Consumers Are Still Cautious: Black Friday Technology Report

November 26, 2010

10:23 am

While the recession officially ended over a year ago, the desire by consumers to make technology purchases this holiday season appears to be weak.  This Thanksgiving, shorter lines than normal were observed at multiple Best Buy locations in the north Chicago suburbs.  While some consumers were seen lined up and ready to  shop  this holiday, at first glance, it appears they are mainly looking for deals and unfortunately showing up in lower numbers than previous years.

Short Lines Observed at Chicago Area Best Buy Locations

The temperatures outside of several Best Buy locations in the Chicago suburbs were about 22 degrees, with very gusty and chilly winds.  Upon arrival to the Vernon Hills Best Buy location, visitors were met with cold stares by a number of people already in the short line made up of people sitting in chairs and tents.

I met people like Jerry Muir, who was in line at Best Buy starting at 5:30PM and hoping to get a number of technology products including a flat screen TV.

Jerry Muir

Jerry Muir (left) Waiting in Line for Flat Screen TV

Based on my conversations with Jerry,  the highest demand items were the $189 Toshiba laptop (minimum of 3 on hand),  a Sony VAIO laptop for $399 (minimum of 10 on hand), and a 32” TV and Wii for $399 (minimum of 40 on hand).  I found most of the people waiting in line to be optimistic that the minimum stock levels would not be an issue, however the largest concern for Jerry and others in the line was getting through the night in the bitter Chicago cold.    Jerry indicated he has been coming to Best Buy for the day after Thanksgiving special for a number of years, however this year is the lowest in attendance he has ever seen.  He didn’t think the weather was a factor, since he thought it had been colder in previous years.

At another Chicago suburban Best Buy store in Mundelein, customers reported a much lower turnout, with only about 25 people in line.  High winds in the area had largely destroyed the make shift fence used to hold the line, and most of the customers were seeking shelter within tents, or periodically went back to their cars to warm up.

About 30% of customers thought a laptop was the most important “must have” item,  about 20% indicated a 32” or larger flat screen , and about 10% thought gaming systems like the new XBOX Kinect or the Nintendo Wii were the most important.

Only about 20% of the people waiting in line thought customers would spend more this year over last year.  This could mean retailers like Best Buy will need to  rely heavily on discounts this holiday season to attract buyers.  One of the customers waiting in line may have summarized the holiday season the best when he said he “might not even buy  after waiting in line for several hours”.    This could mean consumers are still cautious about making purchases this holiday season.

Guest writer Glenn Allison is a technology professional in the Midwest with over 15 years experience building and managing global communications infrastructure.  He is currently an MBA student at the University of Chicago, and occasionally writes about technology and business in the Midwest.  You can learn more by following his blog at: glennallison.org or follow him on Twitter: @MidwestTechie.

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