Roundup of Black Friday Impressions

By Paul Gagnon

After spending the weekend listening to reports from colleagues in the industry about their observations from Black Thursday/Friday sales, focusing on the TV category, I’ve come to several conclusions.

1. US consumers love a bargain, but could care less about buying a step-up product. Listening to customers waiting in line for some of the bigger TV promotions during the dark hours of Thursday night and Friday morning, I noticed a trend to the comments that matches up well with the observed mix of shipments for the NA TV market over the last year. Namely, those consumers were focused on the price first, size second, brand third and all other features were not of interest. At Walmart, customers bought up all the available Emerson 32” CCFL LCD TVs for $148, but left plenty of inventory of a Samsung D-LED 32” LCD TV later on Friday, even though it was over $100 off.

Meanwhile, at a local Best Buy about an hour after opening, several customers entered looking for the Toshiba 40” that was priced shockingly low at $179 (with less than 20 units on-hand though) and upon learning it was gone, said “Oh well, there’s always next Black Friday”. This indicated to me that the purchasing of a TV was done less on the basis of wanting a TV as much as scoring a great price, which should be a wake-up call to the to the industry to not focus so much on promoting shocking prices to drive traffic.

Also, there didn’t seem to be much chatter about, or shopping carts full of, step up models with better features like Smart TV, 3D or LED. In all three of these features, North America ranks near last in the world in terms of unit shipment share. While China had over 90 percent of LCD TV shipments as LED backlit in Q3, North America had yet to cross the 50 percent threshold. Do US consumers understand the feature, and just not care? Are retailers not doing an effective job of educating customers about the technology? Are the prices too high? Probably some combination of all of these factors is at play.

2. Consumers are taking large sized steps for the second and third flat panel TV. Although consumers predictably lined up for sub-$200 32” TV’s in droves, the surprise were the number of customers waiting in lines for the large sizes featured this holiday at 40” and up. The chart below summarizes some of the notable promotions from last year’s Black Friday. Notice the large increase in 50”+ models. Sears advertised a “Major Name Brand” 50” HDTV for their 4AM sale, which we discovered was a 720p Panasonic Plasma TV, bringing 50” class prices down to the least expensive promotions for 40”-class models a year ago. This is of course due to natural price erosion of larger sizes, but many of the consumers buying large sizes mentioned replacing 32” sets or similar sized flat panel TVs. Because of the pricing, many are jumping 10” or more in size when trading up, which is good for industry stakeholders focused on selling by the square meter.

3. Walmart winning TVs. 
Amid all the turmoil surrounding Walmart’s Thanksgiving Day opening, and the labor relations controversy, something striking occurred. Walmart seemed to dominate advertising for TV Black Friday promotions in the run up to Thanksgiving and their multi-event waves of promotions did a very effective job of spreading the traffic out through the night and keeping lines flowing smoothly. While Best Buy traffic seemed higher than a year ago, a lot of shoppers (aside from those looking for the $179 40” Toshiba) were buying computers and tablets from our informal surveying. From appearances, it seemed Walmart was more effective at pulling shoppers looking for TVs this Black Friday, reporting today that it sold more than 1.3 million televisionssince 8 p.m. on Thursday.

The line below was for shoppers, Starbucks and Smartphones in hand, lined up in-store at 5 a.m., vying for a 50” plasma TV (Panasonic) for $299 at Walmart.

Given the demand for the two major Emerson TV promotions (32” and 50”), it looks like Funai moved a lot of boxes during Black Friday as well. In the recently published Q3’12 TV shipment results, Funai’s unit shipment share of LCD TVs in North America rose to #1, a position they’ve never held, and reaching their highest-ever share at 19.6 percent. Many of those units were destined for Black Friday at Walmart, as Funai shipped over 1.2M units of 32”, with whom Funai has had a strong relationship for years.