includes a 50″ Zenith Z50PX2D plasma television for $999: quantities limited, today only. It looks like the “mega sales” have already moved to the weekend before Thanksgiving!