Anticipating a challenging holiday season, retailers are looking to gain a competitive advantage by being first to the market.
This year Walmart has taken the lead position. The retail giant launched its Early Deals Drop on Oct 25, five weeks ahead of Black Friday (Nov 29).
Bargains focus mainly on electronics, which has historically been the top performing category for most online platforms. However fashion is part of the mix, with deals ranging from 15-20% discounts on select apparel items to a men's packable down jacket for $36.87, over 60% off its list price of $100.
Amazon has promised to offer an epic selection of items this season, supported by its massive delivery capabilities. Other key players will bringing their own best strategies to the retail arena.
The Bargain Hunter's Dilemma
Hunting for deals is being made easier and more efficient by websites such as Blackfriday.com that scan other sites searching for deals and ad leaks.
So while discovering bargains has become easier, now the challenge is sifting and sorting through a continually changing sea of offers.
That problem is being solved by a number of increasingly sophisticated apps that manage wish lists and monitor deals. Apps like Price Cruncher can help determine if a deal is actually worth it. ShopSavvy tracks deals across multiple sites.
With new deals being launched throughout an even longer season, and other deals being 'flash' offers, strategizing over what to buy, and when to buy it, has become a kind of a game, with the hunt becoming more exciting than acquiring the item itself. To improve their ability to 'score' consumers are bringing more sophisticated strategies and technology to the retail arena.
While consumers are finding solutions, retailers are facing more challenges, costly challenges.
With 1-day shipping, waiting until the last minute to "Buy" is not a problem - for the consumer.
Very liberal return policies make gaming the system easier. Purchased something on Black Friday only to find it on offer a week later at a lower price? Simply buy it at the lower price and return the item purchased earlier (free shipping and free returns makes this easy).
However, while retailers scramble to manage inventory and delivery times, there's a new and potentially more daunting trend looming on the horizon.
Consumers are buying less. They might be shopping (searching, browsing) more frequently, however purchases (measured in terms of units or SKUs) is inching downward.
Searching has become almost as satisfying as purchasing. It's the thrill of discovery rather than ownership of the product. Black Friday could become just another online game. While consumers might not have much to win here, retailers will have plenty to lose.