Black Friday and Cyber Monday: May the Bargains Rest In Peace.

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What once were days for finding real deals has devolved into marketing hype

Canada’s Marketing Magazine ( published a story yesterday about Canadians “flocking” to Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales in that country.  That had me scratching my head, then rolling my eyes at the ceiling.  For those not from Canada, Thanksgiving there falls on the second Monday in October.  There is no reason for a “Black Friday” shopping day after Canadian Thanksgiving, unless you see a really good deal on Halloween candy that week.

Willy Kruh, global chairman in retail markets at KPMG, told the magazine that Cyber Monday is growing at an even faster pace in Canada than Black Friday, as “retailers look for new ways to fight back against U.S. competitors eating into their profits.”  But hold on there.  “Black Friday” started in Canada just three years ago when retailers — mostly US-based companies that ship their profits to their American headquarters, mind you — came up with a whiz-bang idea to pry money out of Canadians’ wallets earlier on in the Christmas shopping season.  The historical big shopping day in Canada is Boxing Day, which falls on the day after Christmas.  (So, if you’re wondering, it is never bad form to give Canadians money at the holiday.)

The End is Nigh for Bargain Shoppers in the US.

5 to 10 years ago, I actually got extremely good deals in the US when they were called “After Thanksgiving” Sales. In fact, it got referred to as Black Friday only in boardrooms back then, and maybe on Fatwallet or Slickdeals deal-hunter sites that were very much under the radar of most shoppers.  Of course, “Black” signifies when the year’s net revenues head solidly into the profit column.

Greed has often replaced goodwill, and not only in the boardroom.
Greed has often replaced goodwill, and not only in the boardroom.

I’m completely unimpressed now.  There were real “doorbusters” years ago when stores opened at 7 AM on Friday with about 15 people in line in front of Staples, for example, and we stayed in our warm cars until 6:45.  When I participated, I hit Staples at 7, then the now-defunct Circuit City (which opened an hour later), then maybe JCPenney or Kohl’s.  I was usually back home in 3 hours, then spent the next 2 hours filling out rebate forms for stuff that were true “doorbusters.”  A typical take of totally free stuff was some blank DVDs, a laptop case, digital camera case, and even a halogen floor lamp once!  Then there were usually some very good deals on things like sheet sets, DVD player/recorders or stereo speakers.  Even then, it was not a good time to buy a TV or computer (hint: wait for January when the new models come out).  Retailers even threatened to sue deal sites that posted their flyers ahead of distribution in the Thursday newspaper.

I remember staying up a couple of Thanksgiving nights or waking up at 4 AM to grab the deals on Staples’ website and suffering through the extremely slow ordering process due to the website getting hammered.   This year: zero real deals.  Nothing.  Nada.  At Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy and everywhere else.  But they promoted these un-specials with millions of dollars of ad spend throughout the week prior, and welcomed all to see the flyers ahead of time.  Maybe it was because there was no reason to hide them?   The same laptop computer I paid $249 for before Labor Day after a coupon and rebate was on “sale” for $549 Friday.  It’s now all hype, rather than substance.

Of course, there were the idiots who lined up back then for hours at Best Buy or CompUSA (also a dead company) in hopes of getting 1 of the 5 loss leader crappy laptops.  Then, the truly hardy (and foolish) camped out only overnight… not for 2 days as now.  However, that is all history from prior to 2008.

This year, I frankly wanted a refund for the $2.00 I wasted on the newspaper.  I was in the US at the time.  I slept in.

Why I’m Playing Taps for Bargains.  And for Time Spent with Family.

As a marketer, I’m to blame for a lot of hype over my career, but within boundaries and ethics.  But now, some profiteering marketers have teamed up with bean counters and are opening stores Thanksgiving evening at 8:00 PM.  There is no such thing as a statutory holiday anymore, apparently.  Or, perhaps, there’s just a complete lack of respect for employees now.  Thanksgiving and Christmas Day were the last remaining holidays most US retail workers could spend with family, but the former is now trashed.  I find this despicable, as poorly-paid retail workers don’t even get that day off any more after working hard to set up for the Friday craziness (and getting ready to referee the fistfights, and practice avoiding getting trampled to death as occurred a couple years ago at a Walmart).  One Walmart employee interviewed for the news said she was scheduled for two 8-hour shifts in 24 hours, with only 4 hours off.  Deplorable.

Black Friday discounts for consumers in the US are now big yawns compared to 5 and 10 years ago.  But, people are lining up in droves.  I guess there is a sucker born every minute, as con-man Joseph “Paper Collar Joe” Bessimer has been credited as uttering (no, it wasn’t P. T. Barnum, who treated his customers very well).

Bricks and Mortar Retailers hastening their own demise?

