Black Friday puts consumers in the red

Personally I don’t participate in the Black Friday madness, which this year continued a trend of working backwards into the Thursday of Thanksgiving. Some finished their dinner leftovers and hustled over to retailers like Target, Walmart, and Toys R Us which opened late Thursday evening to cater to those who didn’t want to get up at oh-dark-hundred to seize the best bargains. (I think KMart actually had some Thursday morning doorbusters as well.)

According to retail researchers, though, sales aren’t expected to increase as much as they did last year over the 2010 season nor will as many people participate in the Black Friday weekend shopping spree (although it may not necessarily mean those people wouldn’t have shopped Thursday night.) Still, I doubt America will anytime soon turn its back on the post-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy.

I’ve often said that the idea of having “stuff” for its own sake isn’t all that appealing to me, so perhaps I’m not the best arbiter of what would be a successful holiday season. Obviously these large retailers are pinning their hopes for sizable profit for the year on the last 33 days before Christmas, and if the promise of some off-brand big-screen TV for an unheard of price is enough to bring people in to buy the additional more regularly-priced items for which retailers use the loss leaders as a draw, then I guess P.T. Barnum is still right.

On the other hand, there is also a growing movement that tells us we need to eschew the big box stores and shop local on Saturday. Obviously they’re not going to have the gadgets and gizmos the behemoths of the business world can acquire at some low price from a Chinese distributor, but they have more unique wares that could fulfill the wishes of some of those hard-to-shop-for people on the list. There has to be a balance somewhere.

We are in a day and age where everyone is in debt, from the federal government to those whose equity in their homes is long gone thanks to the crashing real estate market. Considering that much of what is being bought this weekend will be all but functionally obsolete in the next few years, perhaps this is a good time to step back and reevaluate what Christmas is all about. If it’s about giving, maybe consider what you give and where you get it from.

Trust me, I am all about capitalism, efficiency in markets, and all that jazz. But over the years I’ve watched the commercialism of the season become more crass and those who partake in the buying frenzy act with less class. It kind of puts people out of the Christmas spirit.

The first domino to fall?

Well, that didn’t take long. This morning the Sears Holdings conglomerate, which operates both Sears and KMart stores around the country, announced over 100 underperforming stores would be closing in the next few months. It’s too early to tell whether any of the stores on this part of Delmarva will be among the victims – there are KMart stores in both Salisbury and Rehoboth Beach, a full-service Sears at the Centre of Salisbury, a smaller Sears in Seaford, and Sears Hometown stores in Rehoboth Beach, Milford, Easton, and Onley.

The story cites one expert who claims Sears “offers a depressing shopping experience and uncompetitive prices.” To be honest, I work there more than I shop there and neither is done all that much. But I’m told their prices are fairly steep and most of the clientele I see when I am in there is older.

Yet the trouble also extends to KMart, as the combined concern reported same-store sales for those open a year or more were off 5.2% for the most recent quarter, which included the holiday season.

I don’t often delve into business stories like this, but if you read my Christmas message you’ll note that I pondered what the retail season may bring:

I suppose if I see a lot of “Going Out Of Business” signs in 2012 I’ll know there was a lot of coal left in retailer’s stockings.

Well, looks like Sears and KMart may have received a double dose of anthracite. It’ll be interesting to see how other retailers do once the holiday season numbers come in, and also whether any local Sears stores are on the chopping block.