Draining Discounts: Have Retailers Jumped the Shark?

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Black Friday? More like Bleak Friday, as retailers reported an 11% drop in sales revenue on this important post-Thanksgiving celebration of deep discount sales.

Cyber Monday, meanwhile, rose only 8% on last year's figures, which also fell short of expectations (with the exception of Wal-Mart, which came up smelling of roses.) The reality failed to live up to the hype of the holiday, following widespread predictions of a record-breaking start to the season.

Overall it was a bit of a bust for most retailers and left them looking hopefully at the next few weeks of spending season to bridge that gap in expectations. Dollar and discount stores generally fared better over the four day spending spree weekend, leading some analysts to conclude that the economic reality .

In that scenario it's economists that are experiencing the reality gap by taking indicators like stock market performance and corporate revenues over "on the ground" measures like consumer spending and confidence indices. But is this really the right place to look, or should retailers be taking a good long look in the mirror for stretching the holiday season start line to breaking point?

Black Friday Fatigue is what the New York Times chose to label this year's spending, and only their choice of day might be in question. 

Think about how the holiday discounts applied to your inbox... if you're anything like us, you started to see special offers well before Thanksgiving.

Add to that the controversy over physical store opening hours creeping into Thanksgiving day, preventing some employees spending it at home with their families as is traditional. Add again the extension of Cyber Monday to Cyber Week (and let's face it, that's not where the ads stop), and we have two full weeks of holiday shopping blitzkrieg... that's enough to tire even the most festive family shopper you can think of.

The reality for retailers seems to be that sales are simply be too common now for their own good. Deep discounts are de rigeur and engaging in price warfare could simply spark a race to the bottom, which will only benefit those with the deepest of pockets.

If that's not you, what can you do to cut through  battle of the bargain basement?

For many it's likely to be better to focus on another area of holidays or pushing another area of competitive advantage, such as service, presentation, quality, or even geography. There's a trend towards buying locally and ethically in recent years; can your business position itself along those lines? Or perhaps your product is suited to getting the orders in early, or even a last-minute local bonus that consumers can pick up as an additional gift.

The goal for most businesses is to stand out from the crowd, which in many ways makes the rush to join the Black Friday/Cyber Week madness exactly that: mad.

Rather than compete with everyone at exactly the same time, on price alone, what can you do to pick your spot, reach customers clearly and avoid getting caught in the retail stampede?

We'd love to hear your ideas here in the comments or on Facebook and Twitter.