It’s shaping up to be the best holiday shopping season for consumers since 2009, and Black Friday is still a week away.
Earlier this week, Wal-Mart announced that it’s matching prices on nearly 100 Black Friday specials a week early, starting Friday. The prices on electronics and toys are from ads already released by rivals Target, Best Buy and Toys ‘R’ Us, including LeapPad 2 for $39.99 (regularly $79) and LG 50-inch HDTVs for $448, regularly $598.
Late Thursday, Best Buy volleyed back, announcing that it will add more doorbusters Friday including a Vizio 50-inch TV for $449.99, regularly $650, a Toshiba laptop for $299 and a free Best Buy gift card for $75 with the purchase of a fourth-generation Apple iPad with Retina display. The sale runs through Saturday.
“These kinds of price wars are unprecedented a week before Black Friday,” said Mark LoCastro, a shopping expert at Dealnews.com. Adding to the “shoppers-never-had-it-so-good” feeling, Target, Best Buy and Toys ‘R’ Us will honor Wal-Mart’s price match if the prices are advertised or posted at Walmart.com. Typically, big-box stores will not match prices from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, but with the deals being offered a week earlier, prices are eligible for matching.
Price matching kicks in
Representatives from the three retailers confirmed that they will match Wal-Mart’s advertised prices Friday, although most of the items being matched will only be advertised in Wal-Mart stores. Target and other retailers generally won’t match without proof online or in a current print ad.
What could go wrong with the early deals? Finding out that an item is out of stock, said Burt Flickinger, managing director of the Strategic Resources consulting firm in New York City. “Inventory levels at Wal-Mart and Target have been deplorable,” said. “Even if they do price-match, there’s a lower chance of finding it.”
Buying on impulse
LoCastro said the Black Friday early price match is smart strategy on Wal-Mart’s part because the promotion will attract shoppers who will look for price-matched items but buy impulse items too. “It’s a solid way to increase sales,” he said.
Analysts say that in the past few shoppers have asked for a match. Wal-Mart and Target won’t confirm how frequently they price match, but only about 5 percent of shoppers ask for a match during the holidays, said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD Group.
Wal-Mart also announced that it is lowering the minimum amount for free shipping at Walmart.com to $35 from $50 starting Friday. Target offers free shipping on all orders to its Redcard holders. Best Buy offers free shipping to its My Best Buy Elite members.
It’s another example of a retail environment that’s more competitive than ever, said Flickinger.