Postcards

How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Black Friday 2009 thwarts shopping habits, and sleep too

November 25, 2009: 12:28 PM ET

I've been reading Credit Suisse (CS) analyst Gary Balter's reports on hardline retailers since the mid-'90s, when I wrote about companies like Home Depot (HD) and Sears (SHLD). Balter is not only a savvy analyst. He's also a very good writer. This morning at 7:17, Balter emailed this note to clients about Black Friday shopping, which he titled "Bring Back the Good Old Days."  I'm on his email list, so I read it and enjoyed it so much that I asked him if we could reprint it on Postcards. "Absolutely," Balter replied. So here's a veteran Wall Street analyst on how Black Friday 2010 is upending our holiday shopping rituals.--Patricia Sellers

Guest Post by Gary Balter, managing director and senior analyst, Credit Suisse

What is happening to America? For years, we looked forward to getting together with the in-laws on Thanksgiving, watching some football, eating some turkey, and most important, pouring through every Black Friday ad and dividing up which stores we would each wait in line for. Waking up at 3 a.m., we would not only rush to get in line but would be in communication with the team--figuring out if Circuit City had fewer people in line, by 4 a.m. knowing if we would get one of the better door-busters at Best Buy (BBY), what the lines were like at Wal-Mart (WMT), etc.

Things began to change well before the Internet. About six years ago, CompUSA (SYX) decided to begin its Black Friday sales at midnight. That meant getting in line on the way back from turkey dinner, and then getting but a few hours of sleep before beginning the hunt in the a.m.  Of course, since it seemed that every CompUSA purchase required one to fill out a rebate form, that effort used up any time otherwise reserved for sleep.

Returning home from all stores by 8 a.m. at the latest, we would call the family and discuss splitting up the prizes, meeting somewhere between New York and Allentown, Pa., to celebrate together. Total savings on anything we really needed was likely nothing, but the thrill of the hunt kept us going. Friends of our cousins, when meeting us, would know exactly which product we had waited for and how much money we had "saved."

A few years ago, sites like bfads.net started to compare all of the Black Friday ads. Although it made it easier, it seemed to take the thrill out of comparing the products. However, even with that, we still had the cold weather to look forward to the next morning.

About four years ago, our world changed. We discovered that in some stores, including Circuit City, one could go online on Thanksgiving and buy the Black Friday ads. The following year, others followed, but the better stores still kept their best sales for those who would wait in line.

This year, we are getting Black Friday sales for weeks before Black Friday at Sears, Kmart, Wal-Mart and Best Buy, among others, and have the ability to buy just about every ad on-line, with many stores opening on Thanksgiving. Looking at what looked like prizes worth standing in line for, at Staples (SPLS), for example, we were dismayed to read that we could buy the same products on-line from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. That is going to hurt sales of winter clothing, as we won't have to stand in below-zero temperatures for that sliver of a savings.

May we suggest that someone in the government, at least in the colder northern states, pass a law that does not allow one to call savings 'Black Friday' until Black Friday? Until then, enjoy the warmth, and Happy Thanksgiving.

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