Opinions

Bill McLoughlin

Three Black Friday Takeaways

Some people look forward to the turkey on Thanksgiving. For others it’s the football. For me, it’s the Black Friday ads (not the shopping, just the reading).

There are few better indicators of the housewares industry’s mindset than this annual ritual of retail self-immolation. It’s always fascinating to see just how low prices will go in the effort to create a pre-sunrise riot on the day after Thanksgiving.

Did you know for example that you can get a 5-cup coffeemaker at Kohl’s for less than it costs for two cups of coffee at Starbucks? Or a 12-cup programmable coffeemaker at Walmart for less than 10 bucks.

Neither of these deals is particularly new or substantially lower than in recent years, any more than Target’s $24.99 Dirt Devil lightweight upright is particularly groundbreaking as a price-point play.

The real fun this year is seeing what step-up feature is now being heavily promoted, the emerging product category that’s “hot” enough to capture eyeballs or the key brand that retailers are pinning their hopes on to drive traffic. Here are three noteworthy takeaways from Black Friday.

1 Cord retraction on upright vacuums is no longer the gateway feature to mid-priced uprights but now is a traffic driver on sub-$50 promotions. Walmart’s the low price champ this holiday, hitting $44 for a Hoover upright with “Rewind.” Target and Sears were a not-so-close second at $64.99, followed by Kohl’s and Shopko at $69.99. Somebody’s going to get coal in their stocking.

2 This year’s hot category? Robotic vacuums and not just from Roomba. Hoover, Samsung and Black & Decker all captured space in the Black Friday flyers this year and Target featured Hoover’s Bluetooth-connected Quest 700 on its cover. Can the R2D2 robotic vac be far behind?

3 This year’s cookware battle features three celebrity chefs vying for holiday honors. Walmart is backing Pioneer Woman with a 27-piece porcelain enamel set at $89. Target, Kohl’s and Bon-Ton are touting Rachael Ray also for $89 (though for 14 pieces). Bon-Ton is also offering a Paula Deen 11-piece set for $39.99 (after $30 rebate). However, none of these talented chefs are the low price leaders this year. That honor in branded cookware goes to T-Fal, which placed 20-piece sets for $49 (or $49.99) in Walmart, Target and Kohl’s and a 22-piece set at the same price in Shopko.

If there’s a conclusion to be drawn this year it’s that the bottom’s been reached on opening price points, at least until someone can figure out how to make, package, ship and shelve a $1.99 toaster or a $3.99 coffeemaker. The real jockeying is now for the next steps up the pricing ladder and at the top of the market where the race is underway to see how low once-premium brands will go in an effort to survive a sluggish market.

But that’s a tale for 2017.

Happy holidays.