Never mind Halloween, Thanksgiving, and those December gift-giving holidays. The real seasonal excitement for tech gear enthusiasts is Black Friday, that holiest of shopping days that falls on the fourth Friday of November. It's a special time when bargain-seeking hordes may cause a fatality or two to score a deeply discounted plasma TV or Blu-ray player.
If it seems too early for Black Friday coverage, well, you're probably still wearing your summer flip-flops. Major retailers like Wal-Mart, fearing lackluster holiday sales during a lengthy recession, have already launched Christmas promotions. Their strategy: The best way to get consumers' holiday dollars is to lock them into an early Xmas purchase.
Hot Deals This Year?
BFAds, a site that sends subscribers e-mail messages about Black Friday bargains, today fired off its first seasonal mailing. "We expect the ads to start trickling in within the next couple of weeks, and become a daily ordeal come November," wrote BFAds founder and president Michael Brim.
Given the state of the economy, what kind of bargains can we expect? "Discretionary spending is obviously down," Brim tells PC World. "Companies may offer tremendous loss-leaders, but I think only the larger ones like Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Staples will be able to do that."
"Mom-and-pop stores, if that's where you go for Black Friday, won't necessarily have the budget to do that. I don't imagine them taking huge hits," Brim says.
Tech Gear Can't Get Much Cheaper
The biggest Black Friday deals are always in consumer electronics, but retailers have already slashed profit margins on those items to the bone. As a result, November's bargains may not seem as killer as they have in past years.
"It's not out of the norm to see a weekly ad with a computer for $400. Let's say Best Buy offers a computer for $300. That's 25 percent off, but when you look at the absolute value, it's only $100 off. People will think, 'It's not that good,'" Brim says. "Unless (retailers) take a huge hit on these loss-leaders, there's just not that much wiggle room anymore."
Timing Is Everything
Dan de Grandpre, CEO of dealnews.com, believe this year's Black Friday deal will be very similar to 2008's. "As with last year, the best time to buy the item you need may not be on Black Friday itself. Instead, it's just as likely to be days or even a week or two before the actual event," he says.
"Many analysts have mentioned that lower inventories this year will lead to fewer bargains. That may be true, but that's likely to only affect the bargains close to Christmas, when inventory will presumably be lowest," de Grandpre adds.
The final word: "People are going to try to shop for the holiday season, no matter what," says Brim.