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The New Economy

Meet the Black Friday mavens

Whether its Black Friday deals online or in stores, meet the mavens who bring all the sales information together.

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But it hasn’t always been big profits and bigger traffic for Brim. While in high school, he tangled with Sears and K-Mart over their Black Friday circulars. He found out Office Depot called his father at work, demanding that their circular be taken down, when his mother showed up, fuming, in his high school’s front office.

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Now, many retailers e-mail him circulars directly. And when he graduates in the spring, he’s facing a bit of a conundrum.

“I’m going to try to do it for as long as I can,” Brim, an electrical engineering major says. “But then I can’t exactly go in the industry and say, ‘I’d love to take this job but I need October and November off.’ It’s really hard.”

The Web Warrior

Where Brim drew his inspiration from the thrill of the hunt, BlackFriday.info’s Jon Vincent came to the Black Friday deals world as a classic Internet innovator: figuring out ways to creatively out-do the powers-that-be.

“It’s cool that with just a couple guys, we’re going to have 10-12 million unique people visit the website this month,” Mr. Vincent says. “Lots of big companies out there have full-time staff. We can do the same thing on just a couple guys.”

Vincent, a software engineer, takes all of his annual leave during the month of November to run the site full-time. He and three friends keep an avid eye on a single e-mail address for the latest in leaked deals. From his home office in Tyngsborough, Mass., Vincent was the first to post Wal-Mart’s Black Friday circular, an event that involved a bit of back-and-forth with the retail colossus.

“One of our users sent us a really nice copy of a scan. We negotiated and I was saying, listen, this thing is all over the place, it’s kind of stupid to not let us post it,” Vincent says.

When Vincent kicked of his site in 2005, the only correspondence between Black Friday retailers and deals websites were cease-and-desist letters, demanding the removal of leaked circulars.

Today, however, retailers have come to see Black Friday sites as a less adversarial part of the Black Friday scene — if not downright useful. Retailers like Lowes, JCPenncy, and Meijer even e-mailed their circulars directly to several Black Friday sites.

But this cozier relationship between retailer and maven raises some ethical issues when companies provide items like giftcards for promotional giveaways on Black Friday sites.

Vincent says that because competition among Black Friday sites is intense and message board communities rapidly evaluate the quality of a sale, a site’s ability – and willingness – to promote an undeserving sale is limited.

“The ads speak for themselves. We can’t release a (poor) advertisement with all non-sale prices and say, ‘Oh this is the best thing in the world,’ because people would call us out and say you guys are full of it. It’s tough to hide that, “ Vincent says.

In fact, Vincent sees another use for his large mailing list: consumer advocacy.

“We have over 200,000 people on our Facebook page and over a million people on our mailing list. We can promote companies, but lets say some company does something bad, we can also rally the troops … against a company.”

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