Many retailers — those who have survived the rough economy — have struggled this past year. Companies are looking forward to the holiday season because they know consumers are in a tough position, too. Here is how it works: the economy is recovering, but unemployment is the last piece of the economy to improve in a recovery. With an national unemployment rate of 10.2%, Americans are finding it more difficult to rationalize frivolous or expenses. We’ve seen a broad trend towards frugality during the recession and we’re not quite ready to bid farewell to the newly found focus on savings.
The credit crunch has affected consumers as well, and fewer people have access to what has normally been a boost during the holiday season, cheap credit.
Despite the lack of access to income and credit for spending, consumers want to do what they can to make the holiday season seem normal. Experts predict this holiday season will be similar to last years, though some predict slightly less spending and some predict slightly more. We would expect retailers to use the same play book as last year. Shoppers will find Black Friday doorbusters offering the best deals and unannounced deals online.
There are some caveats. Included in the fine print amongst the Black Friday advertisements and circulars is often a number of conditions. The best deals are commonly found only in limited quantities. The time you need to be at the store to receive the deal is also limited. If you need to be at two different stores at 5:00 am or earlier to line up before the doors open, you need to choose. Many of the doorbusters are only available in person, as well.
While deals are in abundance, they exist mostly as teasers in order to get the most customers in the door at the same time. These deals are often just one step away from bait-and-switch scams. Last year’s Black Friday death at Wal-Mart shows how retailers can be irresponsible and unprepared and how customers can be horrifying for the sake of saving a few dollars. I plan on avoiding the morning shopping madness this coming Friday.
Stores also tend to suspend consumer-friendly practices during the period after Thanksgiving. You will have a more difficult time getting stores to match prices if another local store has the same product advertised at a lower price. For many products, this practice is suspended. In the past few years, retailers have limited return policies. During other times of the year, if a sale item is out of stock, you can get a rain check. But for the holidays, sales are first-come, first-served.
Shopping online won’t be much better. Last year, some retailers couldn’t handle their online sales. In some cases companies couldn’t ship the products sold for weeks or months after the orders were placed, and in other cases they resorted to shipping similar products when inventory ran out.
Should companies be allowed to advertise deals that will only be available to a few customers? If one store has, for example, three televisions — not three brands or three models, three televisions — to sell at a super low price to the first three people that day who want one, is this deal truly “available?”
I plan on avoiding Black Friday as much as possible this year. I am not a fan of crowds and very few sales are worth dealing with frenzied shoppers and grumpy salespeople. I may be monitoring a few stores online but unless I see fantastic deals on a selected group of interesting items offered by a retailer I can trust, I’ll be keeping my credit card in my wallet. The holiday season may be a bit easier for me than it is for others as I am sans kids, but I hope to continue this approach even if my life changes in the future.
What’s your plan for holiday shopping this year. Will you brave the crowds on Friday or stick to browsing online?
Photo credit: jardenberg
Updated January 16, 2010 and originally published November 23, 2009.