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Black Friday: Picky Crowds Scrutinize Bargains

(From HD Notebook)

On the holiday HD sales front, there’s good news and bad news, and good news and bad news…

The good news is that a lot of retailers reported larger crowds than anticipated on Black Friday and through at least part of the first official weekend of the holiday season, and some shoppers were buying at sharp discounts.

The bad news is that this heavy concentration of shopping could indicate that once the big discounts are gone (and at least some of them already have vanished), any big-ticket buying could stop fast. Both CNBC and ABC News report this week that while some of the crowds did not die down appreciably after Black Friday, some of the sales numbers did.

The other good news is that “estimated” sales in general (electronics, clothing, etc.) on Black Friday rose as much as 3 percent over last year’s Black Friday, according to ShopperTrak. But the bad news is that last year’s Black Friday represented an 8 percent jump over the previous year.

Specific sales data on HD/Blu-ray products are not yet known (nor will Black Friday numbers alone tell the whole story), but business channel CNBC was reporting this week that some major retailers were reporting electronics sales roughly 14 percent below last year at this time. Some initial Black Friday-and-beyond sales figures for HD and other electronics are expected to be announced on Dec. 4.

And if timing is everything, this year retailers could have used more of it. This year’s holiday sales season is only 27 days long because of Thanksgiving coming very late in November. Last year’s sales period was nearly a week longer — at 32 days.

As for Cyber Monday on Dec. 1, its potential impact on sales is widely thought to be somewhat lessened this year as more potential online shoppers now have broadband at home and don’t have to wait to get to the office to quickly browse retailers’ Web sites. Also, the same patient wait-and-see attitude adopted by many brick-and-mortar shoppers—perhaps gambling that low prices will get even lower—seems to be held by cyber shoppers, too.

Still, there were plenty of Cyber Monday bargains around. (For example, Walmart was offering an online-only package consisting of a Samsung 46-inch, 1080p LCD with a 5.1 surround sound system and a upconverting DVD player for a total of under $1,360.)

This week, the federal government said it’s now clear a full-blown U.S. recession actually began in December 2007, which means (among other things) that last year’s holiday sales season took place within the same recession as the current season.

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