Retailers are Entering a Cold War for Dominance of Black Friday 2013

On Thursday, Nov. 14, Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) announced their hours of operation for Thanksgiving and Black Friday this year. The big-box retailer has announced it will open at 6:00pm on Thanksgiving, two hours earlier than last year, in order to boost consumer traffic and sales revenue. The retailer will remain open throughout the evening and into Black Friday since over 4,000 of their U.S. stores are regularly open 24 hours. In addition, Wal-Mart will offer special deals on must-have items this holiday season through their website beginning Thanksgiving morning. This newest Thanksgiving strategy of offering deals even earlier than usual may seem like a win-win for Wal-Mart, but its competitors are also gearing up for the holiday season. Plus, more time to shop on Thanksgiving does not guarantee that consumers will spend more than their wallets will allow.

It's going to be a nuclear arms race
Wal-Mart's actions will not be taken lightly by competitors. Once one retailer makes a bold sales move to draw attention and traffic its way, other retailers must respond in a similar fashion. This move by Walmart to open doors earlier on Thanksgiving, increasing its number of popular items on hand, and starting sales promotions a month earlier on-line will force its competitors to modify their strategy in each of these areas. Wal-Mart's move has started what some may call an "arms race." Retailers are going to closely take note of what the others are doing, mimicking every move by their competitors in order to remain strong on the battlefield. Since the holiday season is six days shorter than last year, retailers are worried that less shopping time for consumers could result in a decrease in sales. Retailers, like Wal-Mart, are pulling out all the stops to not let this holiday season be a letdown.

This means war!
Like Wal-Mart, its competitors are also opening doors earlier on Thanksgiving. Best Buy will open its doors at the same time as Wal-Mart in an attempt to lure consumers towards their assortment of electronics. Target, Macy's (NYSE: M  ) , Kohl's, and J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP  ) will open their doors at 8:00 pm on Thanksgiving. For Macy's and JC Penny, this is their first time being open on Thanksgiving. Macy's and JC Penny had to make this change if they plan on having any sort of sales victory, especially in J.C. Penney's case. Like J.C. Penney, Sears is also hurting sales-wise at both Sears and Kmart. Hoping to recover and make up for lost ground, Sears plans to kick-off Black Friday sales before all the rest by opening all Kmarts' doors at 6:00 am on Thanksgiving. Not only are retailers' opening their doors earlier than in past years, but they also have sales promotions scheduled to run hours, days, and weeks up until Thanksgiving and through the Black Friday weekend.

Sales promotions and hot-ticket items available for consumers have increased this holiday season. Wal-Mart, in fact, has already released its online annual sales promotions, hoping to generate holiday sales a month earlier. In addition, Wal-Mart will have 65% more televisions available to purchase, along with twice as many tablet computers and an additional 17 must-have consumer products on display throughout the store. Wal-Mart will release special deals on these items at different times throughout the evening on Thanksgiving and into Black Friday. Like Wal-Mart, Target is advertising a special daily promotion starting two weeks before Thanksgiving, whereas Best Buy and Kohl's plan to offer online deals for a few days

Financial ramifications
It will be quite difficult for any retailer this holiday season to perform exceedingly well over another. Retailers are all trying to stand out from competitors, but every retailer is following the other's exact move by opening earlier and extending special offers weeks before Thanksgiving. It would be like watching a parade – once one person stands on their toes to see a float or celebrity go by, the person behind them will also stand on their toes, and so on.

No retailer is expected to boost revenues by that much this year. For instance, Wal-Mart is expected to increase revenues by 3% year over year, and Best Buy is expected to actually experience a 10.4% decrease in revenues from the same quarter last year. Other retailers like Kohl's, Target, and J.C. Penney are not looking any better than last holiday season, with Kohl's seeing an estimated decrease in revenues of -2.6%, Target by -1.3%, and J.C. Penney increasing revenues by less than half a percent. As far as earnings per share goes, analysts expect Best Buy to increase EPS by $0.11, with the other retailers gaining or losing a negligible $0.02 to $0.04 per share. However, for J.C. Penney, analysts expect the company to lose $0.91 per share, which is better than last fourth quarter when they lost $1.95 per share. For J.C. Penney, this holiday season is their make it or break it quarter.

Foolish Advice for Investors
The individuals who will truly benefit over the next couple of months will be the consumers who shop at these retailers. Consumers will be the ones receiving the extra time to shop and more ways to save on all types of items. Investors, on the other hand, will not be the beneficiaries of these retailers' moves and should expect minimal growth, if any. Because more retailers are joining the pack this holiday season, it is unlikely that one will come out on top.

Who's winning retail?
To learn about two retailers with especially good prospects, take a look at The Motley Fool's special free report: "The Death of Wal-Mart: The Real Cash Kings Changing the Face of Retail." In it, you'll see how these two cash kings are able to consistently outperform and how they’re planning to ride the waves of retail's changing tide. You can access it by clicking here.


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