Black Friday impressions: Bargains, bigger TVs, and Walmart’s muscle

November 28, 2012 - NPD DisplaySearch analyst Paul Gagnon took the pulse of consumer shoppers on Black Friday and came away with three observations: bargains are a priority, consumers want bigger upgrades, and Walmart flexed its muscles. He bases them on what apparently was firsthand experience standing in line like everyone else, plus "reports from colleagues in the industry."

Consumers love bargains… Customers seemed to have their Black Friday TV-deal priorities in order thusly: price, size, brand, and little interest in any other feature. Gagnon noted Emerson 32-in. LCD TVs vanished at a $148 price point, but same-sized Samsung versions stood stacked on the floor largely untouched later on Friday even at $100 off. At a Best Buy later in the day he reports customers sought out a "shockingly low" priced ($179) Toshiba 40-in. TV, but upon learning they were sold out they resigned to next year’s Black Friday rather than seek a replacement. That suggests the motivation was far more on finding a good deal vs. really wanting a new TV — "which should be a wake-up call to the to the industry to not focus so much on promoting shocking prices to drive traffic," he writes.

…but not "step-up" features. At the same time, Gagnon noted that there was little "chatter" and activity surrounding "step-up models" of TVs featuring improvements such as Smart TV, 3D, or LED technology. Over 90% of Chinese LCD TV shipments were LED backlit in 3Q12, but North America isn’t even at 50% yet and ranks near last in the world in terms of unit shipment share, he points out. " Do US consumers understand the feature, and just not care? Are retailers not doing an effective job of educating customers about the technology? Are the prices too high? Probably some combination of all of these factors is at play."

Confirmed: Bigger is believed better. While consumers flocked to promotions of sub-$200 32-in. TVs, a lot of them also sought out bigger models (≥40-in.). Gagnon lists a number of notable Black Friday promotions this year for bigger-sized panels, in some cases with 50-in. models at the same price point as last year’s 40-in. models; some of that is just natural price erosion, he acknowledges. But consumers are also eager to replace 32-in. TVs with significantly bigger models — and that’s particularly good news for panel makers who sell by the square meter.

The power of Walmart compels them! Even in the face of a labor dispute, Walmart heavily promoted its Black Friday deals and it seems to have paid off as waves of promotions kept shopper traffic spread out and lines flowing smoothly, Gagnon writes. "It seemed Walmart was more effective at pulling shoppers looking for TVs this Black Friday, reporting today that it sold more than 1.3 million televisions since 8PM on Thursday," he notes, showing a photo of shoppers "Starbucks and Smartphones in hand" at 5am lined up for a $299 Panasonic 50-in plasma TV. He also notes that Funai "moved a lot of boxes during Black Friday" — the firm climbed to #1 in LCD TV shipments in 3Q12 and nearly 20% share, with many of those units destined for Walmart’s Black Friday push, with whom it has partnered for years, he notes.

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