How Walmart Won Black Friday

The 2015 Holiday Season was in a winner in many ways. According to the National Retail Federation, the total number of dollars spent in November was up just half a percentage point over those in October, but concluded that this was because prices were lower than ever, and shoppers were getting more for their money thanks to lower prices both in stores and online. Folks were shopping and spending, and it appears that most were well aware of, and even expected, to get their merchandise at a discount. Overall, merchants sold plenty, and shoppers spent a little more, and got more in return.

Having been in the industry for more than a dozen years, and having written previously about the sea change in the way we shop during the holiday months, there was no way I couldn’t notice the recent, big changes in the world of shopping. As I’ve mentioned previously, the Black Friday “holiday” has moved up incrementally for years now. I believe that this pattern was established by a shopping season that began sooner than ever, caused by the “follow the leader” mentality established years ago, and this year taken to the extreme by America’s largest brick and mortar retailer. Yes, it was Walmart whom I believe started what is now a “Black Friday” that lasts for almost two full months.

Last year, the retail giant announced fairly early that they were not only kicking off the shopping bacchanal early, but publicly announced that they would offer Black Friday prices that began on the first day of November. This was more than a change in scheduling. But as my Italian friends say, there was more smoke than roast. Last year it felt like a dry run, a test more than a true effort to entice shoppers to go all out early. However, this move signaled to the rest of the retail world that they would need to follow suit, or be left behind. This year, Walmart did it again, kicking things off at midnight on the first day of the month.

Having a head start certainly helped achieve what we see as a “Win” for the most popular retail store in the U.S. In our opinion, no other retailer was more aggressive in it’s pricing, or offered a wider range of products at those significant discounts. Basically, they started out fast, and simply kept their foot on the gas. If we had to pick a winner, Walmart would take home the award for something akin to “best retailer of 2015, Holiday Edition.”

Why were we so impressed? To start with, they kicked off the eleventh month of year with true Black Friday prices, matching a number of deals in their print ad, and offering a bigger selection of popular items in that sale, with a fair number of items under there usual $50 threshold shipping for free. There were iPads, Fitbits, Disney Frozen toys, even furniture at some surprisingly low price points.

In the past, we had occasionally found ourselves disappointed in what we thought were extremely short shelf lives for their best deals. No sooner did we find a great deal than it would sell out. The fact that many of their best-priced products this year stayed in stock for longer time periods, or that they re-stocked frequently in many cases, then offering them at the same exceptional price once they were available again, kept us working, and our customers happy. If you were on their site on the 3rd day of the month, and missed their hot price on an HDTV, not all was lost. There was a good chance you were going to see that price again. More often than not, we certainly did.

With each new batch of excellent prices came new additions. Though there was a pre-sale, a during sale, and both a Thanksgiving Sale and Cyber Sale. Each was different, with the best offers changing frequently enough to keep visitors to their site interested. All in all, there was nary a day in the forty five day period ending on Christmas when it wasn’t a good time to shop there.

Some of their best deals included a Special Edition Roku for $29, popular video games like Madden 16 and FIFA 16 for just $29.99, best we’d seen prices on five different LG and Samsung HDTV models, an unlocked Asus Zenfone for just $269, great toys like the Zoomer Dino Jester, and many fantastic prices on Disney Infinity Starter pack sets. Across dozens of categories, they truly “won” the web. Almost all of those excellent deals appeared multiple times throughout November and early December.

Walmart was consistently competitive, even when compared to heavy online hitters like Amazon and NewEgg. We compare prices all year long here, and though there were many retailers who caught our attention (I’ll be writing about them in the near future) they stood out among a large group of highly motivated retailers.

Of course, our fictitious award means nothing. As sale numbers come in, websites and stores that sell the products we buy will determine in their own way whether the holiday shopping season was a success. But in our book, even a fake prize should go to the team that does everything right. This year, that was Walmart.