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.
by Jessica Shambora
Watch out, geeks. You've got company.
Yes, Best Buy's (BBY) Geek Squad, whose "agents" drive those Volkswagen Beetles to the homes of customers in technology distress, has competition to contend with: digital troubleshooters who aid consumers via the Internet.
Even as these forces are expanding, it's hard to detect them. For instance, the "solution engineers" of Support.com (SPRT)'s are almost impossible to spot since they work via remote-access subterfuge. Once MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Nov 17, 2009 12:28 PM ET
"Starve yourself. Don't take the money. Do it yourself. I recommend a diet of ramen noodles and very little sleep. If you don't love your business, someone else will love it more than you, and do it better and be more creative."
--Robert Stephens, Geek Squad founder and Chief Inspector, on his advice for aspiring entrepreneurs in the Wall Street Journal. In 1994, Stephens dropped out of school, and with $200, MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Aug 12, 2009 7:06 PM ET
"Every single day you have to win. You have to win that experiential battle every single time."
- Best Buy (BBY) CEO-to-be Brian Dunn during a recent visit to Fortune. A 24-year Best Buy vet, he was recalling the mid-90s when "Circuit City had us on the ropes. They took for granted that we were over." Dunn was in the trenches, leading a region for the electronics retailer, back then. "To MOREPatricia Sellers - Mar 26, 2009 7:35 PM ET
This was a week of transitions. Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton. A little-known Congresswoman named Kirsten Gillibrand, who beat Caroline Kennedy for Hillary's Senate seat and reminded us that power and privilege don't mix well these days.
John Thain's ouster at Bank of America (BAC) also reminded us of that. I met the former Merrill Lynch boss briefly only three times. He seemed like Clark Kent: solid, a bit boring, and cryptic. MOREPatricia Sellers - Jan 23, 2009 4:41 PM ET
I took a 7 a.m. Acela from New York to Washington, D.C. this morning to meet with D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and then attend the Fortune 500 Forum, beginning this afternoon. My train was on time to the minute; Rhee's red-eye from the West Coast was delayed by D.C. fog, so she and I are now due to meet Wednesday. I'll share my thoughts later this week about Rhee, who MOREPatricia Sellers - Dec 1, 2008 2:05 PM ET
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