Black Friday 2009 deals: Will Best Buy or online stores win?

Black Friday 2009 deals were being released before even Halloween by giants like Best Buy and Sears. What does this race to low prices mean for companies and consumers?

In 2008, Best Buy offered contest winners a VIP Black Friday experience. For its Black Friday 2009 deals, both mortar-and-brick and online retailers are offering sales early and often.

On the night before Christmas, not a creature could possibly be stirring for a last-minute trip to the mall.

That's because whatever holiday gift-giving spirit might seize you Dec. 24, you will have had since before Halloween to track down top deals, thanks to a race to the bottom from top retailers like Best Buy, Sears, and Wal-Mart. They're not waiting until Thanksgiving weekend, the traditional "Black Friday," to offer great deals on holiday merchandise. They're doing it now.

Sears started the whole business by announcing that it was "Black Friday Now" on Oct. 28. Everyone from Wal-Mart to CVS to Ace Hardware has followed suit in some way or another, rolling out commercials and flashing the type of deep discounts normally reserved for those willing to camp out outside of major retailers on the morning after Thanksgiving.

The deep discounting may not be good for traditional retailers, it could be a bonanza for consumers, especially those who shop early, and online stores.

Because retailers are expecting comparatively weak overall demand during the holiday season, inventories of even hot sales items will be limited, according to a survey released by the National Retail Federation (NRF). In fact, with retail traffic dipping to a low unseen since 2003, stocks may be even more limited than previous shopping.

“In anticipation of weak demand, many retailers scaled back on inventory levels to prevent unplanned markdowns at the end of the season,” says NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullin in a press release. “Once the most popular items are gone, retailers won’t have anywhere to get them, so if there was ever a holiday season to buy early, this is it.”

As companies dive into cut-throat price wars, such as the current battle over DVD prices, consumers will get more bang for their buck -- and lower prices on goods -- not only on holiday goods but also on everyday merchandise, as corporations look to lure in customers for the entirety of their holiday shopping.

By taking the emphasis off of crashing through store doors and concentrating instead on a longer selling window, online sales and online vendors are looking to see gains. Over half of online retailers, according to a separate NRF survey, expect sales to grow at least 15 percent.

The downside? Retailers' bottom lines probably aren't going to get too much healthier. The NRF forecasts a decline of 1 percent in total holiday sales, well below the 10-year average growth of 3.39 percent but far better than last year's drop of 3.4 percent.


David Grant is a Monitor contributor. Let us know how your Black Friday purchases are going on via Twitter.

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