Having survived the past four days—heretofore referred to as Black Weekend—it’s safe to say that there are several observations to be made on what the traditional kickoff to holiday shopping means for the balance of the season.
1. There are no meaningful observations to be made on what the traditional kickoff to holiday shopping means for the balance of the season. The past four days are only meaningful about the past four days.
2. When a retailer started their holiday sale and opened its doors is in direct proportion to how desperate that retailer was. The earlier it opened, the more desperate. Most of the mass guys and big boxers opened at 5 a.m. on Friday, as did that most promotional of all promoters, Macy’s. But Lord & Taylor also was an early riser, opening at 5. Radio Shack, which never quite knows what it is, opened at 5:30, maintaining its retail ambiguity. J.C. Penney, in its constant drive to do everything Kohl’s does—but do it more desperately—opened at 4 a.m. But Kohl’s was right there anyway, starting at the same time and remaining open until midnight to boot, one hour later than Penney. Sears opened at 4 but nobody noticed. Toys “R” Us opened at midnight. Kmart, the most desperate retailer in America, started its holiday sale on Labor Day.
By the way, the Bloomingdale’s Soho store in New York City opened at 10 a.m., late by comparison, but practically the middle of the night for anyone who shops south of 14th street in Manhattan.
3. Just about every retailer that did television advertising went the item route, advertising specific products at specific prices. Just about everyone except Target. It ran a clever, but not terribly specific, corporate campaign, featuring a frightening female shopper who was frankly somebody you really didn’t want to identify with. Target usually gets extra points around here for taking the high road, but this was a case where it probably should have been down in the gutter with everyone else.
4. Some stores ran unprecedented promotions. The aforementioned Target, in its newspaper circular, advertised “Our lowest prices ever.” Bed Bath and Beyond’s coupon this time around was for 20 percent off the “entire purchase,” not just the traditional single item. Kohl’s featured over 300 early bird specials. Poor Macy’s only had 250.
5. Some stores that almost never run newspaper circulars did: A.J. Wright, the TJX unit that makes its Marshall and Maxx brothers look positively upscale; Pier 1 Imports, which continues to defy all the experts (this one included) and maintain—even improve at least a little—its business; and Michaels, which managed to squeeze in five—count ’em five—coupons in its four-page circular, including one featuring a drawing of a turkey that bore more than a passing resemblance to a traditional Thanksgiving manatee.
6. Details on the number of limited quantity units available were announced at a volume level only dogs could hear.
7. By Friday morning, Kohl’s was already through with Thanksgiving and had moved on, advertising Christmas Super Saturday. For sheer creativity in promotions, not to mention chutzpah, you have to hand it to Kohl’s every time.
8. Online retailing has finally found its killer app: No strings attached free shipping. It’s been used before on a limited basis and many sites require minimum orders to get free shipping. This time around it was all over the Web. Didn’t that make you want to go out and order a pencil for 49 cents?
9. Terry Lundgren got plenty of face time on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade broadcast, wearing his traditional holiday turtleneck and movie star smile.