According to more than one analyst, opening Thanksgiving Day actually could hurt sales.  The folks who ran out even before their turkey was digested were more apt to buy only the doorbusters, then go home.  On the other hand, if they hit the stores Friday morning, there is more chance of them buying more stuff after all the deep discounts are gone and making an all-day family shopping trip out of it.  Also, if deals are lacking at retail stores, as they certainly were in 2012, customers will accelerate their move to online ordering where they don’t buy as much stuff, and are much less apt to make impulse purchases.  Retail revenue will fall.  Best Buy will fail faster than it is now.  Amazon and Newegg will win.  It’s also been widely reported that there’s not much change in prices online or at retail beginning a week or so before Black Friday.  It’s mostly all hype, not real deals.  Frankly, I’m half-wishing these open-on-Thanksgiving Big Box corporate folks end up shooting themselves in the foot so they’ll return to the way it was.

I fear, though, that lemmings will be lemmings.

American-style Corporate Greed Invading Canada

Staples Canada Black Friday Ad.

North of the border, there’s the issue of a complete non-Canadian American holiday being adopted by retailers in Canada with even fewer real deals than in their US stores.  US-based Sears is to blame for this foolishness because it started Black Friday Canadian sales in 2007; Sears stores in both countries are, more often than not, ghost towns at the best of times, so I’m guessing it was a gimmick born out of desperation.

Concerning Cyber Monday becoming big in Canada: there’s not much reason for consumers to truly embrace it, as competition is lacking, shipping prices are disadvantageous, and nobody enjoys the sales tax breaks as most Americans do, who usually pay no tax for Internet orders. selections are horrid compared to, for example, and Canadians will end up paying up to 15% sales tax at a bricks and mortar or online.  So, there’s little advantage to shop online there.

Instead of trying this gimmick, Canadian retailers need to seriously look at their competitiveness.  Prices on almost everything there are inflated, even when one considers excise taxes built-in to prices.  Competition is lacking.  The two major electronics chains, Best Buy and Future Shop, are the same company.  US chains operating there never offer the same deals or loyalty programs as their US stores do. (So, Staples Canada, where’s my $2 for turning in an empty ink cartridge, eh?, and my 2 free packs of free-after-rewards 16-pack Duracell batteries?  And where’s my $10 off $50 coupons I get emailed to me in the US all the time? Oh, right. No competition.)  Grocery and drug chains hand out silly points a customer needs to collect for years, instead of offering double coupons and immediate discount gratification or loyalty coupons that need to be redeemed within a few weeks. If 40% of Canadians are heading south of the border for shopping this holiday season, as has been reported, there’s a reason: your prices are too high!

Why Many American Consumers Are Dissatisfied

Years ago, deal forums would be filled with people bragging about their deals.  That is extremely rare now.  It’s now more Moan than Brag.

Some typical comments from different folks on the Black Friday / Cyber Monday forum at US’; praise was hard to come by:

  • Isn’t today supposed to be Cyber Monday?  So where are all the deals?
  • And last Friday was supposed to be Black Friday.  Where were the deals?  It’s just a gimmick.  Cyber Monday is just 10% off already overpriced trash.
  • Random online deals that are found throughout the year blow away any Black Friday or Cyber Monday deal.
  • BF + CM = BUST.
  • I went to Target and was 100% underwhelmed.
  • Less online stores honoring orders and more and more canceling them every year.
  • Having it start at 8 PM on Thursday at some stores is pretty much what killed Black Friday.
  • What a joke in 2012.  These are the same deals you can find on freaking Presidents’ Day.
  • What a real disappointment.  I bought a 32″ Samsung couple days ago before Friday.  It’s still the same price today.
  • BF and CM these days are nothing more than gimmicks to trick uneducated consumers into thinking they are getting a bargain.

Amen on that last one. Although written by an American, the same reality exists north of the 49th Parallel.

Gee, maybe next year Canadian retailers can start having mattress sales on Presidents’ Day just like those in the States, even if Canada has Prime Ministers.  That shouldn’t matter when profits are in play, right?

Jonathan Blaine

I've always called myself a "Marketing Guy." If I had a brand and logo, perhaps that would be my slogan. Measuring ROI is huge. Just because you're now using "new media" does not mean marketing fundamentals should be discarded. Customers' desires do not change. I'm a "right-brained creative analytical" guy (if you can fathom such a thing) who looks at a project several different ways. My first instinct is usually the correct one. I'm a "doer," and often a "diplomatic fixer;" someone who gets things done and still gets a thrill out of customers actually buying something because of something I mailed to them, or an ad I placed. Most of my success has come from strategy, writing, how ideas are presented to the potential customer and the actual thoughts that somehow originate within the ether between my ears. As a fan of DM guru Denny Hatch, I believe that the brand should never outweigh the message, and that art should never win over copy. The mix has to be “just right.” And continually tested. I have solid ryttan, err, written and verbal communication skills, and a reputation for consistently producing cost-effective quality work.

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