Get those caffeine pills ready because in just a couple of hours retailers will be breaking tradition and opening their doors to the public earlier than at any time in their history.
Challenged by a rough back-to-school season that ravaged apparel retailers and cautioned merchants that it wasn't going to be a typical robust Christmas, retailers are pushing the envelope by trying new things, including offering deep-discount deals on brand-name products and opening their doors, in some cases, as early as 6 p.m. Opening during what's supposed to be "family time" could be viewed negatively by consumers and certainly doesn't sit well with my Foolish colleague Alyce Lomax, but the longer hours and deep discounts will nonetheless still attract a number of cost-conscious consumers.
Yesterday, I shared five deals, both technology-based and non-tech, that I felt consumers would be foolish to pass up this Black Friday. Today, I'm flipping the page, and rather than pointing out all of the supposed deals that consumers would be better off passing on, I'm going to just lump three categories together that shoppers would be wise to avoid on Black Friday.
Here are three products you should almost certainly pass over on Black Friday and some of the companies that could suffer if consumers choose to heed this warning:
Having personally worked in the jewelry industry for one year shy of a decade, I shake my head in disgust every year when I see jewelry stores trot out their Black Friday deals like they're the greatest thing since sliced bread. The truth of the matter is that jewelry deals on Black Friday are rarely a better offer than at Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, or any number of other special events throughout the year. Jewelry stores are simply pulling on shoppers' emotional strings and understand that consumers woke up with the intent of purchasing something, so why should they offer too tantalizing of a discount? Ultimately, jewelry margins are inverted, meaning the lower-priced items often deliver the highest-margin boost, so a discount on already-marked-up lower price point items really isn't a great deal for the consumer.
This year, I would anticipate online diamond e-tailer Blue Nile (NASDAQ:NILE) and Zale (NYSE: ZLC) could be two names that struggle mightily.
Blue Nile, I would suggest, has already lost much of its competitive advantages with diamond prices falling off their February 2012 highs. Even though gold prices are down, which allows it to offer competitive mounting prices compared to bricks-and-mortar stores, Blue Nile still doesn't offer a good shot at consistent success since jewelry buying is more often than not an emotional experience that just can't be achieved online.
For Zale, my concern would be that its recent rally has come too far, too fast given the difficult expected retail sales environment this holiday season. Like Blue Nile, purchasing expenses have fallen a bit, but Zale is still struggling to recover from its deeply indebted position that required it to seek financing from Golden Gate Capital in May 2010. With nearly $400 million in net debt and still pedestrian profits, all things considered, investors may want to tone down their expectations for Zale this holiday season.
More often than not, you'll be told to avoid brand-name television discounts on Black Friday, but I'm taking that a step further and suggesting you avoid all television deals, period.
While numerous Black Friday websites would point to deals at select retailers as solid, most of these deep discounts are limited in number or only last for an hour leaving the remaining deals on brand-name and even lower-tier brand TVs as wholly unimpressive.
Furthermore, televisions are depreciating assets that continue to drop over time with the best deals often had right after the Super Bowl in February. We appear to be smack-dab in the middle when it comes to the development of the next-generation TV, so it's not like there's any major impetus to go out and buy a new set, even with the introduction of 90"-plus screens. In other words, if you pay $1,299 for a 65" TV this year, you'll just be kicking yourself when it's $999 at this time next year!
This continues to be bad news for Sony (NYSE:SNE), whose television division has lost money a staggering eight consecutive years and has been painstakingly cutting costs in order to try to return to profitability. Sony has a boatload of problems well beyond just its TV operations as it's lost its core brand identity with consumers and is being undercut in labor pricing by neighboring China. With another tepid holiday season expected, Sony's days as a premium retailer look to be numbered.
This might come as a surprise to you, but car dealerships around the country are getting in on the Black Friday action as well by offering "discounts" on previous- and current-year models in an effort to meet their dealership quotas for the year. Obviously, the worse a dealership has performed during the year, the better the deal is likely to be.
However, I would suggest that, similar to televisions, you keep your nose clean of purchasing a car until well after the New Year. Dealerships fully intend to pull on the heartstrings of consumers by getting them to splurge on what looks like a deal too good to pass up only to see the same deal minus a few percentage points in mid-January. New-year models aren't typically set to be released until August, leaving few dealerships a big incentive to push their prices to what I'd consider extremely attractive levels. In other words, if it can wait, you're likely to get a much more attractive deal in a few months.
Luckily for most automobile manufacturers, sales of new vehicles have remained strong. However, new- and used-car retailer Lithia Motors (NYSE:LAD), which carries about $800 million in net debt and operates 87 retail auto franchisee locations, could be a name I'd single out to struggle this holiday season. Lithia shares have taken off in 2013 -- and with good reason as sales have soared better than 20%. However, its earnings beat potential is slowing. It would take a monstrous end of year for Lithia to motor higher from its current valuation, which I simply don't see happening with consumers expected to be tighter with their wallet this year.