Bracing for Black Friday

I recognize that there are many sites that give you the “inside scoop” on the Black Friday offers. And this year — more than ever — the retailers themselves have been tipping their hand and pre-announcing their own specials. And then let’s not forget the fact that we’ve been seeing Black Friday pricing on lots of items for the past month. But I can’t let this seasonal mayhem pass without making a few observations.

1. Prices are crazy. There’s just no doubt about this. Walmart (when did they drop the hyphen?) has a Friday-only while-supplies-last offer of a Polaroid 42″ 1080p LCD HDTV for $598 (not available in all stores). A year ago, that would have bought you a 32″ 720p Polaroid set from Circuit City.

2. Retailers will try anything. I think my favorite deal is one offered by Costco on their Web site. Okay, let’s play the Price is Right. How about a Sharp 52″ 1080p LCD HDTV? Wait, they’ll bundle it with a Sharp 32″ 720p LCD HDTV. And the total package price? $1,799.99! A year ago Best Buy was selling a Sharp 52″ for $2,879.99, more than $1,000 more than the Costco bundle price. Oh, and this is not a Friday-only deal; it’s good through December 15, while supplies last.

3. It’s not going to be enough. Even Best Buy — one of the strongest retailers in the consumer electronics market — is struggling to make sales. Same store sales for September dropped 2% over last year. For October, same store sales were off 7.8%. The company predicted that at the end of November (the end of their quarter), they will have higher inventory, short-term borrowings and accounts payable than they had previously predicted.

4. Monday, December 29 could be a great day to shop. If you’ve got cash and want a great bargain on a new flat screen TV, wait until the last week of December to get your best deal. Don’t be limited to what’s on the price tag in the store; make an offer, and see what happens. At the worst, they’ll turn you down and you’ll have to buy it at the posted price. But the retailers are going to feel pretty battered by then, and looking to get whatever they can for their inventory. So if you’re not moved by the fact that prices are half what they were a year ago, you may be able to strike an even better bargain.