Commentary

How I Abandoned In-Store Black Friday Specials And Opted For Online

Retailers did a much better job of promoting Black Friday sales and hours through search this year. Dozens of brick-and-mortar stores began offering specials on Thanksgiving Day. Macy's, among others, tapped into Sitelinks to promote deals through google.com, which gave searchers anywhere from 15% to 50% off, most offering free shipping. 

I advocate buying online Black Friday for one simple fact. Consumers who brave in-store sales starting at midnight could have stayed home and clicked their way to the purchase through search queries and retail sites for nearly the same price. Here's the story. I wanted to experience the "in-store" chaos, so I stopped in at the local Wal-Mart Store with a friend to find the Xbox and Kinect bundle for the advertised price of $199.

It took us a few trips around the parking lot to find an empty space. Once in the store, crowds made it difficult to walk through the aisles. Employees allowed people to enter the store throughout the day and night, but the cash registers closed early, reopening at 10 p.m. Since no one left the store and employees kept allowing people to come in, the lines looped in and around displays.

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It didn't take long before I abandoned the idea of making an in-store purchase, and I returned to the computer, where I searched on and found a similar deal at sears.com. There were several challenges to the in-store experience. First, finding a parking spot. Second, finding the items in stock. Third, waiting for several hours during the checkout process. 

Aside from traditional online retail deals, this year developers built a variety of mobile apps to help shoppers find deals. One of the more interesting apps allows shoppers to calculate savings. For example, Sale Saver figures out the sale price based on the listed price, percent off, and sales tax. Decide.com analyzes pricing trends for popular products, and suggests buying it now or waiting. Using a barcode scanner or basic searches and browsing, the app analyzes the item's price during the past two weeks to determine the most recent price trend. 

But according to Decide.com, Black Friday may not hold the day with the best deals. Oren Etzioni, who founded Farecast, an airline-ticket price predictor that Microsoft acquired for $115 million, created the concept and algorithms that predict pricing trends for products and services. Decide.com studies current and historic trends, pulling in prices from around the Web to determine whether it's best to wait or buy.

Midday results from IBM Coremetrics suggest strong online shopping for Thanksgiving Day 2011. Sales rose 20% for the day, compared with the year-ago day. Mobile shopping also remained strong. The number of consumers using a mobile device to visit a retailer's site rose to 15.8%, and continued to climb to 16.2% by the afternoon. The number of consumers using their mobile device to make a purchase remained just above 10% for the day.

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