Wal-Mart ‘Secret Sale’ Makes for Happy, Angry Customers

Wal-Mart went ahead and held some unannounced, in-store specials on HD products last weekend at various outlets around America, just as a flurry of not-so-secret online reports indicated it would (HD Notebook, Oct. 31, 2007). However, according to some subsequent news accounts, the big-box chain could be turning off as many customers as it’s trying to please.

One California customer said she got to her closest Wal-Mart at 8 a.m. sharp last Friday, Nov. 2, which was its regular opening time. Like a lot of other consumers looking for a good buy on an HD disc player prior to the holiday selling frenzy, she had been tipped off by a friend to some deep discounts pending at Wal-Mart, although it was not to be advertised.

To the potential customer’s surprise and disappointment, that particular Wal-Mart had opened an hour earlier, and employees had handed out coupons for buying Toshiba’s HD-A2 HD DVD player inside for a mere $98.87 (barely a third of its typical price points) once the doors swung open early. But only about 10 disc players were available at the discount, according to reports, and a lot of consumers showed up only to be told the special deals were quickly over, according to Home Media Magazine.

Upon learning that the deeply discounted handful of products (both the HD DVD player and other CE items) had been snapped up within minutes—mostly by customers who had gotten in the door an hour before the usual opening time—nearly all the CE customers left without shopping around for other bargains, according to the magazine. “These weren’t [regular] Wal-Mart customers,” the disappointed woman said.

Circuit City and Best Buy also lowered their HD product price points last weekend, as well as Amazon.com (albeit closer to the $200 range for the Toshiba player). Wal-Mart is promising on its Web site to again offer “secret sales” on more of its CE inventory on Nov. 23-24, the two days immediately following Thanksgiving.