Traditionally, department and big-box stores such as Target, Best Buy and KB Toys promote their post-Thanksgiving sales through circulars and newspaper inserts anywhere from a week to a few days prior to what has become known as the biggest shopping day of the year. Lately, however, consumers just aren't willing to wait until the last week to plan their purchasing strategies.
Search more than doubles
"Retailers are just beginning to realize that they are combating leaks," said Scott Krugman, a spokesman for the Retail, Advertising and Marketing Association. "We really started to see it become a trend last year."
The Yahoo Buzz Index shows a trackable number of searches for the term "Black Friday ads" starting Oct. 19 and growing 147% since that time. "Black Friday ads" was the No. 4 search term within Yahoo's miscellaneous/holiday and observances category as of Nov. 13.
Discussions in September
During that same time frame, blog discussions revolving around Black Friday, its sales and advertisements has jumped from roughly 100 blog posts a day during the first week of November to nearly 350 posts a day in the third week. FatWallet.com, a registered community of more than half a million bargain shoppers, has even set up a Black Friday section. To date, more than 100 conversation strings are taking place. The oldest dates back to September and is based on rumors of Ace Hardware's Black Friday sale.
Chief among those blogs is Consumerist.com, which has been steadily posting leaked Black Friday advertisements since it posted the contents of a Kmart circular Oct. 20. The blog's editor, Ben Popken, said he gets the ads from well-established sale-tracking sites such as Gottadeal.com and BFAds.net. When asked if he's concerned that he may be passing on inaccurate information, Mr. Popken said: "It's a small concern, but it's hard to argue when you are actually looking at a scan of the ad. Maybe there are a few small changes after the fact, but for the most part [the scans] are spot-on."
'Tipping your hat'
Mr. Krugman pointed out that just because consumers want to see the Black Friday deals earlier and earlier, doesn't mean it is in retailer's best interest to acquiesce. "If you send [your ads] out too early, you are tipping your hat to your competitors," he said. "Also, if you send it out too early, you run the risk that people will put off shopping prior to that day."
Mr. Popken disagrees, saying that if retailers truly do have the best prices, early release of their deals will only serve to further disseminate the good news and lock-in customers. "It's a big mess," he said. "When faced with the prospect of waiting in line for hours or even camping out the night before, [the consumers] want to make sure they are really getting the best possible deal."
According to the 2006 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey conducted by BigResearch, the average consumer plans to spend $791.10 for the holidays, up almost $60 from 2005. In addition, the average shopper will take advantage of all the sales and holiday discounts to spend another $99.22 on their own indulgences.
To get those dollars into their cash registers, many retailers are promoting door-buster and midnight-madness sales each weekend throughout November and December. Wal-Mart even dropped its prices to Black Friday levels early in November, but Mr. Krugman cautioned: "Consumers are always going to expect something extra special on Black Friday, even if you drop prices beforehand."